Mike Beckman spends his days on the golf greens.
"It's brutal," Beckman said.
He's not talking about his putting.
Beckman is superintendent at Spencer T. Olin Golf Course in Alton, which has doubled its daily water use during the heat wave to keep greens and fairways from withering in triple-digit heat. In more pleasant weather, he said, the course runs its irrigation systems three or four times weekly.
"We're at it seven days a week," Beckman said. "We lose a quarter-inch of moisture every day. It takes a long time to get that much water back into the soil."
This summer's drought and heat are combining to cripple lawns and plant life everywhere. Water consumption is up 30 percent in the city of St. Louis, where residential dwellings typically get unlimited use on basic flat rates.
In other areas of the region, where bills are based on meter readings, residents trying to keep their grass and plants alive have seen their payments jump sharply.
Monday, with a high temperature of 106, was the ninth day this summer at 105 degrees or hotter, surpassing the deadly heat wave of 1936 in that category. Eight days were 105 or hotter that summer, when 479 people died here of heat-related illness.
Some communities have asked residents to cut back on water use, but the unrelenting heat has not brought fears of a widespread water shortage.
St. Louis has two water works, one at Chain of Rocks on the Mississippi River and one at Howard Bend on the Missouri River. The city's water commissioner, Curt Skouby, said the city always has been able to draw water, even when the Mississippi reached its historic low of -6.1 feet on Jan. 16, 1940.
Skouby said city water consumption is about 30 percent over normal for a summer, largely because of residents watering lawns and gardens. He said the system is producing 200 million gallons per day, or 55 percent of capacity.
Ann Dettmer, spokeswoman for Missouri American Water, said the company is meeting summertime demand. She said the company releases production figures only quarterly and did not provide current numbers. Its customers pay according to metered use.
Chip Tynan, a horticulturist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, said the prolonged dry spell has sapped the soil of moisture so badly that even some mature trees are endangered. Tynan said people should water around trees, roughly the width of their branches.
"It's really getting critical out there," Tynan said. "The priority now is trees. Forget the lawn."
Tynan said many people think that tap roots will protect larger trees, "but it's the secondary root systems in the top 8 to 12 inches of soil that support tree life."
He suggested watering until puddles form, both for trees and other plants. St. Louis is almost 8 inches below normal in rainfall since May 1, and down more than 4 inches this year.
But Tynan said the drought actually is worse because of last summer's dry spell and the lack of snow last winter. Tynan suggested that people put pans of water on the ground for rabbits because some have taken to chewing plants, even small trees, just to get moisture.
Gail Costello, co-owner of the Crabapple Cove Nursery on Telegraph Road in south St. Louis County, said ground is so dry that landscapers are not ordering many plants.
"When it's this hot and dry, it takes real diligence with watering to maintain new plants," she said. "We're watering every day down here to keep our product alive."
The Mississippi River, already low, is expected to continue falling slowly and drop below zero on the gauge at the Eads Bridge within two weeks, said Mark Fuchs, hydrologist at the Weather Service office in Weldon Spring.
Fuchs said a steady flow on the Missouri River, compliments of the Army Corps of Engineers' vast reservoirs upstream, is keeping the Mississippi from dropping at St. Louis even more.
At zero, the Mississippi has about 11 feet of water in its main channel. St. Louis' harbor masters arbitrarily set the gauge values on the cobblestone riverfront in 1863.
One year ago, the upper Missouri's reservoirs were bursting with rain runoff, and only a dry spell in the lower Midwest foiled predictions of flooding in the St. Louis area. Jody Farhap, a Corps of Engineers spokeswoman in Omaha, Neb., said the reservoirs have enough water to maintain a navigable channel on the Missouri through Dec. 1.
If the drought continues into next year, Farhap said, the corps may have to reduce flow.
Fuchs said the upper Mississippi basin in Minnesota and Wisconsin may get significant rain this week that can help replenish that river. But the storms will be along what meteorologists call the "ring of fire," the line of storms along the edges of the powerful high-pressure system over Missouri and Illinois.
"Unfortunately, we don't see a change in that," he said.
St. Louis needs only three more days at 105 degrees this summer to beat the record of 10 set in 1934. That year, 420 people died of heat as the temperature reached at least 100 degrees on 29 days.
But those are seasonal totals logged in the record book. Today is only July 24, and St. Louis already has had 14 days 100 degrees or hotter. The National Weather Service forecast calls for highs of 105 today and Wednesday, with no hint of significant change in the system that has baked much of the Midwest and Great Plains for four weeks.