Whitefish gets state variance for water connections

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The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has granted Whitefish a deviation variance that once again allows for new water connections to the city system.

The state earlier this spring began prohibiting any new water extension or connection due to concerns the city is approaching its threshold for water storage and water source treatment capacity. The state agency required the city to submit a deviation request, which was recently approved, allowing for future new connections while the city works to increase its water system capacity.

DEQ will allow the city to approve connections for another roughly 463 dwelling equivalent units to the current system, according to Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman.

“We estimate that this will get us a couple of years,” Workman said. “We should be OK with this deviation until we can get the water plant expanded and/or get a ground source for water.”

The city provided DEQ with documentation that its current water system has the capacity to serve another 1,500 dwelling equivalent units. After subtracting all of the lots that are currently platted in the city that leaves 463 remaining dwellings that can be approved for connection.

“This is only new lots that would figure into that 463,” Workman explained. “There won’t be a point where someone who already owns a lot can’t connect. This is only newly created lots.”

“This buys us enough time to expand the capacity,” he added. There is no way every lot in the city that is already platted is going to be developed in the next couple years before we can increase the capacity.”

Anytime the city approves a new subdivision, it’s required to be approved by DEQ as showing that the city can handle the related sewer, water and stormwater.

By the city requesting a deviation from DEQ, it essentially is saying it wants to continue hooking up new users, while it works to increase its capacity. The city was required to submit to DEQ an analysis of its current water system and show its future plans.

Workman said ultimately the city will be required to increase the treatment capacity, which includes the actual expansion of the water treatment plant along with several other elements.

The city expects to have expansion of its water treatment plant completed in 2021.

Whitefish operates a 4 million gallon per day water treatment plant that treats water from Second and Third creeks in Haskill Basin and during peak usage times draws from Whitefish Lake. DEQ rates the plant at having a firm capacity of 3 million gallons per day when one filter is taken out of service.

The city is looking at several projects that would increase capacity at the water plant to 6 million gallons per day.

The estimated cost for the group of projects necessary to increase the source and treatment capacity is $10 million to $12 million. The city in June hired the engineering firm of Morrison-Maierle to design a project set to expand its water source and treatment capacity.

In addition to actual expansion of the water treatment plant, the city plans several other pieces of the project to expand capacity, including extension of the Whitefish Lake intake structure, expansion of the lake intake pump station, installation of a parallel water main to the water treatment plant and extension of the city’s sanitary sewer to the water plant.

Last fall the city as part of planning for the future of the water system, began searching for a new source for water by investigating the option of an underground water source.

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