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Kalispell water usage at record level

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | August 8, 2021 12:00 AM

The city of Kalispell is breaking records for water usage as the Flathead Valley endures persistent heat and drought.

"We are using a lot of water," Kalispell Public Works Director Susie Turner said.

Turner said the city recently has recorded "some of our highest peak demand days this summer that we've ever experienced."

So far this year, Kalispell's water demand has reached up to 12.4 million gallons in a single 24-hour period. Last year's daily record was 11.51 million gallons, and in 2019 the record was 9.86 million gallons.

Extreme hot weather isn't the only reason for the heightened water usage, though Turner said high temperatures certainly have contributed to the rise in demand.

But she explained the city has seen a trend toward higher water consumption year-over-year as more and more people move to the area.

Turner hopes the city's water system already has gone through its busiest days of the season. She said the last week of July and the first week of August are typically when the city hits its highest levels of demand.

"From there, it starts to taper off," she said. "We are in our highest peak time right now."

Turner said rain showers during the past week helped reduce the strain on the city's water system, but weren't enough to offset a lot of the demand.

Still, she doesn't anticipate Kalispell will need to impose restrictions on water consumption like those that have gone into place in other Montana municipalities over the past several weeks.

IN POLSON, water uses such as lawn watering and vehicle washing were banned in late July because of low water reserves. Lawn watering also was prohibited in Billings starting Aug. 2. Bozeman implemented a limited watering schedule for residences on July 16.

But Turner noted Kalispell fills its taps with groundwater.

"We wouldn't be experiencing those types of issues," she said. "Right now, we feel comfortable in providing water to our residents."

But, she added, "There's always a limited amount of water … There is always a point where there's only so much water we can provide."

To avoid reaching that pivotal point, Turner said Kalispell residents should be "water wise."

That means limiting sprinkling only to the times when it's absolutely necessary, being careful not to overwater, and making sure water isn't being wasted on sidewalks or driveways.

"We do appreciate our customers being water wise," Turner said.

COLUMBIA FALLS City Manager Susan Nicosia echoed Turner's sentiment. "Use water appropriately," she said.

Nicosia said Columbia Falls is currently using about 2.5 million gallons of water each day.

"That's right in line with last August," she said.

She didn't anticipate reaching a point where Columbia Falls would need to impose restrictions on water users. It helps that the city added a third well to its water system last year.

"If we had not added that new well, we would've had to introduce some restrictions," Nicosia said.

WHITEFISH IS taking a more restrictive approach to water conservation. In 2019, the city codified restrictions such as prohibiting watering lawns between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. That regulation is in effect at all times, regardless of water usage.

"Additional water conservation measures can be activated by excessive water demand, drought conditions and/or critical equipment failure," Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman said in an email.

Whitefish's July water consumption was above levels from the past few years, but it hasn't quite reached record territory.

The city used more than 91.8 million gallons last month, up dramatically from the 64.8 million gallons consumed in July 2020.

The city eclipsed both those numbers in July 2017 with more than 96.6 million gallons of water consumed.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.