Whitefish City Council last week approved the hiring of a consulting firm to lay plans for building out the treatment capacity of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, taking steps to remedy a notice from the state Department of Environmental Quality that the agency would no longer permit additional connections between the city’s water services.
Mayor John Muhlfeld said the city has the capability to treat and distribute up to 4 million gallons of water per day, but the DEQ only gives the city credit for treating 3 million gallons per day. Still, until the city can provide a capacity assessment proving it can effectively work within its means, the DEQ will refuse new connections at future developments.
The city has taken steps to curb its usage and make more efficient use of its treatment capacity, including enacting a water-conservation ordinance, which it also approved on second reading at its June 3 meeting.
“We are taking very proactive steps to address this issue,” Muhlfeld said before the council unanimously approved the contract with engineering firm Morrison-Maierle, Inc., which has offices in Helena. “This isn’t a storage-capacity issue; it’s a treatment-capacity issue.”
Muhlfeld said the city has been actively replacing antiquated cast-iron water mains through town after discovering that a high percentage of water was being “lost” due to the inefficient systems.
“We documented that over 25 to 30 percent of water that’s actually treated at the plant and distributed to town was actually lost due to leaky cast iron water mains,” Muhlfeld said. “So we have been aggressively replacing water mains the last couple years and I believe we have reduced that water loss by about 50 percent.”
Muhlfeld said after the firm evaluates the treatment plant, the plan in the next few years is to increase its treatment capacity to around 8 million gallons per year.
Muhlfeld also clarified the council’s decision to adopt a new water-conservation ordinance for city water users during peak summer months, limiting the timeframe in which residents can water their lawns.
Moving forward, the following water-conservation measures will be in place throughout the year. All outdoor watering is prohibited between the hours of 9 a.m. a.m. and 5 p.m.; commercial lodging establishments must provide guests the option of choosing not to have linen washed every day; watering must not result in coverage of pavement areas or result in excess runoff; and when drought conditions necessitate additional conservation measures, further restrictions will be implemented in stages, depending on the severity of the conditions, according to a city press release.
The protocols for Stage I Severe Water Shortage and Stage II Extreme Water Shortage can be found on the city’s website at www.cityofwhitefish.org.
“This issue we are dealing with this summer from our perspective is a short-term issue that we hope to put to bed,” Muhlfeld said.