Kalispell Council Approves Temporary Emergency Water Conservation Ordinance

The first stage of the precautionary ordinance will encourage residents to voluntarily limit irrigation usage as the city temporarily operates with one fewer water source

By Maggie Dresser
A gavel. Beacon file

The Kalispell City Council on July 5 approved an emergency ordinance in a 6-1 vote that will initially educate residents and encourage voluntary water conservation practices during peak summer months in response to a high demand in irrigation systems last summer as the city temporarily operates with one fewer water source.

“We felt it was prudent and necessary to institute immediate water conservation and water restriction protocols to ensure that we can provide the necessary domestic sanitary and fire flow water and demand services from our system,” Kalispell Public Works Director Susie Turner said. “We did pull together an emergency ordinance that stated it would give the city the option to implement watering restrictions at different stages of demand throughout the summer.” 

The ordinance, which expires in 90 days, will be separated into three stages based on water supply and demand status over the summer. Stage one will encourage residents to voluntarily limit water usage from overhead and hose-end sprinkler systems. Letters will also be directly sent to a portion of the top irrigation users encouraging conservation and city parks and recreation have already begun reducing water scheduling, duration and times.

City officials have already spoken with the city’s top irrigation users and encouraged water conservation and the Kalispell Parks and Recreation Department has already reduced its irrigation usage by 25%.

During the summer’s peak water usage month in July of 2021, 71% and 157 million gallons of the city’s water was used for irrigation, Turner said at a council work session on June 27.

If the water demand status becomes untenable, the city will enter stage two, imposing mandatory water reduction measures for overhead spray irrigation and hose-end sprinklers for all customers, which would require designated watering days and restricting hours.

Additionally, fire hydrant accounts on construction sites will be restricted to 10,000 gallons of water per day. Restrictions will not apply to low-volume drip irrigation, hand watering or hoses with a positive shut-off nozzle when watering trees, shrubs, ornamental perennials and ground covers, annual flower beds and planters and food gardens. Residents who use a well system independent from the city will not face any restrictions.

Users who violate the stage two restrictions will receive a warning for the first violation, a $250 civil penalty for a second violation and discontinuance of water service for a third violation.

In the worst-case scenario where water demand becomes unsustainable, restrictions would be required for all customers, construction sites and city parks – with all outdoor water use prohibited.

The city has 11 groundwater sources, but only 10 are operational after the Noffsinger Spring, which is the city’s second largest well, was taken offline last year because the facility’s condition “no longer provides the necessary protections against exposures to environmental impacts.”

The North Main Well capital project will replace the Noffsinger Spring source with a new equivalent water source.

“We anticipate that to be online by next summer,” Turner said.

In 2018, city officials completed a Water Facility Plan Update, which projected an annual 2% growth rate in Kalispell. However, the last several years reflect a 3% growth rate and infrastructure construction timelines did not address the summer’s peak water demands.

All councilmembers supported the ordinance except for Sid Daoud.

“I oppose an emergency order that from the public’s perspective is all centered on the use of government force to police and penalize citizens after excessive water use and even asking them to report each other for overuse when they have not given the public the chance to be educated and voluntarily conserver water first,” Daoud said. “The bulk of the ordinance can be conducted without an emergency ordinance enactment.”