By Tim Leeds
Following the lead of Havre, the Hill County Water District is imposing watering restrictions because of the drought.
The district, which serves rural users and communities from the Big Sandy Creek Bridge a few miles west of Havre to the Hill-Liberty county line, is allowing watering of lawns and gardens only at night, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
The district imposed the restrictions because of the low water level in Fresno Reservoir, from which it draws its water, and the high sediment in the water.
New regulations adopted by the district stiffen the penalties for violations. The first day of violation will result in a $100 fine, the second in a $200 fine and a third will result in the termination of water service. A $325 fee is required to reconnect service.
Havre imposed watering restrictions April 24, establishing an even-odd schedule and limiting watering to evening and early-morning hours.
In addition, the city is asking residents to limit their water use to household use Sunday through Tuesday while the water plant is shut down as part of an upgrade.
"There will be nobody happier than me when this plant is done," city water plant superintendent Jeff Jensen said Thursday.
The city will rely on stored water while the plant is offline. Jensen said household use, like washing clothes or showering, is fine, but no one should be watering lawns or washing cars.
While the plant is shut down, workers will connect a new 24-inch line from the plant to the Milk River. The tie-in was attempted several weeks ago but couldn't be completed, Jensen said. The plant sits on a sandy base with a high groundwater level. A Minnesota company had to come in to reduce the water level before the job could be completed.
There will be several other shutdowns to complete the work, Jensen said. How many will be needed will depend on how well the work progresses each time.
"We're making progress on completing the plant," he said.
Jensen said the water restrictions implemented by the city April 24 will still be in place once the plant is back on line.
"We're not out of the woods, out of the trouble, at all for the drought," he said.
The city restricted watering to night and mornings only, between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. People with even-numbered street addresses can water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and people with odd-numbered addresses can water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. No watering is allowed on Mondays.
The city looked at hundreds of programs implemented by cities in the United States and Canada, Jensen said, and the program Havre is using is like a program implemented by the city of Atlanta.
"It's not water restrictions. (It's) more of a water conservation," he said.
The program also is intended to keep water from being used wastefully, particularly at times of high wind or high heat. Jensen said conservation techniques should be used at all times, whether there's a drought or not.
"We live in an arid area," he said.
There are many techniques and equipment that can be used to conserve water while maintaining a healthy lawn, Jensen said. The Havre Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreation Department and local landscaping companies have information about techniques and technology that can be used.
Jensen said that although water is coming into Fresno Reservoir, officials want to make sure there is sufficient water for the entire irrigation season. Fresno and Nelson reservoirs have to be filled, and water has to be released to irrigators and to communities downstream from Havre that use the river for their municipal water.
Havre will have enough water to get through the summer, though, he said.
"It's just a conservation thing. You've got people downriver that that's their absolute livelihood," he said.