By Ron VandenBoom
Havre Mayor Phyllis Leonard said Havre is prepared for an emergency situation created by the possibility of water shortages.
City ordinances are already on the books giving the director of public works and the water and sewer committee authority to determine if there is a need for water restrictions on irrigation and lawn sprinkling, Leonard said.
Violation of the restrictions can lead to a misdemeanor fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail, Leonard said, adding that the water department may also discontinue service to the offender.
Additional restrictions, if need be, can be imposed by a vote of the City Council.
No such restrictions have been imposed this year because municipal water supplies have been adequate, but long-range forecasts by some meteorologists raises concerns that next year could also be dry.
"This year might not be the bad one," said Jeff Jensen, superintendent of the Havre Water Plant referring to water levels in Fresno Reservoir and the Milk River. "It's next year if it's low we better be careful."
Havre does have an emergency backup water supply in the form of three wells, Jensen said. But one of the wells, the one in Pepin Park, has been closed to public consumption due to nitrate contamination.
Jensen said he had been working on the problem of making the well safe and has "backwashed" the well trying to solve the contamination problem, but so far without success.
He said they do not yet know what is causing the contamination.
Jensen acknowledged that while the two remaining well would be enough to supply Havre's immediate needs for water, depending solely on the wells would mean that Havre would be placed on immediate water restrictions.
Jensen, said normal summertime water use in Havre can reach 4.3 - 4.5 million gallons of water per day while winter use drops to as little as 1.2 million gallons per day. The maximum capacity of the water plant is 4.5 million gallons per day.
Construction of the new $8.3 million addition to the water plant will increase the plant's capacity to about 6 million gallons per day, Jensen said.
Fire protection within the city has not been affected by the recent draught, said Assistant Fire Chief Dave Sheppard, noting that current water supplies are adequate to meet the needs of the department within the city limits.
Sheppard did however acknowledge that because of the dry conditions the department has been sending an extra truck or a few extra people just to make sure that they catch the fire quickly before it can get out of hand.
Sheppard said people have been pretty good this year about using common sense in relationship to an increased fire danger. He suggests that people continue to keep grasses in the urban interface areas cut short and also not be afraid to water lawns.
"Green grass doesn't burn as well as brown grass," he said.
Extremely dry weather conditions are not likely to affect municipal water supplies unless those conditions impact the areas high in Montana's mountains that feed the St. Mary's River and Sherburne Reservoir.
According to Scott Guenther, hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, it is not likely that dry weather will affect snow-pack areas high in Montana's Mountains that feed the Milk River.
Guenther said snow-pack in the area of Glacier National Park has been about average over the last few years and there is no reason to believe these areas of higher elevation should not receive adequate snow this coming winter despite the draught-like conditions along the Milk River basin.
What a dry, warm winter can mean is that there will be less water for agriculture and stock ponds during the spring when they usually are filled, Guenther said. "A warm winter can also mean an earlier than normal snow melt that could mean more water early in the season before farmers really need it. It could also mean less water for irrigation later in the year.
This, according to Guenther could mean irrigation would have to be curtailed sometime in July, 2001. Irrigation this year was halted Aug. 12, about a month earlier than normal.
Guenther does not believe Havre's water supply will be affected.