By Tim Leeds
Reduced water use and an increase in the level of the Milk River have lessened a water shortage that caused Chinook to impose water restrictions late last week.
Before the city on Thursday banned everything but household use, water use averaged 600,000 to 700,000 gallons a day. Use Sunday was about 285,000 gallons, Chinook water plant operator Bob Painter said today.
The restrictions will remain in effect. Water users in Chinook are asked not to water their lawns, wash their cars or otherwise use large amounts of water.
Chinook, like other area towns, is dependent on the Milk River for its water supply. However, unlike Havre, the town of about 1,500 has no storage capacity beyond what it uses on a daily basis.
The plant was producing about 925 gallons a minute earlier this summer, and is producing about 800 gallons a minute now. Chinook also keeps about 400,000 gallons in towers and about 260,000 gallons in wells.
At the end of last week, the water level in the Milk River was about 2 feet above the inlet pipe the water plant uses to pump water out of the river. If the water level had continued to drop, water production in Chinook would have stopped.
The level came up about 5 inches Sunday, and is up about 1 feet to 2 feet today, Painter said.
"But we're still low," he said.
The restrictions will probably be in place for at least one or two weeks, Painter said. If the supply situation continues to improve, the next step will probably include limited use, like lawn watering on alternate days for a few hours.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which administers Fresno Reservoir, recently increased the amount released from the reservoir from 35 cubic feet per second to 50 cubic feet per second.
Painter said the water plant staff saw no real decrease in water use for the first few days of the restrictions.
"Now they seem to be responding," he added.
He said this is the time of year when water use usually starts to drop. Last year at this time the use was only half what it has been this year, he said.
"The demand is just incredible," he said.
He said the drought has increased demand by people outside of town, too. Ranchers have been coming in to fill their bulk water tanks to have water for their cattle, he said.
Painter said people in Chinook will just have to keep their water use down until the river comes up so the plant can produce enough.
"Flowers and lawns, I guess, can come back," he said. "Right now we just can't swing it."