By Tim Leeds
So much muddy water is flowing through the Milk River that Chinook has temporarily restricted watering to indoor use.
"We're on total water restriction right now, no outside use at all. The dirt is really taking its toll on the (water treatment) plant," Bob Painter, supervisor of the Chinook water plant, said today.
The plant is having trouble treating the water quickly enough to keep the town's storage tanks full, Painter said.
The flow and mud is the result of the five-day snowstorm and rainstorm the area experienced starting June 7. For the first time in five years, Fresno Reservoir is full and is releasing a large stream of water with a lot of mud and organic material.
That's making it difficult for the water treatment plants to do their job.
"The last four days we've been making just enough water to clean our filters. No water was going into town," Painter said.
Chinook's storage tanks hold 400,000 gallons, but the reserve was down to about 100,000 gallons Saturday, he said. He started running the plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week on Friday.
"We got it working and we're caught up," Painter said.
He hopes that the restriction against outdoor water uses can be lifted by the end of the week, although that is up to the city government, he said.
Before the ban, Chinook limited outdoor watering to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No watering was permitted between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on those days. Painter was uncertain if those restrictions would continue throughout the summer.
The Havre water plant is also having a tough time keeping up.
"The water is nasty. It is extremely tough water," plant superintendent Jeff Jensen said. "We're making water but using a lot of chemicals. It's extremely expensive."
As long as people follow the restrictions the city of Havre has in place, the plant will be able to keep up, Jensen said.
"If people stick to the conservation plan, we should be OK. They have to bear with us. That was a major flood," he said.
Havre has imposed restrictions on outside water use to evenings and mornings only, with even-numbered houses allowed to water from 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. the following morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and odd-numbered houses allowed to use water outside from 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. the following morning on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. No outside water use is allowed from 10 a.m. Mondays to 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
Kim Bunton, manager of the Hill County Water District, said the district is also going to continue its water restrictions.
"There's a lot of water, but it's muddy yet," he said.
The settling reservoirs the district uses are starting to clear, Bunton said, but some of the water has been settling for a long time and is starting to get stale.
"If the water isn't muddy, it tastes terrible," he said.
The situation is improving, Bunton said, and the restrictions might be lifted in July or August.
"We're being optimistic," he said.
The district, which serves most of Hill County from the Big Sandy Creek Bridge west of Havre to the Liberty County line, has restricted outside water use to evenings and mornings only, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Bunton has also recommended that people boil their water before drinking it if they have any concerns about its quality.
Part of the Havre plant's problem is the upgrade being done, Jensen said. Work to increase the plant's capacity is ongoing, which will nearly double the amount of water it can treat once it's done.
"We're a little bit crippled here. We're getting there," Jensen said.