Gillette is using too much water and is coming uncomfortably close to its maximum capacity, so the city is slashing its own water use for three days.
Wednesday’s water usage figures were high enough to cause alarm. In that day alone, the community sped through about 13.3 million gallons of water, of which about 500,000 were drawn from the city’s reserves. The city is only able to produce about 14.5 million gallons of water a day when everything is running perfectly, so such an extreme use makes the situation dire.
Wednesday’s figures were astonishing, but the rest of the week’s water use was equally worrisome.
“Basically what we did these past couple of days is put 10 million gallons of water on the ground a day,” city Water Services Manager Diane Monahan said.
City officials had an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss how it was going to address the water issue, and they agreed that the city would cut most of its own watering.
“We might be browner, but we’re trying to be conservative. We haven’t seen temperatures like this for years,” Monahan said.
All of the city-maintained lawns will be cut off, with the exception of the Little League fields at Dalbey Memorial Park. The city also will continue to water the volunteer flower beds and trees around town.
Monahan expects that Gillette should save about 1 million gallons a day by not watering the city’s lawns and parks.
As one of Gillette’s largest water users, city officials have opted to set an example by cutting consumption. They hope other heavy irrigators and Gillette residents will follow suit, city spokesman Joe Lunne said.
“I think we have to be the first to respond,” Monahan said. “I know that the public has been frustrated with us in the past because they have seen us watering parks and we have asked them to conserve.”
City officials already have spoken with the various large water users, including Cam-plex, the Campbell County Parks and Recreation Department and the Campbell County School District, and will meet with representatives on Monday to re-evaluate water use. What happens Monday depends on what kinds of consumption figures come out of the weekend.
Temperatures on the weekend will be in the 90s.
“We may look at it on Monday and say we’re going to shut off some the parks and water some parks,” Monahan said.
The city also may decide to cut back watering to two days a week — it now waters three days a week — or it may decide that the temporary cut was good enough and the tanks have replenished, she said. Right now, it’s hard to tell what will happen Monday.
Why cutbacks are needed
The main concern is ensuring that the city’s nine water tanks are replenished in the case of emergencies, she added.
The Westover tank is being reno
vated, which has dropped the city’s water reserves to 19 million gallons. That is enough water to last about two days during this time of the year, Monahan said. As of Friday morning, the tanks were, on average, about three-quarters full.
Keeping those tanks filled is vital because it provides a needed cushion for the community in the case of emergencies.
Firefighters need to have access to water when they’re fighting fires in and around town. They can pull up to 2,000 gallons a minute to fight a fire, she said.
“We’re looking at a season of incredible fires across the West, so we need to make sure that our water utility can provide water for our firefighters,” Lunne said.
The cushion is also there in case a lightning strike takes out a well. If one of the Madison wells goes down, it could drop water production by about 1 million to 1.5 million gallons a day.
“Lightning storms can really screw us up,” Monahan said.
What’s the forecast?
The amount of water being consumed so early in the season is unsettling.
The city is not looking at setting mandatory water restrictions for residents, but if it can’t curb water usage, it may need to reevaluate that stance, Lunne said.
Historically, the third week of July is the toughest week for water usage, Monahan said. Given that history, Gillette should expect to need more water in late July, so it’s important to be proactive and conserve early.
“We need redundancy, we need more water. Mother Nature has been really good to us these past two years, and she’s a little angry at us right now,” Monahan said.
This week’s triple-digit temperatures are on top of the fact that the city has added 250 homes in the past year, she said. That’s another 250 lawns, another 250 showers and 250 loads of laundry.
“This is why we’re putting in another Madison pipeline,” she added.
The new pipeline is projected to be online by January 2016. Once online, it is expected to increase water production by about 16,000 gallons a minute, said Mike Cole, project manager for the Madison pipeline project.
Right now, the Madison can produce about 10,000 gallons a minute. With the new pipeline, that number should increase to about 26,000 gallons per minute, Cole added.
In the meantime, Gillette needs to survive this summer’s scorching heat and do it responsibly. The city has taken the first major step and officials hope that others will follow its lead.
“We need to get the usage and the consumption down immediately,” Lunne said.
“Just work with us,” Monahan said. “We’re all in this together.”
Help keep water use down. Participate in the voluntary conservation program:
Water production by the numbers (million gallons per day):
|June||Average Use||Peak Use|
|2012 (To date)||7.98||12.5|
Gillette’s water usage this past week: