A water use restriction goes into effect for the city of Little Falls, today.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Little Falls, along with the western half of Morrison County, is classified as being in a “severe drought.” The eastern half of the county is currently in a “moderate drought.”
Friday, the DNR indicated that Little Falls and the rest of the Mississippi Headwaters Basin entered a drought warning phase. According to Little Falls Public Works Director Greg Kimman, that means the city has to begin implementing restrictions on water use.
The main impact, at this point, will be on lawn irrigation. The city is implementing an odd-even restriction on residents who want to water their lawns. This means residents living in odd numbered homes within the city can irrigate on odd numbered days of the month, and residents in even numbered homes can water on even numbered days.
“One of the requirements that the DNR has for us — it’s a goal, but it’s still something that we have to shoot for — is that our water usage is 50% above our January usage,” Kimman said.
He said in January, city residents used about one million gallons of water. That means the city has a goal of using 1.5 million gallons. Right now, the Little Falls Water Plant is producing about 1.6 - 1.7 million gallons per day.
“So, we’re not too far off from that 1.5 (million) mark that we need to get to,” Kimman said.
Along with implementing odd-even irrigation restrictions, Kimman said the city will also be talking with its largest water users to “see if there’s any other conservation measures that they can take.”
Little Falls Finance Director Lori Kasella said there are currently no administrative fines being levied against those who violate the irrigation rules. She said the city is hopeful residents will be respectful of the drought conditions and adhere to the odd-even restrictions.
Kimman also clarified that the restrictions apply only to lawn irrigation. Those using water for agricultural purposes — including gardens — are not impacted.
The DNR currently has the Mississippi River classified as “scrapable” between monitoring stations in Brainerd and west of Royalton. It is the lowest designation on the state’s gauge for river flow, meaning “paddlers may have to get out of their watercraft to avoid rocks.”
As of Monday night, the water level at the Brainerd station was 6.4 feet and the flow was 644 cubic feet per second (CFS). Anything below 908 is considered scrapable. In Royalton, the level is 7.91 feet and 974 CFS, with anything below 2,000 being considered scrapable at that site.
The restriction is also going to have an impact on the Little Falls Golf Course. City Administrator Jon Radermacher said, as the course uses water from the river for its irrigation system, the city has been instructed not to tap any water from the river.
“We are trying to have a conversation with (the DNR),” Radermacher said, Monday. “I reached out to them today and got no response back. So, we’re trying to figure out what other alternative options we have. Because without water and this heat that we have coming, it’s going to be detrimental to the conditions of the course.”
Radermacher said he spoke with Little Falls Golf Course Manager Ethan Ballou, who believed if staff could at least keep the greens wet, the rest of the course can recover from any damage caused by the heat. During the heat wave Little Falls experienced in late June, parts of the course got burnt out. They recovered, however, after the area experienced some rain and the irrigation system began working at full capacity.
It will be a challenge, Radermacher said, because the alternative source of water for the course would normally be the city of Little Falls. With water being cut back on the city’s system, however, that is likely not an option.
“We’re going to need to find an alternative if we do have to remain shut off from being irrigated,” Radermacher said.
Though the measures are temporary, there was no indication as to how long they were going to be in place.
According to a written statement from the DNR, 52% of Minnesota is now experiencing severe drought, and 4% is in an extreme drought situation. It would take “at least three to five inches of precipitation spread over a period of about two weeks to significantly alleviate drought.”
The extended forecast currently does not have any significant chance of rain for Little Falls and the surrounding area for at least the next 15 days. Temperatures are expected to be in the low to mid 90s through July 28.
“DNR is taking the drought seriously,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, in a statement released, July 16. “We have a robust plan in place, strong partnerships across the state, and continue to take actions to respond to the current situation. We understand that people are seeing the impacts of the drought in their daily lives and have concerns about water levels and availability. While occasional water level fluctuations are natural, normal and beneficial to ecosystems, they can negatively affect tourism and recreation, agriculture, businesses and other activities that are dependent on water. Times of drought remind us all about the importance of water conservation.”