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Whitefish proposes water conservation regulations

May 20, 2019

The Whitefish City Council tonight will consider approving new water conservation restrictions for city water users that include an outdoor watering prohibition between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The council is poised to adopt an ordinance that adds a new water conservation chapter to city code. A public hearing will be held at tonight’s meeting.

In addition to specific outdoor watering hours, the new regulations would require lodging establishments to provide guests the option of choosing not to have linen washed every day. Also, watering must not result in coverage of pavement areas or result in excess runoff.

The new regulations authorize the city utility billing department to conduct water audits of usage on any account and require modifications as appropriate to conserve water.

In the event of a water shortage, the regulations outline further restrictions for various stages of a water shortage. For example, if there’s a Stage 1, or severe water shortage, watering would be limited to two days per week, with watering prohibited on Mondays and an alternating schedule based on addresses and types of homes.

If a Stage 2 extreme water shortage is declared by the city, all outdoor watering would be prohibited, both for public and private use. Washing of vehicles, boats, trailers, pavement or building exteriors would be prohibited, and no new landscaping would be permitted.

The proposed regulations outline fines and penalties for not complying with city code.

According to a memorandum to the council from Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman, Whitefish’s expanding population, increased tourism and recent hotter, drier summers have resulted in the city water treatment plant exceeding the capacity limit dictated by state law.

The city has undertaken a number of conservation efforts to lower usage and reduce water loss, including the replacement of old cast-iron water mains and the implementation of irrigation user rate increases.

As a result, water loss from January 2017 to January 2019 has been reduced 68 percent and total daily water produced per capita has decreased by over 50 gallons from 2015 to 2018.

Even so, irrigation water is a big component of the city’s overall water usage, as high as 21 percent of yearly water produced, according to Workman’s memo.

The ordinance notes that as the city’s resident and tourist populations continue to grow, withdrawals from Haskill Basin, Whitefish Lake and other sources of municipal water “must be balanced with demand to attain sustainability.

“The implementation of water conservation restrictions also positively impacts the environment by minimizing the transport of fertilizer, pesticide and other contaminants from runoff to surface waters and deep percolation to ground waters,” the proposed ordinance states.

In other business, the council will hold a public hearing for a proposed ordinance adding a new section to zoning regulations to establish the Whitefish Legacy Homes Program, which would require a certain percentage of homes be deed-restricted for long-term affordability.

The council will continue its discussion about limiting short-term rentals during a work session from 6:30 to 7 p.m. in the council conference room at Whitefish City Hall. The regular meeting begins at 7:10 p.m. in the council chambers.

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