FARGO-The past few months have been dry enough that the Red River Valley is now considered to be in a moderate drought, but city officials aren't yet worried about water shortages of the kind seen in California.

Fargo does have a contingency plan just in case the rivers dry up though, according to Bruce Grubb, the city's top public works official. Water restrictions would come in four stages starting with some restrictions on watering outdoor plants and eventually, as a drought continues, a ban on watering that would grind car washes and some factories to a halt.

In neighboring West Fargo, Public Works Director Chris Brungardt said the city relies on groundwater, which isn't affected by drought. Still, he said, he and his staff can't help but look at droughts like the one in California and wonder if that would happen here.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the Red River Valley and nearly all of Minnesota is in a moderate drought and have been since winter. By the agency's definition, that means water shortages may be developing.

Vince Godon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, said what's happening now is probably a short-term drought brought on by below-average precipitation this fall and winter. All it takes is a really good rainstorm to turn that around, he said.

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Being prepared

The Drought Monitor shows there have been a series of short-term droughts in North Dakota over the past several years. According to Godon, winter storms that normally hit the valley have been heading north or south, a pattern that appears to have continued into the spring.

In contrast, parts of California have been in some form of drought since fall 2011. The current extreme drought there has been in effect for a year, triggering the first statewide mandatory water restrictions last week.

According to Grubb, Fargo can endure extreme droughts for a few years. Upstream, Lake Ashtabula, a reservoir near Valley City, has about a year of water available for the city. Devils Lake, a flooded lake that drains into the Sheyenne River, a tributary to the Red River, has about two years of water. Lakes in west-central Minnesota also supply water to the Red.

According to the city, if there is a continued drought, homeowners and businesses would not be allowed to water outdoor plants every other day, based on even-odd addresses. As a drought gets worse, watering is restricted to two days a week, then one and, finally, not at all. Restaurants would be asked to not serve water unless asked by customers, factories would have to shut down nonessential operations and car washes would stop operations altogether.

West Fargo also can require even-odd watering days, but Brungardt said the main concern is the ability of the city's pumps to move enough water if everyone watered their yards at once.

In the next few years, though, he said, the city will probably start using river water like Fargo. The use of groundwater is an artifact from the days when West Fargo was a small town, he said, but projections show its population will exceed its rights to the aquifer under the city.

At current usage levels, though, there's enough water for another 30 years, he said.


On the Web

Click here to see the drought monitor. Click here to see the city of Fargo's drought plan.