MOORHEAD — The city of Moorhead’s public utility is planning mandatory lawn watering restrictions in response to a severe drought affecting the region.

An official with Moorhead Public Service said Monday, July 19, that the city would soon announce mandatory restrictions limiting non-essential water use — things like residential lawn watering — to every other day, based on a property's address.

That means even-numbered addresses watering on even numbered days and odd-numbered addresses watering on odd-numbered days.

The move comes in the wake of information Moorhead received from the state of Minnesota late last week, which asked communities to take steps to curtail non-essential water use because more than 50% of the state is considered to be in a severe drought.

Travis Schmidt, general manager of Moorhead Public Service, said in the past Moorhead routinely asked residents to voluntarily limit water use during the summer months, similar to what Fargo and West Fargo currently do.

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In 2021, Schmidt said the utility decided to forego asking for voluntary water restriction unless conditions dictated otherwise.

Fargo and West Fargo plan to stick with voluntary restrictions in place since the start of the summer, at least for the time being.

Marc Pritchard, supervisor of Moorhead's water plant, said because flows in the Red River recently dropped below 150 cubic feet per second, the city was planning to impose voluntary water restrictions.

But the city went with mandatory restrictions instead, based on the recent communication from state officials, Pritchard said.

According to Pritchard, the last time Moorhead imposed mandatory water restrictions was probably in 1988, when the region experienced dry conditions similar to today.

Under the soon-to-be-imposed mandatory watering restrictions, Pritchard said a first violation would likely result in a property owner receiving a reminder of the new rules, while a second violation could result in a formal letter.

A third violation could result in a low-flow meter being installed on a property that could physically restrict water use for up to 48 hours, Pritchard said.

Troy Hall, water utility director for the city of Fargo, said Monday that Fargo is sticking with the voluntary lawn watering restrictions the city announced early in the summer, which he said is a step the city takes every year as part of its drought emergency planning.

According to Hall, current flows in the Red River and Sheyenne River, which Fargo draws its water from, are adequate to meet the city's daily water demand, which he said hit a relatively high mark one day last week when daily demand reached about 29 million gallons.

Hall said the annual average daily water demand in Fargo is about 14 million gallons.

Among things Hall said he watches closely is the amount of water leaving Orwell Dam in the Otter Tail River Watershed, which feeds the Red River, and the 10-day outlook for water from that source remains good for now.

A water gauge is visible Wednesday, June 30, 2021, on the Red River near the water purification plant in Fargo.
The river is low, flowing at just 17% of its average volume. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
A water gauge is visible Wednesday, June 30, 2021, on the Red River near the water purification plant in Fargo. The river is low, flowing at just 17% of its average volume. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Hall said the rain that fell Monday afternoon in Fargo was unlikely to change the drought situation significantly, but he said it might prompt some people to put off lawn watering for a day or two.

John Wheeler, chief StormTracker meteorologist, said rain totals Monday afternoon varied around the region, ranging from none to more than an inch.

He noted that most places likely received less than an inch.

"It's a rain, which is better than no rain. But it does not end nor diminish the drought. We'd need a change in the pattern and a sequence of rains on a regular basis to do that," Wheeler said.

Matt Andvik, public works director for the city of West Fargo, said Monday that for now West Fargo, like Fargo, is sticking with voluntary water restrictions that have been in place since early summer.

Andvik added that West Fargo typically follows what Fargo does when it comes to water use, as West Fargo has been receiving its water supply from Fargo since 2016.

Cities across the region are considering watering restrictions as arid conditions that have persisted for many months continue to worsen.

Late last week, Grand Forks, N.D., asked its residents to begin voluntarily limiting outdoor water usage in response to dropping water levels in the Red River and Red Lake Rivers.