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Ryan Johnson, Published July 17 2012

Plenty of water to keep lawns lush during drought, as long as rules are followed

FARGO – Even in the midst of a severe drought, Bruce Grubb said there’s plenty of water to keep the city’s lawns green and healthy this summer as temperatures climb above 90 degrees again this week.

But Grubb, Fargo’s enterprise director who oversees the water system, said residents here need to follow the rules when they give their grass some much-needed moisture.

Fargo, Dilworth and Moorhead all automatically implement lawn-watering restrictions every summer based on residents’ street addresses.

Those who live in even-numbered homes can turn the sprinklers on during even-numbered days, while watering is allowed on odd-numbered days for people in odd-numbered residences.

West Fargo doesn’t have automatic watering restrictions each summer, and there were no limits during last year’s wet summer, City Administrator Jim Brownlee said.

“But it’s a pretty unusual year that we don’t put them on,” he said of rules that are in place again this year until the late fall unless heavy rains help the city’s water system – and lawns – recover from the dry, hot weather that has plagued the region.

Unlike the other three communities, Moorhead’s watering restrictions are voluntary. There are no penalties for those who break the rules.

Bill Schwandt, general manager of Moorhead Public Service, said the city’s rules are meant to serve as “a good reminder” during the peak summer months when residents’ water usage doubles compared to an average winter day.

Lax enforcement doesn’t carry over to Dilworth, where Deputy Clerk Sandy Payne said rule breakers will have water service disconnected after the fifth violation of an ordinance that has been in effect since 1990. The first offense gets a verbal warning, followed by $25, $50 and $100 fines for the second, third and fourth offenses.

Fargo also shuts off water to repeat offenders’ homes. Grubb said most residents seem to follow the rules; city workers only step in when they receive complaints.

Brownlee said West Fargo’s rules are mandatory, but he isn’t aware of any resident being fined for illegal watering over the years.

All four communities exempt gardens, flowers, newly planted trees and newly sodded or seeded lawns from their watering restrictions.

Grubb said Fargo has long had watering restrictions to avoid stressing the capacity of its water system.

The city gets its water from the Red and Sheyenne rivers, and there’s no sign these sources will dry up anytime soon, he said.

On Monday, the Fargo plant pumped 16 million gallons of water to its customers – a figure that equates to about 25 cubic feet per second. That pales in comparison to the 1,200 cfs combined flow of the two rivers, even during the current drought.

“We’re monitoring that on a daily basis, but we’re not in a situation to panic at this time,” Grubb said. “But like everybody else, we’re certainly hopeful for some rain.”

Schwandt said Moorhead’s plant is pumping about 7 million gallons each day this summer. That’s well below the facility’s overall capacity of 10 million gallons a day.

Current water use in Moorhead is more than double the winter average. Schwandt said it’s important for residents to follow the rules and help cut down demand during the peak months.

“If everybody does that, that helps,” he said.

Brownlee said West Fargo gets its water from nine wells.

“When we’re pumping at max capacity, if they’re drawing down more than we can pump in, of course it drains down the water towers,” he said.

Brownlee said residents are good at following the rules, which helps reduce strain on the system.

Payne said Dilworth is keeping up with the growing demand for water this summer, even with the dry weather.

“With the economy the way it is and the costs of everyday living, I think people are kind of controlling it themselves,” she said.

Grubb said things could change if drought conditions continue. After dealing with a nearly continuous wet cycle since 1993 that finally broke last year, he said many Fargo residents simply might be out of practice when it comes to watering their lawns.

“It’s been so wet prior to this summer that people just didn’t need to do that,” he said. “I think they just got out of the habit.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

Area water restrictions

Dilworth, Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo all have watering restrictions this summer that allow residents to turn the sprinklers on every other day. Residents in homes with an even-numbered address may water on even-numbered days, while those in odd-numbered residences can water their lawns on odd-numbered days.

But there are slight differences in each community:

• Dilworth’s restrictions are in effect annually May 1 through Oct. 31.

• Fargo’s watering rules run Memorial Day through Labor Day each year.

• In West Fargo, watering is banned at any address between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., the period of peak water usage. The city’s current restrictions, which don’t automatically happen every summer, will last until the late fall.

• Moorhead’s rules of watering lawns also apply to washing cars in driveways and are in effect June 1 to Oct. 1 each year.