City water usage rose to 2.9 million gallons Sunday as the warm weather prompted residents to line up at car washes and spray the winter dirt and grime off their driveways and sidewalks.
The demand for extra water almost forced the city to turn on a Fox Hills aquifer well Sunday, which would have increased the fluoride levels in city drinking water, said Diane Monahan, water services manager for the city.
“We are just right on the cusp. If we use much more than that, we will need to seriously look at kicking on the Fox Hills wells,” Monahan said.
The 30-year-old Madison pipeline was shut down Nov. 1 for inspection and repairs. While it is shut down, Gillette has been relying on in-town wells set in the Fort Union aquifer.
The in-town wells can only produce 3 million gallons a day and if water usage rises above that, water will need to be used from wells set in the Fox Hills aquifer.
Fluoride levels in the Fort Union aquifer are higher than the EPA allows, but not nearly as high as fluoride levels in Fox Hills wells. Fluoride levels have stayed near or below about 2.4 milligrams per liter since November but have been higher than 2.0, the maximum level the Environmental Protection Agency allows for an extended period of time.
The federal agency has said levels slightly higher than 2.0 milligrams per liter are fine for Gillette residents over the age of 8 during the six months the Madison pipeline is out of service.
But fluoride levels could rise higher than 3 milligrams per liter if water from Fox Hills wells is blended into the city water supply, Monahan said.
“Any increase (in usage) we see from today on will effect the quality,” Monahan said.
The city must keep fluoride levels below 4 milligrams per liter. If levels get close to the 4 milligram per liter mark, city water will not be safe for anyone to drink and the city will notify all residents immediately.
Repairs to the Madison pipeline will be completed by May 1.
The water usage in late March and April really depends on the weather, Monahan said. Last year’s wet spring helped keep water usage down in April, but a streak of hot days could make water usage spike. In years past, water usage in April has averaged between 4.7 million gallons a day and 5.5 million gallons a day.
“We knew the last six weeks would be tough,” Monahan said.
She suggests city residents refrain from water intensive activities until May 1. Irrigation usually is the biggest drain on water supplies, but washing vehicles and spraying garages and driveways also contribute to higher water usage, she said.
The city has a commitment from the school district and Campbell County Parks and Recreation Department to hold off on irrigation until May 1.
The Madison pipeline rehabilitation project:
The $2.7 million project to inspect and repair the Madison pipeline is on track and progressing well, said Mike Cole, the city’s utility project manager.
“The area we are working in now is essentially between Cam-plex and Rozet,” Cole said.
The pipeline from Rozet to the Madison well field near Pine Haven is finished and in service and most of the work in Gillette is done, he said.
The pipeline will be operational May 1, but will not likely be done sooner, Cole said. There are still several repairs that still need to be done that will take some time.
A couple of the remaining repairs on the pipeline where Gillette residents might notice workers include repairs near the intersections of Butler Spaeth Road and Second Street expected to start this week and repairs near Butler Spaeth Road and Boxelder Road expected to be done the last week of April, Cole said.