Amid widespread drought, East Grand Forks to ask residents to use less water

Last week, Grand Forks asked residents to water their lawns less often amid a widespread drought. Across the river, East Grand Forks plans to ask residents there to limit their nonessential water usage.

East Grand Forks tower sign logo.jpg
A water tower in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Grand Forks Herald photo)

As a drought continues throughout Minnesota and the Midwest, East Grand Forks officials are set to ask residents there to use less water.

City staff plan to ask residents to restrict all nonessential water use, according to Brian Johnson, the city’s water plant superintendent. That, broadly speaking, means the city plans to ask people to water their lawns and cars less, use pressure washers less frequently, and so on.


For the moment, the city’s request, which it plans to publicize on Wednesday or later this week, isn’t a mandate.
“At this point, it’s voluntary,” Johnson told the Herald. “There isn’t going to be any enforcement. So we’d just like people to start voluntarily limiting at this point. Now, this could all change by next week if we don’t get any significant precipitation. At that point, it could become mandatory.”

Staff at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources last week asked cities that draw water from the Red Lake River to use less of it. The river begins on the western edge of Lower Red Lake on lands owned by Red Lake Nation and flows west to Thief River Falls, Red Lake Falls and Crookston before merging into the Red River between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a dam at the lake’s outlet, and staff there are gradually closing the dam’s gates, which reduces the amount of water that flows from the lake to cities along the river. They hope to reduce it to a “minimum outflow,” according to a news release published on the corps’ website late Wednesday morning.

The Corps is narrowing the dam’s gates to keep Red Lake’s elevation at a prescribed 1,174 feet. Typically, about 600 cubic feet of water flows through that dam every second, according to Brian Johnson, a civil engineer who works in the corps’ water management section and, despite the name, is not the same Brian Johnson who runs East Grand Forks’ water plant. Last week, about 115 cubic feet of water was flowing through the dam, Johnson, the civil engineer, said.

Reaching minimum outflow would, in theory, reduce that figure to about 31 cubic feet per second, but Johnson said that corps’ staff plan to re-evaluate that plan. That means a meeting among other government agencies and “stakeholders,” such as Red Lake Nation and East Grand Forks’ city government. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for Friday, July 23.

Most of East Grand Forks and Grand Forks’ water supply comes from the Red Lake River. The Minnesota DNR is organizing a meeting among affected cities.

Grand Forks enacted similar restrictions , which are also voluntary, late last week. City staff are asking residents there to only water their lawns twice per week, and only in the mornings.

Reducing flow to nearly 31 “CFS” could mean much harsher water restrictions, according to Keith Mykleseth, who manages East Grand Forks’ water and light utility.

“That’s the point where...we’d have to start asking people to shut down more than just voluntarily,” he said Wednesday.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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