While Red Lake River remains relatively high, Grand Cities staff don't foresee further drought measures

Grand Forks' drought plan calls for harsher conservation measures than the ones city leaders have put into place thus far, and city utility staff indicated that's because there's still plenty of

East Grand Forks tower sign logo.jpg
A water tower in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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After meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks administrators said they don’t plan to ratchet up existing water restrictions they put in place this week amid a widespread drought.

Staff from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks on Friday morning met with Col. Karl Jansen, who commands the Corps’ St. Paul district, to go over a widespread drought and the amount of water the Corps will let flow through a dam it maintains where the Red Lake River springs from Lower Red Lake. As the drought continues, the Corps has gradually closed the dam to maintain water levels in the lake, which means less water in the river from which the two cities draw the vast majority of their municipal supply.

The Corps said Wednesday that it’s moving toward the dam’s “minimum outflow” of about 31 cubic feet of water per second, a level that would mean much less water and, thus, presumably tighter restrictions on water usage for cities that draw from the Red Lake River.

But Corps staff also said they plan to “re-evaluate” that minimum level, and Jansen on Friday told staff from several governments along the Red Lake River that the Corps plans to keep the dam flowing at about 100 cfs for the time being. The flow rate at a gauge near Fisher, Minn., measured about 218 cfs on Friday. Both are well above the 30-35 cfs the Grand Cities collectively need under normal conditions.

“Based upon what we heard today and the current flows, we’re going to maintain the Phase 2 and generally voluntary compliance,” Todd Feland, Grand Forks’ city administrator, told the Herald shortly after the Friday morning meeting.


Even with the relative abundance of water in the river, city Grand Forks leaders have enacted Phase 2 of the city’s five-phase drought management plan , which calls for residents to water their lawns on a staggered schedule and for most city departments to reduce their water usage by 5-10%, which, Feland said, means watering public lawns and using street sweepers, which spray water on the roadway, less often.

Likewise, utility staff in East Grand Forks said they don’t plan to go beyond the suggestions they publicized earlier this week, in which they asked Eastside residents to limit their nonessential water use.

“We’re going to just wait and see what happens,” Keith Mykleseth, the general manager at East Grand Forks Water & Light, the public utility that handles the city's electricity and water infrastructure, said Friday.

Water levels in the river would have to get “quite a bit” lower before the city would ask or tell residents to further restrict their water use, he said.

“The public needs to know we’re in a severe drought,” Mykleseth said, “but don’t want people to get frantic about it at this point.”

It takes approximately a week for changes in the flow out of Lower Red Lake to reach the Grand Cities.


Demand reduction

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which permits cities like Grand Forks and East Grand Forks to draw water from the Red Lake River, asked “water suppliers” like them on Friday, July 16, to pull back their water use.

“Significant demand reduction is achievable by restricting or banning nonessential outdoor water use,” Randall Doneen, a DNR conservation assistance and regulations manager, wrote to those suppliers.

The day before the DNR’s request, Grand Forks staffers had publicized voluntary watering restrictions detailed in the first phase of its drought plan.

On Wednesday, East Grand Forks city staff asked residents there to only use water when necessary while Grand Forks moved into Phase 2 of its plan.

On Thursday, staff at East Grand Forks Water & Light supplied to the Herald a partial copy of East Grand Forks’ water supply plan.

Stage A of that plan, which the city entered on Wednesday at the DNR’s request, doesn’t spell out any specific restrictions for residents -- voluntary or not. The suggestions staff there publicized on Wednesday came from the DNR’s letter.

The Herald on Thursday asked the state DNR, with which cities must file those plans, for a complete copy of the plan.


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

You can reach him at:
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