by: Jared Hendricks, Marketing/Energy Conservation Officer
July is a great month to talk about water. With the April showers far behind us and the hot weather in full force, irrigation systems work harder to keep lawns green, kids spend more time running through sprinklers to cool off, and pools are losing more water to splashes and evaporation. In this land of 10,000 lakes water is such a natural part of our lives that we tend to take it for granted.
When you can barely throw a rock without hitting a lake, stream or river in places of Minnesota, it’s almost hard to believe that we could have water shortages. The water shortages out west seem far from home, but similar events could easily happen in Minnesota as well. A number of lakes in the Twin Cities are already seeing a decline in water level due to excessive ground water pumping. White Bear Lake, being the most notable lake with lower than normal water levels, is still down more than 5 feet.
In Minnesota, public water suppliers such as the Owatonna Public Utilities must get a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in order to pump water. This permit specifies how many millions of gallons of water can be pumped each year by OPU. Maximum pumping allowances help ensure that excessive water pumping does not happen and reduces the risk of lowering water levels in lakes and aquifers.
As the City of Owatonna grows, it is easy to assume that the amount of water we pump increases year after year. Due to the efforts of OPU and the community in whole, that has not been the case. Even though Owatonna has not grown at the pace it has in the past, the city continues to get larger each year, but our water pumping has not only leveled off but has started to declined. In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the total water OPU pumped decreased by almost 7% or about 96 million gallons of water. Remember, that’s not just a reduction of water being pumped each year, but a reduction of water being pumped while Owatonna grows!
Efforts involved in reducing the amount of water used in Owatonna involve the utility, homeowners, businesses and industry alike. One of the first things you will see from the utility side is that OPU only flushes hydrants once per year now instead of twice. We have also been working with the City to reduce wasted water at the drinking fountains in and around our parks and trail systems that used to run non-stop. When completed, this project alone will save enough water to cover a football field in 5.5 feet of water each year.
OPU also encourages our residential and commercial customers to use less water through rebates and education. Rebates for appliances such as WaterSense toilets, sprinkler nozzles and weather based irrigation controllers have had a measureable effect on the amount of water used in Owatonna. Residents also help reduce their water needs by waiting to start their dishwasher or clothes washer until they have a full load, turning off the water while they brush their teeth, and waiting to water their lawns until they truly need it.
Finally, industry has played a great role in the overall reduction of water pumping locally. Many of the industrial customers in town have taken steps to reduce their water needs including ways of reusing some of their water.
Ensuring a bountiful supply of drinking water into the future is a community effort, not something OPU could do on our own. We thank you for all the steps you take, no matter how small you may think they are, to reduce the water needs of Owatonna. With your help, we will have enough water for generations to come.