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Update: Billings water plant restarts at 'very low capacity'

Residents asked to conserve water
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Posted at 10:02 AM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 23:14:06-04

Update 9 p.m.

The Billings water plant is operating at a level to meet the community's essential needs Wednesday night, though city officials are still urging water conservation.

City spokesperson Victoria Hill said in an update that city officials believe the water plant has enough water to supply the city for more than 24-36 hours originally stated, but that's only if residents continue saving water.

Here's the full update from Hill:

This evening’s falling river level is a big relief and welcome news.

Tonight, the plant is operating at a level that can meet the community’s essential needs.

If residents continue to refrain from watering their grass or taking part in other activities that use a significant amount of water, we will be able to continue providing the city with basic water services.

We are feeling confident that we won’t run out of water in that day to day-and-a-half time frame we originally expected, but that is only if residents continue to conserve water.

Please be confident that we will provide essential water service to you if everyone continues to follow our request.

On another positive note, the City of Billings would like to thank NorthWestern Energy and Phillips 66 for their assistance with another issue we ran into today at the water plant.

Our substation which provides the water plant with electricity became flooded.

Because of this, we had to switch to generators and relied on generator power to get us through the day.

During this, Phillips 66 arrived with equipment to pump water out of the substation so we could return to our main source of power.

Through all of this good news, we would still like to ask Billings to go into Thursday morning conserving water. If your water sprinklers are on an automatic timer in the morning, please reprogram your sprinkler to skip its usual morning watering schedule.

As shared by our partners with the Yellowstone County Unified Health Command, other water conservation activities include:

  • Refrain from washing your vehicles until the plant is operational
  • Put off doing laundry for several days if possible
  • Only run the dishwasher when it is full
  • Limit water used for or during showers and baths

Update 4 p.m.

The city of Billings has restarted its water plant at a very low capacity to supply water into reservoirs, although city leaders say conservation is still required to maintain drinking water.

City spokesperson Victoria Hill said in an email that the city is still asking residents to refrain from watering grass and using any irrigation attached to the city's water system.

If water usage remains very low, city officials believe they can continue operating the plant at low capacity while the Yellowstone River remains high, Hill said.

Public Works employees are continuously monitoring the water supply to ensure safe drinking water is available for all, Hill said.

The water plant was shut down Tuesday night after river level rose above 15 feet, affecting plant operations. As of Wednesday morning, the river level was above 16 feet, but it has receded over the day and is expected to continue to drop for the next few days.



Billings Water Plant Shut Down

(original report)
(City of Billings Press Release)

BILLINGS - Flooding on the Yellowstone River forced Public Works to shut down its water plant late Tuesday night.

As of Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., the water level at the plant reached more than 16 feet.

For the plant to operate effectively, the river needs to be at 15 feet or below.

The City of Billings is asking residents to conserve water, specifically refrain from watering grass and using irrigation systems supplied by the city water plant.

The water system has between a day to a day-and-a-half of water supply for Billings.

The duration of the issue is unpredictable, but hydrographs from the National Weather Service show water levels dropping two feet after it reaches its crest. The latest prediction shows the Yellowstone River cresting on Wednesday.

Even after the river dips below 15 feet, the plant still has the task of cleaning filters to properly operate.

While the plant is shut down, residents might notice water pressure decreasing until the plant can turn back on.

Director of Public Works Debi Meling noted the Yellowstone River reached 87,000 cubic feet per second on Wednesday morning.

“Last year at this time we had 8,000 CFS and it was a record low,” Meling said.

These record levels make the event a 500-year flood.

Public Works assures the drinking water from the plant is safe to drink and we will immediately notify the community if that changes.

With temperatures forecast to reach the 90’s on Friday and Saturday, outdoor water usage will be tempting, but recent rains have saturated the ground, decreasing the need to keep grass and plants watered.

Other city operations have found ways to conserve water, including the fire department filling its water trucks with water from the Yellowstone River. Parks and Recreation has also stopped watering park grass on city water. The Street-Traffic Division has stopped watering grass in the right of way.

The City of Billings will alert residents as soon as water usage can return to normal.