By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
Operating under the assumption that summer will actually come this year, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges is implementing watering restrictions effective immediately -- concerned that a broken-down city well and the ongoing drought could leave water supply short of demand.
"This is the first watering ban I can recall in my 16-17 years," Hentges told the City Council Monday night.
With another winter storm piling up snow outside the council chambers and precipitation levels running well ahead average since Jan. 1, Hentges conceded that the timing of the decision might seem a bit strange.
"This will be effective immediately, but I don't think there's a lot of watering going on," he said.
Still, technically speaking, the only sprinklers that can be operated in Mankato on Tuesday -- an odd-numbered day of the month -- are the ones on odd-numbered property addresses. Folks with addresses ending in an even number will have to wait until Wednesday to water.
And everyone is prohibited, regardless of the day, from watering between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
There are exceptions to the restrictions. People wishing to wash a vehicle can still do it at any time, as can gardeners watering their flowers or tomato plants with a hand-held hose.
And if the kiddies are itching to take a run through the sprinkler or hook up the Slip 'N Slide, that's allowed as long as people are on hand when the water toys are spraying.
The discussion of the ban seemed a bit out of context in an April that's been more like February, but Hentges said he wants Mankatoans -- including landscapers -- to have fair warning about the restrictions.
Work on the city's No. 14 well, which taps a deep aquifer but has a number of structural and mechanical problems that need to be repaired, could leave the well off-line through June and possibly into July -- a period when the snow will presumably be gone, grass will be thirsty and gardens will be growing. With that well's water not available, the city will be more reliant on its shallow wells. Those wells, which draw water from about 35 feet below the bed of the Blue Earth and Minnesota rivers, are more susceptible to the drought conditions that had become severe before the wet "spring" of 2013.
Even if the wells just below the rivers -- supplemented by the repaired Well No. 14 -- could meet demand through July and August, Hentges said it's not a bad idea to minimize use of the water from the deep aquifer tapped by No. 14.
"That is a precious resource," he said. "The least water we can bring out of there, the better off we are."
The Department of Natural Resources has been warning cities about the ongoing drought and urging them to implement restrictions on water use, said Leo Getsfried, a DNR area hydrologist in Mankato. The recent rain and snow helps, but it offers no guarantee that the region will avoid the severe to extreme drought that many feared for the upcoming summer.
"We certainly haven't replaced all of the soil moisture that we've lost," Getsfried said.
Violating the city's water ban will bring a warning on a first offense, a $50 fine for a second offense and a $100 fine for a third violation. The city can install locks on outdoor spigots for a fourth offense.
Managers of certain athletic fields will be allowed to water to maintain the turf, and property owners with a city permit for new landscaping, sod installation or seeded grass will be allowed to water for 30 days. The restrictions will continue until Hentges authorizes them to be lifted.