State halts new water hookups in Whitefish

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Whitefish is working to obtain a variance that would allow the city to continue connecting homes to its water service after the state recently notified the city its water system is considered at capacity.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is prohibiting any water extension or connection due to concerns the city is approaching its threshold for water storage and water source capacity. The state agency is requiring the city provide a capacity assessment and deviation request for review in order to accept any future projects, according to Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman.

“They need enough information from us to prove that we have the capacity to expand our water plant,” Workman said. “We also have to show at 3 million gallons per day that the plant treats, along with our existing storage, that we have enough fire flow for a large fire, while still having enough water left for usage.

“We have to show them that we can live beyond our means until we can get an expansion approved,” Workman added.

Workman informed the City Council on April 15 of the situation, calling it “pretty dire.” However, later in the week after speaking with the city’s consultant, Workman said the situation isn’t as grim as originally thought. He estimated the city could have a deviation in place from DEQ in roughly two weeks that would again allow for connections, while the city further investigates and implements plans to increase its water capacity.

Anytime the city approves a new subdivision, it’s required to be approved by DEQ as showing that the city can handle the related sewer, water and stormwater.

Workman said the city is requesting a deviation from DEQ that would essentially note that the city wants to continue hooking up new users, and is putting together a plan to increase its capacity in the future.

“They want to know that we’re putting the pieces of the puzzle in place,” he said. “We would show them our plan to increase the plant treatment capacity, which is the most important piece, but also we are looking at ground water as another means of sourcing water.”

Increasing capacity of the water treatment plant would be a shorter-term project. Workman estimated about three years, while finding a groundwater source for water would be in the 10-year range.

The current estimated cost for the improvements needed to increase the source and treatment capacity of the plant is in the $10 million to $12 million range.

Whitefish operates a 4 million gallon-per-day water treatment plant that treats water from Second and Third creeks in Haskill Basin and during peak usage times draws from Whitefish Lake. Staff has been working on a variety of water system upgrades to serve the south end of town. That work has resulted in system modeling and analysis, which has led to concerns about the operation of the plat at or above “firm capacity.”

DEQ rates the water plant at a capacity of 3 million gallons per day, and recently informed the city about its concern that the city is approaching its threshold for storage and capacity.

Workman said that ultimately the city will be required to increase the treatment capacity at the water plant, which includes the actual expansion of the water treatment plant along with several other elements. The city would look to implement treatment systems and refurbish its four existing treatments units to provide treatment to increase capacity at the water plant to 6 million gallons per day. The installation of a UV disinfection system would also be required.

The city would consider extending its intake structure at Whitefish Lake to increase the capacity for water that can be pumped from the lake for treatment. Additional water infrastructure improvements would be required to get the new volume of water from the treatment plant to the water distribution system.

In addition, consultants will look at installing sanitary sewer service at the water plant to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the facility’s backwash treatment system.

The city is seeking proposals through May 3 from consulting engineering firms or water resource specialists to provide services for a water source and treatment capacity expansion project. Awarding of a contract with a firm is expected to be completed by the end of May.

Last fall the city as part of planning for the future of the water system, began searching for a new source for water by investigating the option of an underground water source.

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