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The original item was published from 6/16/2022 6:02:00 AM to 6/28/2022 4:36:16 PM.

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Posted on: June 15, 2022

[ARCHIVED] UPDATES: Yellowstone River flooding impact on City of Billings water plant

Water Plant PHoto

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE:

Great news to share, the water plant is operating at full capacity and the residents of Billings can go back to normal water use!
River conditions at the water plant greatly improved over night. This morning the depth on the Yellowstone River is below 12 feet, a level the plant can manage. 
At this point there are no signs we will have issues operating as we move forward. 
We want to thank the citizens of Billings for your cooperation and helping us get through the day on Wednesday. 
We are aware yesterday’s alert to the community caused a panic. That was never our hope, and we only wanted to keep everyone informed. 
We have never witnessed a situation like the one we saw yesterday. 
On Wednesday morning, we did not know how bad it could get or how long it would continue. It is always our intention to provide water to our community, but in that moment, it was not clear how long our supply would last. 
Reservoir water levels did get low yesterday, but because our community was willing to do what was needed, we got through this situation. 
Many have asked how the upcoming West End Reservoir would’ve helped in this situation and the impact would be immense. 
The new reservoir will have the ability to hold more than 30 days’ worth of water.
In Wednesday’s case, the new reservoir would’ve isolated water from the river.  
The new reservoir is still scheduled to break ground by late this summer/early fall and construction will begin the following spring/summer. 
Billings, we can’t thank you enough for your understanding and cooperation.

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WEDNESDAY EVENING UPDATE: 

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

 Thank you for your continued support. 

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WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: 

As of this afternoon, flood waters continue to impact operations at the City of Billings water plant.

At this hour, the water plant is operating, but at a substantially low capacity to supply water into reservoirs. This is progress from our situation last night when the water plant shut down.

It is our belief, if we continue to have very low water demand across the city, we can continue operating our plant at this capacity. This means we continue to ask everyone to refrain from watering grass and using irrigation systems hooked up to the city water system.

Public Works employees at the water plant have been working tirelessly to monitor water supply available to residents.

A continuous testing process can assure everyone has safe drinking water.

We also want to take this time to encourage our community to only turn to official, trustworthy sources for updates and information. 

We appreciate everyone’s consideration, concern and care surrounding this issue.

You will find a list of questions we are encountering and answers to those questions on the Public Works website at this link: https://www.billingsmtpublicworks.gov/DocumentCenter/View/960/City-of-Billings-Public-Works-QAs-on-Flood-Condition-and-Water-Conservation-6152022

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Original Post - Wednesday morning - 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 water plant will never distribute water that isn't safe to drink. But should conditions change, we will alert our community through social media channels, our local news media and smart phone app Code Red.  

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.

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