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Eight more weeks for Cottage Grove watering ban

The existing wellhouse is only the small rectangular building in the right corner. The city will have to install the granular-activated carbon filters and build a structure around them. Illustration courtesy of the City of Cottage Grove

Cottage Grove's watering ban is expected to last until the end of July, later than initially estimated.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said at a June 7 city council workshop that by the most conservative estimates, the ban will last eight more weeks. That's how long it is estimated to take the city to receive and install well filters in response to the state Health Department's lower recommended perfluorochemical levels in drinking water.

During that time, repeat water ban offenders can expect citations. Violating the ban will result in a misdemeanor, which means a court appearance and up to 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Police Capt. Pete Koerner said officers will concentrate more on talking to offenders than ticketing until all residents have received a letter from the city explaining the ban.

"Initially we still want to educate people so that they're informed .... At some point, there won't be warnings anymore," he said.

Public Works Director Les Burshten said eight granular-activated carbon (GAC) filters are being installed at well 10 — located on 95th Street near Werner Electric — to get it back up and running. Filters weight 40,000 pounds and 80,000 pounds. Due to site constraints, Werner Electric has granted the city an easement to build the temporary wellhouse for the behemoth filters.

"Quite frankly we're pulling all the stops to get this done," Burshten said. "This will solve a portion of this problem."

These filters are a temporary fix, despite being one that will last two to five years.

The city does not have a long-term solution defined yet, but is discussing options including a water treatment facility. City Engineer Jennifer Levitt said it will likely be a combination of solutions.

When well 10 is back online pumping at 1,800 gallons per minute, that does not mean the water ban is necessarily over.

At this time, five of the city's wells are completely offline, three are running on a limited level, and three are fully operational. There has been a 40 percent reduction in capacity, Levitt said. When all wells are online, the pumping capacity is generally 14,000 gallons per minute.

Stevens said they will likely modify the ban when well 10 starts pumping, keeping some restrictions such as odd/even watering constraints.

The city has ensured the water system is running safely, and the city has been given a "clear directive by the MDH that we are not to compromise our system," Levitt said.

They have safety factors in place so that water pressure from pumping cannot get low enough to create negative pressure, which could cause a multitude of issues, including water mains collapsing and home water heaters bursting.

"There's far greater risks to the system if people don't just shut off their irrigation systems," Stevens said.

In the meantime, MDH staff recommended a few ways to cut down on water use, including checking toilets for leaks by using food coloring in the tank and checking to see if colored water ends up in the bowl without flushing, taking shorter showers and ensuring you don't leave water running when you're not using it.

Car washes are allowed to continue running because they are able to recycle the water they use.

Public Works Supervisor Harry Taylor said the city will likely not be flushing hydrants this fall and spring. Because there won't be flushing, residents may see discolored water coming from their faucets, but Taylor said this is "normal."