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The new normal: Water conservation continues in Cottage Grove

COTTAGE GROVE — A year after the city was forced to drastically decrease water usage, residents are continuing their conservation efforts.

The effect of the now-normalized conservation habits was evident even last year, when the peak usage day — the day after the 10-week watering ban was lifted — still only saw 5.8 million gallons pumped, half the amount pumped on the peak day a decade before.

So far this summer, the 2018 peak day saw about 7.5 million gallons pumped. The average amount pumped on the peak day from the last decade is about 9.8 million gallons.

Utility Foreman Rick Alt said average usage on a summer day is between about 5.5 and 7 million gallons, and dips below 5 million when it rains. On normal peak usage days, around 10 or 11 million gallons are pumped. In contrast, Alt said only about 2 million gallons are pumped daily in the winter.

Though levels are not as conservative as last year — Finance Director Robin Roland said the city in June billed about 50 million gallons more this year than same time last year — usage has still been lower on average.

Numbers have been trending downward since about 2014, when the high number has steadily stayed below 8 million. Even with about 500 new residents adding to Cottage Grove's population each year, water usage is remaining, for the most part, steady.

Though pumping has leveled off, the city continues to offer initiatives to keep numbers from going back up again.

Alt and Roland assign a number of causes pumping levels, including the new utility billing structure that charges more for residents who use more; the newly installed meters that increase billing accuracy; city-sponsored water conservation programs including discounted equipment; and the after-effects of last summer's watering ban triggered when the Minnesota Department of Health lowered health-based values of perfluorochemicals in drinking waters.

Initially offered last year in light of the ban, the city gave rebates for smart irrigation controllers. Since August 2017, over 230 residents have claimed them.

The smart controller stops the lawn from being over-watered by monitoring weather, grass and soil type, and possible cost savings.

During the watering ban, the city and Washington County partnered to offer rebates on rain-collecting barrels; over 70 have been claimed since then. Rebates are still available.

The new billing is still taking some time for residents to get used to, especially after many faced surprising numbers on the June bill, Roland said.

The more water pumped, the higher the billing rate under the new structure.

The city, as always, continues to encourage water conservation.

Summer peak day water usage (in gallons) 

Aug. 15, 2018 - 7.5 million

Aug. 2, 2017 - 5.8 million

June 27, 2016 - 7.3 million

Aug. 2, 2015 - 7.2 million

Aug. 15, 2014 - 9.7 million

Aug. 26, 2013 - 10.2 million

July 12, 2012 - 11.3 million

Sept. 11, 2011 - 8.5 million

Aug. 29, 2010 -  8.2 million

June 3, 2009 - 10.3 million

July 6, 2008 - 11 million

July 6, 2007 - 12.6 million

July 6, 2006 - 11.5 million

Total summer usage (June 1 - Aug. 31)

2017 - 266.3 million gallons pumped

2016 - 463.1 million gallons pumped

2015 - 436.8 million gallons pumped

2014 - 482.3 million gallons pumped

2013 - 556.1 million gallons pumped

2012 - 674.2 million gallons pumped