City Hall File

The sun shines on Bozeman City Hall earlier this month.

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Bozeman’s water conservation program has reduced water use among residents, although challenges persist, according to the city.

Jessica Ahlstrom, city water conservation specialist, gave an update to city commissioners Monday night about what the 6-year-old program has accomplished and what it’s still working on. The program was created to help Bozeman meet water demand for its growing population as an eventual shortfall in supply is predicted.

Ahlstrom said between 2010 and 2014, the average water use in town was about 120 gallons per capita per day. Between 2014 to 2019, that was reduced to 108 gallons per capita per day.

City initiatives aimed at reducing water use have included free sprinkler system assessments and cash rebates to those who upgrade to high-efficiency plumbing. The city also released Dropcountr, a free water use portal and app that allows residents to track their water use.

Through 126 sprinkler assessments, Ahlstrom said staff have been able to personalize watering schedules in a way that saves an estimated 700 gallons per week per single-family home. Ahlstrom said 95 assessments are scheduled for this summer, and 50 more residents have been waitlisted for next summer.

Ahlstrom said the cash rebate program has saved an estimated 18.2 million gallons of city water. She said the city is also working to retrofit older buildings with newer, more efficient plumbing, like the Senior Center that’s since seen a 40% reduction in water use.

Ahlstrom said the city has saved 11 million gallons per year by using non-potable water for landscaping at Sunset Hills Cemetery.

Ahlstrom said raising awareness about excessive water use is a key aspect of the program, and that it’s educated about 6,000 residents. For example, the program encourages the use of plants that need less water, which have been used to landscape city projects and are planted in demonstration gardens at city hall and the Museum of the Rockies.

“We have been, and still are, focused on education and outreach in our community,” Ahlstrom said.

However, a lack of water supply is still a concern, Ahlstrom said. She said Bozeman is in a “uniquely challenging” place because it relies on sources of water fed by snowpack. About 40% of the town’s water comes from Hyalite Creek and Hyalite Reservoir, 40% from Bozeman Creek, and about 20% from Lyman Spring in the Bridger Mountains.

“My mantra is that Bozeman has high quality water, not high quantity of water,” she said.

Ahlstrom said the water conservation program aims to make up for 50% of the projected shortfall in supply.

The water conservation program found that although newer homes are being built on smaller lots than older homes, they use more water. Lots that are 20% smaller were found to use twice as much water, Ahlstrom said. She attributed that to irrigation systems that use more water.

“Because of this, we know we have a lot more work to do,” Ahlstrom said.

The city requested proposals from consulting agencies in May for a water conservation plan that would ensure Bozeman has enough water as it grows. Ahlstrom said an engineering firm has been selected to work on the conservation plan and that work should begin next month.

“We do think that the water conservation program is headed in the right direction and the community has really embraced it,” Ahlstrom said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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