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Bozeman is staying in a stage one drought despite a slight worsening in the city’s drought assessment.

The city’s drought tool, which takes into account factors like stream flow and water levels in Hyalite Reservoir to give a reading of what level of drought the city is in, has been hovering around 2.0, Bozeman’s Water Conservation Program Manager Jessica Ahlstrom said.

Though the drought score alone indicates Bozeman is in a stage two drought, Ahlstrom said that when taking a closer look, the score is being driven by low flows in the Gallatin River.

Other indicators, namely water levels in Hyalite Reservoir, are holding strong, Ahlstrom said.

“I think the most important factor that is analyzed in the tool right now is the reservoir level because that’s where a lot of our water supply comes from to meet the demands in the summer,” Ahlstrom said. “The reservoir is in a really good state, so, because of that, we’re staying in stage one.”

Bozeman city commissioners declared a stage two drought in July as southwest Montana, along with much of the western United States, was dealing with historically dry and warm summer conditions.

City Manager Jeff Mihelich moved the city back to a stage one drought in late August, citing better weather forecasts and improvements to stream flows and the reservoir level.

Mihelich said during Tuesday’s commission meeting that despite the drought tool, he is keeping the city in stage one drought for now.

“I do not think we’re going to be out of this drought really soon; we need to remain diligent,” Miehlich said.

Ahlstrom said Gallatin River flows are included in the drought score because there is a good historical dataset for the river and because it provides a good understanding of the overall drought conditions in the area.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of Montana as of Thursday is still in extreme drought, including Gallatin County. Some parts of the county are in the more intense exceptional drought, and the southern end is in severe drought, which is a lower measure than extreme or exceptional.

Stage one only encourages a general reduction in water use while a stage two drought comes along with mandatory watering restrictions. Water surcharge rates are in place for both, though lessened under stage one.

While precipitation has been below average so far this month, Ahlstrom said average daily demand has remained 25% lower than a normal September.

According to National Weather Service forecaster Ray Greely, there have been 0.09 inches of precipitation recorded at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Belgrade so far this month through Friday. The normal for this point in September is .51 inches, Greely said.

Though both the 6-10 day and 8-14 day forecasts show lower than normal precipitation, Greely said there is a chance for as much as 0.25 inches of precipitation Sunday into Monday.

Ahlstrom said her guess is that the reduced water usage is largely due to the restrictions earlier in the summer. In a normal year, Ahlstrom said data shows that people are watering their lawns for the first two weeks of September, then typically turn down their irrigation systems starting mid-month.

Now is about the time the city expects people to slow down on watering their lawns to prepare it for winter dormancy, Ahlstrom said.

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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