For the first time in recent memory, the City of Kelso is asking citizens to voluntarily limit water usage due to near record-low flows in the Cowlitz River.
“We want to minimize the impact to the overall system and our overall water customer base by requesting that customers be mindful of their water usage and any excess water usage while we’re dealing with this very dry season,” City Manager Steve Taylor said Friday.
Effective immediately, the city is asking its citizens to limit yard watering and vehicle washing to 30 minutes on even days of the month for even-numbered addresses and on odd days for odd-numbered addresses.
Kelso citizens are also encouraged to limit showers to five minutes, to turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth and to only run full loads in dishwashers and clothes washers, according to a press release.
In addition, the Catlin Rotary Spray Park will reduce its hours to between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily to limit water consumption.
Taylor said he doesn’t anticipate any restrictions for business or industrial water use at this time.
The city gets its water from a Ranney well collector system, which is made up of pipes placed horizontally beneath the bed of the Cowlitz. They need sufficient water pressure to collect adequate volumes of water, and that pressure drops as river levels fall, Taylor said.
On average, Kelso citizens use a total of about 2.8 million gallons of water a day in the summer.
The Cowlitz River was flowing at 3,100 cubic feet per second (about 22,100 gallons) at Castle Rock on Friday, about 45 percent below the average for the date, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s near its record low for July 13 — 2,300 cfs (16,300 gallons) — a mark set in 1940. The river is about two feet lower than normal for this time of year at Castle Rock.
But the Cowlitz River typically reaches its lowest levels in late August or early September, and Taylor said it was “concerning” that the city had to announce water use restrictions in mid-July.
The low levels are a result of a dry spring and reduced discharges from the Riffe and Mayfield dams on the upper Cowlitz, Taylor said.
Taylor stressed that Kelso residents should not be worried about water shortages. If necessary, Kelso could access Longview’s water system through a connection at the decommissioned water plant on Fisher’s Lane, he said.
“We will make sure that there is enough water in our system to supply customer needs,” he said. “Reliability is not a question here.”
However, in order to reduce pressure on the Ranney system, the city is asking for “a moderate level of conservation” from residents, Taylor said.
Citizens with questions or concerns can contact the Engineering Department at 360-423-6590, or attend the Kelso City Council meeting starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Kelso City Hall.
While the city hopes the water use restrictions will remain temporary and voluntary, Taylor said he doesn’t expect a change in the Cowlitz River levels soon.
“We’re trying to be proactive on this and take it seriously. This is not a situation where everyone should stop using water. We just need to make sure we have enough water to meet the daily demand for all customers.”