Utilities in Minneapolis and St. Paul are asking residents to water their lawns less frequently and during cooler times of day due to drought conditions — a step the agencies haven't taken since the historically dry summer of 1988.
The regional suppliers join a growing list of communities asking locals to restrict their outdoor watering to every other day. Those with odd-numbered addresses are encouraged to use their sprinklers on odd-numbered days of the month, while those with even-numbered addresses do the opposite.
Officials in both cities are asking customers to water their lawns and gardens before noon or after 6 p.m. to minimize evaporation. Both areas have exceptions for the watering of new sod or seed, except between noon and 6 p.m.
In St. Paul, there is also an exception for commercial uses of outdoor water, while Minneapolis says bushes and flowers may be watered "with a hand-held hose as needed" and trees can be watered with a dripping hose, bucket or tree watering bag. Minneapolis also has an exception for vegetable gardens.
Minneapolis officials said city ordinance provides for a warning and subsequent fines of $25 for those who ignore the restrictions.
Patrick Shea, general manager of the St. Paul Regional Water Services, said they were not enforcing compliance with the new guidelines as of Tuesday, though that could change if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shifts into a more restrictive phase of its drought plan.
On Friday, the DNR sent a letter to water suppliers across the state calling on communities to cut their summer water use to 50% above their January levels.
"The 10-day forecast looks quite nice, but no rain is included. River levels are looking more and more likely to put us in that more extreme phase," which will require public suppliers to reduce water use even more, Shea said.
If that happens, St. Paul could have to start fining residents who don't abide by watering restrictions, though Shea said the utility would likely first issue warnings.
Both St. Paul and Minneapolis get their water from the Mississippi River, which has approached historic lows in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.
Minneapolis provides water to nearly a half-million residents, along with supplementing Bloomington's water supply and providing water wholesale to New Hope, Crystal, Golden Valley, Columbia Heights, Hilltop and Edina's Morningside neighborhood.
Shea said he does not expect the drought to affect customers' personal water needs, but the St. Paul supplier has encouraged residents to take shorter showers, turn off faucets while brushing teeth and run dishwashers only when fully loaded.
Officials in Minneapolis issued similar guidance encouraging people to conserve water but also sought to assure residents they will still be able to supply enough water to meet people's needs.
"The Mississippi River has reliably provided the City of Minneapolis with drinking water for over 150 years," Minneapolis officials said in a news release. "The City assures the public of its continued ability to produce sufficient quantities of high quality water for its residents and wholesale customers."
Minneapolis and St. Paul join a growing list of communities seeking to reduce water consumption as water levels in the Mississippi River drop.
Edina already had an even-odd watering schedule in place, as did Lake Elmo. Officials in Woodbury posted a message to their Facebook account encouraging people to tolerate "a little brown in our yards this year."
Staff writers Liz Navratil, Kim Hyatt and Matt McKinney contributed to this report.