“Keep water running” says Red Lodge with 45 homes without water

Resolution Fails, Mayor Signs Executive Order for increased water usage to prevent freezing lines
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, March 14, 2019
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Photo by Alastair Baker
Patrick Stokes, a community volunteer, hauls two 5-gallon buckets of water to a residence in Red Lodge effected by frozen water lines. He also dropped off a half dozen gallon plastic containers of drinking water.


On Friday, March 8, Red Lodge Mayor Bill Larson called an emergency city council meeting at City Hall regarding the frozen water service lines for the approval of a resolution. 

Resolution, #3511 was to provide that the minimum gallon water usage would be raised from 3,000 gallons to 8,000 gallons per household.  About 30 people attended.  The Resolution failed, but the Mayor immediately signed an Executive Order to do the same. At this time, there is no City declaration of emergency.

According to the City, that would enable residents to run a faucet constantly (in a pencil stream) and not worry about reaching over minimum limits and being charged.  Just running one faucet is necessary. If all homes run water except one on a line, the line can still freeze. 

“We expect some lines to break. Especially the galvanized ones,” says Jim Bushnell of Public Works. A regular thaw is not expected until April.

Running your water immediately is crucial to trying to stop the number of freezing service lines. Since the day before, Bushnell said, the number of homes without water in Red Lodge jumped from 35 to 45 homes. 

Bushnell stated that neighbors helping neighbors by sharing their unfrozen lines should notify the city so they could check on how and where they are set up. For example, lines should not be put across an alley. 

Public Works also needs notice because neighbors would then accumulate gallons from each household they are assisting.  They can now add 8,000 gallons for each household to their own limit. The city would need to know about this so it would not bill them for using over the minimum. 

Bushnell urged people to notify owners of houses not occupied and report broken or frozen lines. 

Residents should check with their insurance to see if their homeowner’s policies cover the situation.

The vote for the Resolution came up short on Friday after council members, Diane Dimich and Mary Cameron, voted against it. They preferred to wait until the following Tuesday when more details of the billing process could be added to the resolution. 

City Attorney Rebecca stressed that the resolution was done correctly, that it was an emergency and could be passed at that time. It was then determined that no quorum was reached and the resolution failed. 

At that point, Mayor Larson announced his Executive Order containing similar provisions and it was signed and took effect.  

Besides increasing the minimum water usage figure, the Executive Order, like the rejected resolution, provides for freeing up $15,000 in unclaimed water deposits to help in this emergency as needed. 

Tom Kohley, Carbon County liaison to Disaster and Emergency Services, noted, “This is not a Declaration of Emergency,” which would have had different significance possibly releasing other funding and possibly triggering other processes down the line.

On Thursday, March 7, Red Lodge Mayor Bill Larson had called an impromptu meeting of city and county officials to discuss the growing number of city residents without water due to frozen service lines.  Although less than 2 percent of residents were affected at the time, it was believed the number could grow. This assessment proved true.

Jim Bushnell of city Public Works said he added 8 homes to the list that day. “They are spread out north, south, east and west. We’ve tried everything-electric heating and steam, nothing works to thaw it.” It cost thousands of dollars to try with no results. It also costs “$1200-2,000” or more to locate whose part of the service line is affected-the City’s or the homeowner’s. For now, they are just trying to help people in need. They are not digging up lines or trying to thaw them-both of which have been enormously expensive and not provided relief. 

Regarding lines already frozen Bushnell said, “I don’t believe there’s anything we can do. There’s no magic wand.” The emphasis is immediate resident relief and the prevention of additional homes losing water.

 “We need to supply drinking water, water to wash their hands, to shower,” Bushnell said. Currently, there are some existing public bathrooms around town and at the Civic Center. 

Assisting the elderly and flu season were other concerns. 

“It’s flu season, there are health concerns. They need to flush toilets and wash hands,” said Roberta Cady from the Health Department.

“It’s Word, it’s Platt, it’s Hagan, they’re everywhere. But not on the Golf Course,” said Bushnell

Bushnell said it is creating hardships. “People are suffering..” He cited one family where the woman had cancer and the man had to haul water. Kuntz said an employee is hauling water from his restaurant. 

At this earlier meeting, the mayor asked what aid is available. Tom Kohley, Carbon County’s liaison for Disaster and Emergency Services, said there is a process to access higher funding but steps must be taken first locally. 

Tom Kuntz, Red Lodge Fire Chief, explained. “Before any county or state funds are touched, the city must first declare a State of Emergency and access its city 2 mill levy (funds) and any possible expansion. “Then we can go to the next level,” said Kuntz. “Generally, the State looks to the local community to do that.” 

Kuntz suggested that the City set up a plan for “more concrete action to take” both for the city and residents.

The Mayor agreed. “Exactly,” said Larson. “Want to get that going?”

Kuntz set up headquarters for the City at the Red Lodge Fire Hall and assigned assistance. RLFR will issue a reverse 911 notice to all those on landlines or cell phones that are registered with information and referral. 

The City will determine how funds should be directed such as possibly supplying palettes of water bottles and access to showers. 

The service lines have frozen, not the main lines, says Bushnell. No sewer lines are frozen. 


“I’ve seen 4 or 5 homes freeze in a winter but nothing like this in the 20 years I’ve been here,” Bushnell said. 

Regarding any more homes losing water Bushnell commented, “Is there going to be more? I have a feeling, yes.”

Bottles of water and 5 gallon pails are available at the Red Lodge Police Department or Red Lodge Fire Hall.  For delivery of bottled water, please call Jim Bushnell at 406-425-9557 and notify the city immediately of any frozen lines at 446-1606. Stay tuned to CCN for further updates. The City will keep its website updated. 



The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

Fax: 406-446-2225

Toll-Free: 800-735-8843

Open: Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.