The average weekend for an active Bozeman family is steeped in water. Winter months bring water of the frozen variety to the area for skiing, ice skating, and the occasional snowball fight. In warmer weather, water provides the playground for a float on a nearby river, rock-skipping on one of Bozeman's many park ponds, or a dash through backyard sprinklers. With all this water to play in and around, many Bozeman residents are surprised to learn that the Gallatin Valley is considered semi-arid and drought-prone, and that mountain snowpack provides the vast majority of the City's water supply. The City of Bozeman's Water Conservation Division is determined to change the narrative of Bozeman's water supply to one of informed conservation, starting with the City's youngest residents.
"Helping kids understand the connection between snowpack in the mountains around Bozeman and the water that comes out of their faucet is an important first step toward water conservation," says Jessica Ahlstrom, the City of Bozeman's Water Conservation Specialist. "Making that connection helps families see that Bozeman's water is a limited resource and that the amount of snowpack accumulated in the mountains affects our supply for the entire year."
Eighty percent of Bozeman's water comes from snowpack south of Bozeman that feeds Hyalite Reservoir and Bozeman Creek. The other twenty percent comes from Lyman Spring in the Bridger range. The quality of Bozeman's mountain stream water is enviable, but with booming population growth and shifting climate patterns, Bozeman's already limited water supply is pinched more each year. Ahlstrom explains, "We can expect to see a trend of more water coming in the form of rain as opposed to snow, likely depleting our snowpack and lessening our water supply. Bozeman also has one of the fastest growth rates in the nation. More people will need more water. With all of these pressures on a limited water resource, water conservation is the single best way to ensure a reliable supply of water."
In 2017, the City adopted its first drought management plan, which outlines a framework for drought monitoring and four stages of drought. Stage 1 is aimed at raising awareness. Stages 2-4 may include restrictions on outdoor water use in order to ensure there is enough water available for essential uses. Taking a proactive approach through conservation ensures that the City's drought management plan remains only a necessary precaution, and Ahlstrom sees the community's children as a vital part of Bozeman's water future. "Getting kids involved in water conservation is an opportunity to affect change for years to come," says Ahlstrom. "Plus, kids are great at holding their parents to task when it comes to things like taking shorter showers or turning off the faucet when brushing teeth."
The Water Smart Bozeman initiative is the City's multi-component plan to educate residents on the community's limited water supply and provide incentives and ideas for residents to conserve water around their homes and businesses. Low-water use landscaping inspiration, free high efficiency showerhead replacements, and water-reducing incentives for businesses are just a few of the many ways the City promotes water conservation. To help connect water conservation dots for kids, the City has created a series of printable activity pages that teach children of all ages about snowpack and Bozeman's water sources. Then, kid-friendly water-saving tips, science projects, and family challenges all ensure that Bozeman's youngest conservationists will have just as much fun learning about saving water as they have playing in water all year long.