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Water Ordinance in Bowbells


In early April, 1921, the City Council in Bowbells passed Ordinance No. 69, a fairly straight-forward ordinance that required any person, firm, or corporation "in the business of delivering spring water for hire, pay, or compensation," to obtain a license for this work.  Anyone could get this license by paying $25 to the city treasury and showing the receipt to the city auditor. The license was good for one year, unless the mayor revoked it. 


The ordinance also outlined how much should be charged in summer and winter for vending water, that the water be stored in sanitary conditions, and that anyone in violation of these terms could lose their license or be fined $1 to $19 per offense. 


However, Gerard Wilkes, recent local water supplier for the Court House, the sheriff's office, and the superintendent of schools, refused to buy a license. He told city officials that the ordinance did not apply to his work. He said the ordinance specified spring water, and "his stock in trade was nothing more nor less than just plain water taken from a common well," and he "defied the city officials to arrest him for staying on his job."


City Attorney Heckel did some research and found several times that the Supreme Court had ruled that spring water was "any water that came out of the ground," and he prepared to take the case to court, confident that he would win. However, it was determined that this would cost the city a chunk of money – and that passing a new ordinance would serve the same purpose, and save that expense.


So, on this date, a new ordinance (No. 70) went into effect after it was published in the Bowbells Tribune. It removed the word "Spring" from the water business ordinance. 


Newspapers around the state carried a story on the quirky event that said, "It's cheaper sometimes to pass a new ordinance than litigate over an old one." They added that Wilkes subsequently sold his water vending business.


Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker



The Bowbells Tribune, May 6, 1921, p3

The Bowbells Tribune, Friday, April 15, 1921, p1

The Bowbells Tribune, April 22, 1921, p3

The Grand Forks Herald, April 22, 1921, p1

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