#Colorado Springs Parks department wrestling with the cost to irrigate

Monument Valley Park photo via ColoradoSpringsVacation.com
Monument Valley Park photo via ColoradoSpringsVacation.com

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs’ parks, grass and trees need more water. About $450,000 worth of water. And they need it soon, a parks manager told the Utilities Board on Wednesday.

Water costs paid to Utilities have escalated, said Kurt Schroeder, park operations and development manager.

While the Parks Recreation and Cultural Services’ budget was slashed by 80 percent between 2008 and 2010, potable water rates doubled between 2008 and 2012, from $93 to $188 for 1 inch of water on 1 acre, Schroeder said.

Meanwhile, drought conditions in 2008, 2010 and 2012 brought the city less precipitation than the average in bone-dry Tucson, Ariz.

So Parks sprang into action, reducing its bluegrass by 10 percent and reducing watering levels by installing irrigation systems with web and smart-phone controls.

But while Parks is saving 6 acre-feet of water a year, it’s also facing a crunch after this June proved to be the city’s third-warmest on record, followed by the seventh-warmest July on record, Schroeder said.

“We’ve got an expectation of what citizens want their community to look like,” he said. “We’ve been watering at a deficit for many, many years and only now are beginning to catch up. If we cut back? We would see the turf degrade, and the trees wouldn’t get any better.”

Utilities Board members empathized. Merv Bennett said some trees have died for lack of water. Some of those were Gen. William Jackson Palmer’s original trees, said fellow board member Jill Gaebler.

But Utilities has its own challenges, including a push to replace water mains before the city paves streets using Ballot Issue 2C sales tax dollars, noted Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier.

“Historically, over the past three years, park watering hadn’t spent all its money,” said board member Don Knight. “I really appreciate all the hard work Parks has done in conservation. Water usage is very, very weather dependent.”

He suggested a five- or 10-year plan be crafted so Parks could get extra money when needed to compensate for the years it had leftover water funds. Cherrier said Utilities will work on a plan to present to the City Council, whose members make up the Utilities Board, at its work session Monday.

“We are bumping up against the time of warm weather,” Schroeder warned, “and the dollars I have could be burned away quickly. I need to get a determination quickly.”

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