Click on the thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
From The Vail Daily (Pam Boyd):
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, the town of Gypsum is hosting a water summit — an information session aimed at letting residents know what water restrictions could look like if the current weather pattern continues. At the town of Eagle and at Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, water regulations are an on-going effort to make sure everyone uses water wisely, restrictions are the next step if customers fail to do that.
According to Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll, the most recent snowpack reading for the municipal watershed is at 30 percent of the 30-year average. While there is still time for that to turn around, he said the town wanted to begin discussions with residents about what a dry year means because many of them have never had that experience.
“We want to have the dialogue with our residents,” Shroll said. “The last time we had to look at water restrictions, our population was probably around 3,000 people.”
With Gypsum’s population now twice that amount, Shroll said residents need to be educated about drought condition watering restrictions, especially since the town recently revised those rules.
“We haven’t touched our water rates in years,” Shroll said, noting that depending on where they live, town residents see different rate structures. In older residential areas, domestic water is used for outdoor irrigation but in some of the new subdivisions — such as Buckhorn Valley and Chatfield Corners — nonpotable water is used for irrigation.
The town’s water ordinance calls out 15 different categories of residential and commercial users, both in town and out of town, but the base rate for Gypsum water service is $25 per month for a maximum of 20,000 gallons. As the town looks head to a possible dry year, Gypsum has instituted drought surcharges in their water rates. The surcharge will be 20 percent of the 1,000 gallon rate for users who exceed the maximum amount of water allowed for their categories.
As Gypsum communicates this new surcharge plan, Shroll said the town also wants to make sure residents are aware of the voluntary water use restrictions that are already in place:
Water lawns every other day and apply a maximum of 1 inch of water
Water lawns between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Wash cars and equipment no more than once a week
Refrain from using water to clean off driveways, parking lots or streets
When the town imposes mandatory water restrictions, residents are required to abide by those rules and fines can be levied if they don’t.
As Gypsum lays out the rules it expects its residents to follow, Shroll said the town will also abide by the regulations.
“We are not going to ask our residents to conserve if we aren’t willing to do it as well,” he said. “Even with nonpotable irrigation systems at most of our town parks, we will be looking at cutting back our irrigation.
USE WATER WISELY
“Use water wisely” is the mantra at Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. That message is true in both wet years and dry years, but when the snowpack is below average, wise water usage is more important than ever.
“We are really connected to our water resources here and they are our water supply,” said Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “What we are choosing to use is coming directly out of our water sources.”
Because people respect the recreational and aesthetic values that local creeks and rivers provide, Johnson noted that the conservation message is very tangible.
As the summer months approach, the district is tracking snowpack information, particularly at three sites monitored by the US. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s SNOWTEL report. Those sites are showing snowpack below the 30 year average, but Johnson noted it is still too early to predict a drought year.
“They (the SNOWTEL readings) are a snapshot of one location on one day,” she said. “But we are taking our preparations seriously.”
REGULATION, NOT RESTRICTION
The district has recent history to learn from as it looks ahead to a possible dry summer. In 2012, when stream flows in August were very low, the district reached out to a stakeholder group to share information and ask for a voluntary reduction in water use. That effort was successful and the district never had to move to water restrictions.
On that subject, Johnson said if water restrictions become necessary, users are not forewarned. Johnson noted if they have noticed that more restrictive restrictions are coming, then customers often increase the amount of water in anticipation. That behavior makes the imposition of restrictions counter-productive, especially when every day conservation is encouraged.
“We really want people to take conservation seriously and reduce the amount of water use,” Johnson said.
The town of Eagle and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s water regulations mirror one another. They are:
No outdoor water use on Mondays
Odd numbered addresses can irrigate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
Even numbered addresses can irrigate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays
Outdoor water use is allowed before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Eagle Public Works Director Bryon McGinnis noted that the current readings show snowpack at 85 percent of normal, saying that late winter and spring snowfall could still bring up the average. He echoed Johnson’s message that water regulations are always important for the town’s resources and urged people to voluntarily comply with the rules.
“We really want nobody to water on Mondays to get our tank filled up,” McGinnis said. “We will be asking people to conserve on their use and this year we will probably be more strict than in previous years.”
From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Michelle Fredrickson):
This year’s drought is caused by a dearth of snow, which supplies Colorado with most of its water. The continued rise in Colorado’s population doesn’t help.
A drought in winter is a bad sign of what’s to come for summer, as a winter drought could increase risks in summer as well as exacerbate wildfire risk, which the state already suffers enough from. Unless there is a very snowy late winter and spring or an abnormally rainy spring and summer, Colorado is in for drought of increasing severity until next year’s snowpack…
Fort Collins and northern Colorado are currently labeled as ‘abnormally dry’ while Denver and the surrounding areas are labeled as ‘moderate drought.’ Grand Junction and most of the Western Slope are labeled as ‘severe drought.’…
Fort Collins Utilities implemented a Water Efficiency Plan, and water use has declined nearly 40 percent since 2000. Fort Collins is on track to hit the previous mark for 2020, and is aiming for an increased decline before 2030. It is actually illegal to waste water in Fort Collins, and last year Fort Collins Utilities identified and addressed 55 cases of such waste taking place.
Everyday citizens can help be more water conscious by critically thinking about the water they use. It’s easy to leave the water running while doing dishes, but is it really necessary? No.
Similarly, while this rubs some people the wrong way, not flushing the toilet every time can help save water, because the toilet is the number one consumer of water in a residence. If not flushing isn’t something you’re comfortable with, consider putting a half-gallon to a gallon filled jug in your toilet tank – older toilet especially use a lot of water, and by creating displacement in the tank, the toilet will use less water.
While we don’t need to restrict showering to 90 seconds twice a week like Cape Town, shorter showers can help anyone, anywhere. Leaks also account for 12 percent of daily water consumption; many people may have a leak that isn’t causing problems, so they don’t do anything about it. It’s important to call your utilities or maintenance people when you find a leak, because that can be a significant source of water waste.
Small things like turning off the faucet while washing hands or brushing teeth can also help stop water waste. Reusing shower water or pasta water to water plants can, too.
From Weather Nation (Mike Morrison):
Years like the one we’re in, where snow has been scarce reminds us all about the importance of water conservation. Snow pack in the Colorado Rockies acts as water storage and about eighty percent of Denver’s water comes from this mountain snow pack. Snow falling west of the continental that flows into the Colorado River feeds a demand, more than it can supply downstream. Years with a lack of snow in the mountains of Colorado (and other locations) can adversely impact recreation, agriculture, businesses, and residents who depend on the water from snow pack…
Snowpack levels across the Colorado Rockies are running well below average so far this year but there is still time for a comeback. There is a chance through the next couple of months for the La Nina phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation or ENSO to become neutral which could bring more moisture to the state through the spring.
Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for February 26, 2018 via the NRCS.