Drought preparations taking shape

Cliff Thompson

Nearly 35 percent of the county’s annual water use occurs in the 90 days of summer.

One of those proposals calls for a tiered water usage rate structure. Water users who use the most would pay more than those conserving water. So far, that idea hasn’t been embraced by the boards governing water supply, but it is gaining favor across the drought-stricken Front Range.

The rates and other recommendations for water conservation will be presented Feb. 27 to the boards of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority. They were developed by staff of the district, landscapers and gardeners and a Colorado State University extension agent, said Dennis Gelvin of Eagle River Water and Sanitation.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Gelvin said. “What we come up with will have to be uniform throughout the service area.”

During the depths of last summer’s drought, a tiered rate structure was proposed by staff, and rejected by the boards. The boards adopted differing water restrictions for the Vail area and for Vail to the Cordillera.

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Last summer’s drought was caused by subpar snowpack, warm and windy conditions and lack of summer rain. It was the driest conditions recorded in 175 to 400 years, depending on which historical record is followed.

The drought continues along the Front Range, where outside watering is already prohibited in many communities.

Water supplies here are a different game because we’re closer to the snowpack, Gelvin said. That snowpack will begin melting next month.

So far the snow depths in drainages feeding the Eagle River have been nearly 80 percent of average – slightly better than the 75 percent most of the state is experiencing.

“If we get anywhere near a normal snow year, we’ll be fine,” said Gelvin. “We depend on streamflows, not storage. The Front Range has reservoir storage. Until they refill, which make take several years, there will be water restrictions there.”

State climatologists are calling for continued dry years. Much of Colorado’s rapid growth occurred in the last 20 years, which were wetter than average, they said.

“We live in a semiarid area and are always on the edge of drought,” said climatologist Nolan Doesken. “Many people are lulled into complacency as a result of the greater-than-average precipitation during the 1980s and 1990s.”

But many water districts make their money selling tap fees and water, so if water conservation measures are enacted, it probably means a rate increase to offset the expected water conservation.

“In any tiered structure, the levels between the tiers need to be adequate to allow for normal use,” Gelvin said. “Only customers who use extraordinary amounts would be impacted.”

The water district uses a computer model to calculate rate and water usage and the impact that water conservation could have on district revenue.

The water processed by domestic water plants in Vail and Avon for 2001 totalled 3.1 billion gallons with one-third of that consumed in the 90 days from June 1 through August. In 2002, a drought year, water production dropped slightly to 2.945 billion gallons while summer consumption increased slightly to 36 percent of the annual total.

Last year the greatest increase in summer use, 22 percent, occurred in the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s Vail area, while users from Dowd Junction to Wolcott, increased their use 8 percent.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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