Vail Valley’s continued water supplies will need planning, conservation
Water district wants to eliminate all billing in top-use tiers
Keeping water flowing to customers is job one for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. It’s going to require planning and conservation to meet that goal in coming years.
District general manager Linn Brooks recently presented an overview of the district’s master plan for the coming years. The plan includes a number of steps and will require the help of the district’s customers to conserve water.
The biggest conservation goal requires cutbacks in the amount of water used for outdoor irrigation.
The district has five billing tiers, with tiers 4 and 5 reflecting the most water use. Brooks said the district’s goal is to eliminate use in those top billing tiers.
The district is also working to encourage property owners to install less-thirsty landscaping.
Brooks said there are ways to get the cooling effects of traditional landscaping from using native plants.
“We have a lot of talented landscapers,” Brooks said. “They can do a lovely job with low water use.”
Can drastic steps be avoided?
Starting now could be a way to stave off more draconian measures, Brooks said. Las Vegas has taken what Brooks called “really dramatic” steps to reduce water use.
And, Brooks added, there are small communities in Utah that have “basically said ‘we’re out of water.’”
That’s resulted in some creative solutions, including a developer working with a local recreation district to convert its athletic fields to artificial turf, then converting that water to residential use.
Another part of ensuring water supplies into the future is political.
The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle River Water Authority share offices and a lot of staff, but are politically separate entities. Brooks said the valley from Edwards to East Vail would benefit from merging those entities and their individual access to supplies.
More water needed
Any discussion of future supplies and growth also includes expanding the district’s supplies. Most of the upper valley’s water supply comes from streamflows, but Brooks said there are ways to ensure a bit more reservoir storage, particularly from an expansion of Bolts Lake near Minturn. The idea is to expand storage there from its current 350 acre-feet or so to 1,200 acre-feet. In comparison, Homestake Reservoir above Red Cliff is 43,000 acre-feet. Lake Dillon, in Summit County, is part of a Denver Water system and can hold 257,000 acre-feet when full.
Kim Langmaid, of the Vail Town Council, said the Bolts Lake plan — which could be operating by 2030 or so — appears to be a good one.
The lake “seems like a responsible site for this kind of local storage,” Langmaid said.
Brooks called the lake site “kind of a dream come true” for reservoir sites, particularly because the lake doesn’t interrupt flows from the Eagle River.
With those and other steps, Brooks said the district could supply current and new needs, with supplies in reserve, for the next few decades.
Councilmember Brian Stockmar said conservation will take a lot of public education.
“It’s tough to explain (that need) to people,” Stockmar said. “But it’s important to explain.”
95%: Goal of service reliability for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District
10%: District’s target strategic supply reserve
1.5%: The district’s annual conservation goal
1.1%: Estimated long-term average growth rate for the district.
Source: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District