Gypsum reaches out to residents with drought education for potentially dry summer
March 4, 2018
GYPSUM — Predicting drought in the Colorado high country can be a dicey proposition, but last week the town of Gypsum brought up the D-word, figuring it couldn't hurt to prepare town residents for a dry summer.
"It's not time to start filling water buckets. It's not that dire," said Gypsum Community Development Director Lana Gallegos at the introduction of the Gypsum Water Summit last week. "We wanted to start a dialogue, but we want to make sure no one is leaving here in a panic mode."
But the town did want to reach out to residents as snowpack figures continue to read below the 30-year average and the prospect of mandatory water restrictions looms this summer. Additionally, Gypsum recently amended its water ordinance to include provisions for charging water surcharges for users who exceed their regularly allotted quantity of municipal water.
It's been many years since Gypsum faced a summer dry enough to warrant water restrictions. Gallegos noted that the town has made several improvements to its municipal water system since that time. It needed to, because Gypsum has also grown considerably over the past decade.
Gypsum Town Engineer Jim Hancock offered an overview of the Gypsum water system. The community currently has two treatment plants. The Norgaard Plant, located along Vicksburg Lane, is the town's secondary plant, and the Mosher Plant, located south of the Brightwater development, is the town's primary water-treatment facility. The source for the Mosher Plant is high-quality Mosher Spring.
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"We have to run the water through the Mosher Plant to dirty it up to meet state standards," Hancock joked.
Along with its treatment facilities, the town has storage capacity of 1,000 acre feet at Lede Reservoir. Hancock noted an expansion project at the Lede site was completed last summer to double its capacity. The town hopes to fill the reservoir this summer.
While the town has solid water sources, Gypsum wants to beef up its residential use education program.
"We want to let people know the connection between your lawn and the gutter," Hancock said.
As Gypsum looks ahead to the summer, officials noted that typical winter municipal water use is around 1 million gallons per day. In the summer that jumps to 3.5 million gallons per day. They would like to keep that number under control if dry conditions continue.
"The town plans for drought. Droughts occur," said Kevin Patrick, Gypsum's water attorney.
Patrick noted it wouldn't be practical or financially feasible to plan a municipal water system to routinely meet drought year standards. Instead, towns and cities plan for normal conditions and then address drought needs through public participation in stricter restrictions. He noted that was the reason for the meeting — "to have everyone understand we are all in this together."
Patrick praised past Gypsum water actions.
"Getting Lede was a coup," he said, noting that it is unusual for towns as small as Gypsum to have such large storage capacity.
But Patrick added that on Feb. 1, snowpack readings for the Eagle River Basin were just 31 percent of normal.
"Now, we have had some snow, some rains since then," he said. "We get 75 percent of our precipitation between Feb. 1 and April 15."
Because slight weather pattern shifts can make a big difference in precipitation, Patrick said the Colorado high county could still avoid drought conditions this summer. However, the long-range forecasts aren't very promising.
"So, what is the town going to do this summer if there is a drought?" Patrick said. "Part of today is to put it in everyone's mind what they can and cannot do in their particular subdivisions."
Town water warning
"Don't use town water if you have a raw water system," Patrick stressed. He then repeated that warning.
Several subdivisions in Gypsum — Cotton Ranch, Sky Legend, Chatfield Corners and Buckhorn Valley and more — have raw water systems in place for lawn irrigation. If residents run a hose to use treated municipal water for outdoor uses, then they are subject to fines. The penalties are $50 for a first occurrence, $200 for a second occurrence and $500 for each additional violation. Those charges will be added to individual water bills.
Using treated water for outdoor use in areas where non-potable systems are in service is just one violation that can generate a ticket when the town institutes Phase II or Phase III water restrictions. Phase II regulations mandate an alternating day schedule for lawn watering and irrigation hours before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. There are also restrictions about vehicle and equipment washing and other outdoor uses. If the town institutes Phase III regulations, then lawn irrigation and most outdoor uses are prohibited.
If the town institutes water restrictions, then the announcement will be posted on the town's website by 9 a.m. the Wednesday after a regularly scheduled Gypsum Town Council meeting. Those meetings happen on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.
"The way we are going to get the word out is, first and foremost, it is your responsibility to check our website," Gallegos said.
Because communication is a critical element of Gypsum's water plan, Gallegos said that the water summit was the first step to reach out to residents about the town's water rules. She noted Gypsum has compiled a lot of water information, everything from a comprehensive list of subdivisions served by raw water systems, to a list of voluntary and mandatory restrictions to information about drought surcharge fees.
About 50 people attended last week's session, but Gallegos noted that the water summit information also is available online at http://www.townofgypsum.com.