Lack of water becoming a "crisis situation’ |

Lack of water becoming a "crisis situation’

Cliff Thompson

Driving the decision is the knowledge the area is in the grip of the worst drought since the 1500s and the fact that local streams are flowing at 20 percent or less of their historic norms – and flows are dropping even further. The district, in a press release, classified the lack of water as “a crisis situation,” noting streamflows will not increase again until next spring.

Diversions could completely dry up some streams if more stringent water restrictions are not implemented, the release stated.

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District supplies water from Dowd Junction east; the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority supplies water from Wolcott to Dowd Junction – exclusive of Minturn which has its own water system. The meeting between officials of both authorities convenes at noon Friday in the conference room at the district’s office at 846 Forest Road in Vail.

Water suppliers say they do not want to dip into the 2,800 acre-feet of water stored in a trio or local reservoirs. They say they will need that water in the driest months of January and February, when river flows are at their normal historic lows.

An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, or enough to cover a football field approximately a foot deep.

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Wednesday at the Vail water plant, Gore Creek was flowing at 10 cubic feet per second, or cfs; the Eagle River at Avon on Wednesday flowed at 121 cfs. Both were at about one-fifth of normal – and dropping. Streamflow projections call for the Eagle to hit levels as low as 25 cfs, with Gore Creek hitting just 10 cfs.

Outside irrigation accounts for 65 or more percent of water used in the summer, the season of peak water use.

Just last week, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority restricted lawn-watering to two days a week, down from three days a week, with watering allowed only at night, from 8 p.m until 8 a.m.

Gypsum is under voluntary watering restrictions, as are Eagle residents.

The aim of the watering restrictions upvalley is to reduce overall water use by 30 percent, said District General Manager Dennis Gelvin.

Water plants in Vail and Avon produce 9.2 million gallons per day in summer.

The towns of Vail and Avon will be cutting their outside irrigation by 50 percent.

Violators of watering restrictions will be fined $25 for the first infraction and $100 thereafter – until the fourth infraction, at which time their water will be shut off, or a mechanical flow-restrictor will be installed, leaving only enough flow for household use.

It’s the third year of drought, say hydrologists. Snowpack that feeds local streams was at 65 percent of normal last winter, but it melted two months early because of a warmer- and drier-than-normal spring.

June’s lack of precipitation compounded the drought, totalling just 13 percent of normal.

In 1579, tree rings show a 20-year drought occurred that reduced streamflow in the Colorado River Basin by 40 percent. This drought has produced flows of half that.

Water use facts:

– Since announcing watering restrictions, water use has increased every day.

– Between July 25 and 30, Gore Creek dropped from 14 cubic feet per second, or cfs, to 10 cfs.

– On July 29, a no-watering day, water use district-wide increased by 400,000 gallons over the previous no-watering Monday.

– Streamflows will not increase again until spring, prompting local water suppliers to call it a “crisis situation.”

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