Rainy season greens lawns, and weeds
By the numbers
Here’s a look at April, May and June rainfall totals, compared to 30-year averages, at an official measurement site on Spraddle Creek Road in Vail. Measurements are in inches.
2015 30-year average
April: 1.07 2.38
May: 3.55 1.96
June: 1.49 1.44
Source: National Weather Service, Grand Junction.
EAGLE COUNTY — We’ve all had to keep ponchos, sweaters and long pants handy for more of this summer than usual. But that’s — mostly — a good thing.
According to Noah Newman at the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins, Eagle County’s rainfall totals since April are between 110 and 130 percent of the normal amounts. That’s as much as 1.5 inches of moisture above normal.
Of course, the rest of the state has been wetter than normal, too. According to the climate center, most of Colorado is running at about 150 percent of normal rainfall so far this year.
All that rain has been great for lawns, gardens and golf courses. It’s also been a boon for water conservation, and, by extension, streamflows. Water from streams provides most of the water supply for the Vail Valley. Most water from in-home uses is returned to the Eagle River, but irrigation water depletes streams. Less irrigation means more water in creeks and rivers.
And, with the wet season so far, people have been irrigating less.
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The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District provides water to the Vail Valley between East Vail and Edwards, as well as Minturn. District spokeswoman Diane Johnson said depending on location, district customers used between 15 and 20 percent less water than they did during the same period in 2014. Part of that is a continuing trend of declining water use due to conservation efforts. But part is due to the fact that lawns and gardens don’t need to be watered as often so far this summer.
In an email, Brent Barnum, course superintendent of the Eagle-Vail Golf Course, said that facility has cut back on its water use.
“When there is adequate or even excessive rainfall we shut down the irrigation systems until there is a need to water again,” Barnum wrote.
In Gypsum — known by the Utes as the “hole in the sky” — Gypsum Creek Golf Course manager Tom Buzbee said that course has required “maybe 40 percent” less water this year than in 2014.
Gregg Barrie, the landscape architect for the town of Vail, agreed that landscaping this year hasn’t needed to be watered nearly as much.
“We’ll do two-day (irrigation) delays when it rains,” Barrie said. The new sod behind the Vail Public Library is mostly in shade during the day, and Barrie said that area has barely been watered at all.
There’s something about rain that seems to work better than even well-designed irrigation systems.
“We don’t have any dry spots this year,” Barrie said. “The rain has helped make sure everything’s nice and green.”
Again, this is good, with a small handful of notable exceptions.
The natural grasses planted around the fire station in West Vail were intended to grow slowly and need little, if any, mowing. Not long ago, Barrie got a call from Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak asking if he could send a crew over to cut that grass.
“It took four years to establish, and now we have to cut it back,” Barrie said.
Natural grasses around the valley are tall and green, but that could change in a matter of several days if the weather dries out and heats up. Once dried, those grasses can create a quickly-ignited fuel for wildfires.
Pesky Noxious Weeds
Then there are the weeds.
Musk thistle is classified as a noxious weed, the kind of weed property owners are required by law to control on their land. This year, it’s just everywhere, Barrie said.
“It’s from Gypsum to Vail on (Interstate 70),” Barrie said. “It’s so dense in spots you can’t walk through them.”
The problem is that noxious weed seed can remain dormant for years, Barrie said. When a wet year comes, those seeds sprout, often in places they aren’t expected. And property owners who live next to public land that’s infested with noxious weeds are still required to control those weeds on their property.
Given the season, and limited budgets for weed control, Barrie said local, state and federal agencies will probably develop a thistle strategy that won’t be launched until the spring of 2016.
“We’ll have to spray when (the weeds) are just coming up to have an impact,” he said.
Too much rain can be hard on golf courses, too. Barnum wrote that it can be hard to get regular maintenance work done during rainy spells, and carts sometimes have to stick to the paths instead of being allowed out on the course.
But, Barnum added, “these are minor complaints.”
So keep those ponchos handy, and enjoy the greenery.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.