Vail Valley’s most extravagant outdoor water users facing fines, disconnection
By the numbers
42 percent: Percentage of normal streamflow in Gore Creek on Sunday, Aug. 12.
42 percent: Percentage of normal streamflow in the Eagle River at Minturn on Aug. 12.
38 percent: Percentage of normal streamflow in the Eagle River at Avon on Aug. 12.
Source: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District
EAGLE COUNTY — Even with streamflows in the upper Eagle River Valley hovering near historic lows, some Eagle River Water & Sanitation District customers are still using large amounts of water for irrigation. Now, they have to cut back.
District officials on Monday, Aug. 13, sent several hundred letters to customers using thousands of gallons of water per week, mostly for outdoor watering.
Those letters inform those users they must immediately reduce their use below 10,000 gallons per week per “single family equivalent” or face fines and possible disconnection of their water service.
One single family equivalent will serve a home up to 3,000 square feet. A number of homes in the valley are billed for more than one single family equivalent. That means some customers are using 20,000 gallons per week — or more.
The district has a five-tiered billing system, with tiers coming in 10,000-gallon-per-month increments. Customers in the upper tiers pay more for their service. Monday’s letters were sent to people in the highest tier, meaning those people use 40,000 gallons per month or more.
The average residential customer uses about 7,000 gallons per month, according to the district.
Diane Johnson, the district’s communications and public affairs manager, said that after seeing streamflows continue to fall over the summer, the district in late July asked customers to cut their outdoor water use by at least 25 percent.
In an email, Johnson wrote that towns and recreation facilities in the district all complied, cutting their outdoor water use by between 25 percent and 40 percent.
Cutting outdoor water use is the best way to maintain streamflows, Johnson said. About 95 percent of all indoor water use — drinking, cooking, laundry and toilet flushing — ends up back in local streams. Outdoor watering soaks into the ground or evaporates, meaning most never returns to the stream.
Johnson said those who are exceeding 10,000 gallons per week per single family equivalent face some harsh penalties.
The district will take meter readings on Wednesday, Aug. 15, and again on Wednesday, Aug. 22. Anyone exceeding that level of use will be hit with a $500 fine. Those who continue to exceed that threshold another week — Aug. 22 through Tuesday, Aug. 28 — will have their service disconnected.
That’s one way the district can help maintain enough water for domestic use, firefighting and the environmental health of local streams. Those environmental considerations are legally mandated by the state.
Johnson said most customers should continue outdoor watering as they have been, cutting back where possible and certainly not increasing their use.
And, Johnson said, any fines imposed aren’t part of the district’s budget, nor are the increased fees for people in other tiers.
“We don’t base our budget off those tiers,” Johnson said. “There’s no good reason for anyone to be in those (upper) tiers.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com and 970-748-2930.
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