Water restrictions: some to go, some to stay
Customers of the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, which serves from Dowd Junction west to Wolcott, will see restrictions lifted Sept. 15; water restriction will continue, however, for users in Vail, served by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.
The Vail restrictions remaining in place will allow eight hours of watering two days a week. They are an attempt by the boards to limit water use during the driest summer on record. The restrictions affected 22,000 customers from Wolcott to East Vail.
It’s the fifth consecutive year of less-than-normal precipitation, and streamflows in the county between rainstorms are approaching just 20 percent of normal – the lowest levels ever recorded at this time of year.
“It is really a desperate situation,” said the district’s general manager, Dennis Gelvin. “People will stop watering their lawns anyway in two to four weeks, but I’d rather concentrate on the next five months. Streamflows then will be a lot worse than today. We will need to decrease demand on the system.”
Gelvin said a conservation program will be initiated for the winter that will include advertising, information cards on tables at local restaurants, and notices to hotel guests.
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“We need to get the message out to our customers that the availability of water varies according to streaflows,” added Steve Friedman a member of the district’s board of directors.
There continues to be concern whether water will be available over the next five months, when streamflows typically are the lowest.
If there isn’t enough water in the streams during winter, they could freeze, said board member Buz Reynolds. That would cut off water for domestic use. Reynolds recalled when community of Plattsburgh, N.Y., experienced a particularly dry year and was forced to mechanically chip ice from the stream channel.
When the lawn-sprinkling hours were restricted last month, water use actually increased by 14 percent on the first no-water Monday. Some widespread rain over the last two weeks, however, has reduced the demand for treated water for lawn watering.
The two water organizations announced last month they aimed to reduce water use by 30 percent compared to last year. But reductions hit just under half of that, according to statistics compiled for the first three weeks of August.
Water use for the same period last year was 201 million gallons. This year, it was 172 million, a 14 percent reduction. The target was 141 million.
Not everyone has been practicing water conservation, either. The water providers have issued 72 $100 fines to people and housing associations for illegal watering practices.
“We haven’t done a whole lot by putting on irrigation restrictions,” said Eagle River board member Kent Rose. “We have a problem.”
LIfting the restrictions was anticipated because the growing season ends as autumn frosts stop plants and lawns from growing.
Despite lifting the restrictions, however, the drought continues. Flow of the Eagle River at Avon Thursday, bolstered by rain, was 60 cubic feet per second, or 30 percent of the long-term mean.
“We have a new reality here,” said Eagle River’s board member Pat Dauphinais. “We have development that is outstripping our ability to provide certain things – and water is at the top of the list. “
If flows in the Eagle River and Gore Creek reach a level where there is not enough water for domestic needs, water stored in three headwaters reservoirs – typically reserved for December and January – will be released, said Gelvin.
The two boards gave Gelvin the authority to release up to 200 acre-feet stored in Homestake Reservoir, if conditions warrant.
Gelvin said his preference is to retain stored water in case next year is a dry one, too.
Approximately 2,000 acre-feet stored in Eagle Park Reservoir at the headwaters of the Eagle, east of Camp Hale, in addition to 300 acre-feet in Black Lakes atop Vail Pass and 500 acre-feet in Homestake Reservoir south of MInturn. More than a thousand acre-feet of that is dedicated to snowmaking on Vail and Beaver Creek mountains.
An acre-foot is enough water to cover a football field a foot deep.
The question that cannot be answered at this point is how much snow will fall next winter. Snowmelt supplies 70 percent of the flow in rivers and streams in the state.
Gelvin recommended a conservative approach to releasing the stored water. “We can’t be sure Eagle Park will fill next spring,” he said, adding that it is about 80 percent full this year.
“There still will be spring runoff,” he said. “We will have spring runoff, but watering restrictions may follow.”
The district and the authority are negotiating with the Climax Mine a possible expansion of Eagle Park’s storage capacity next fall.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or firstname.lastname@example.org