Water restrictions tightened as drought continues | VailDaily.com

Water restrictions tightened as drought continues

Cliff Thompson

They delayed, however, issuing an outright ban on watering lawns contingent on flows of the Eagle River at Avon.

The new regulations were forged at an emergency meeting of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority in Vail. The meeting was called because streamflows, on which the area is dependant for water, are dropping as much as 30 percent per week.

Lawn irrigation is still limited to just two days a week, but the hours of lawn watering were decreased by four. Watering now may take place only between midnight and 8 a.m.

On the days when lawn irrigation is prohibited altogether, hand-watering of trees, shrubs and gardens is still allowed.

The watering of lawns and gardens account for 60 percent of summer water use.

Fines for violating the watering restrictions developed larger teeth on Friday, too. The cost of the first violation will be $100; for subsequent violations up to three, they will be $500 each. Additional violations will result in disconnection of water service.

“We’re trying to buy some time to see if there will be some relief (with some rain),” said Steve Friedman of Beaver Creek, a member of the water authority’s board of directors. The authority, along with the water and sanitation district, serve 22,000 water users from East Vail to Wolcott.

Change in position

The water boards also agreed Friday to release 200 acre-feet water stored in Eagle Park Reservoir east of Camp Hale between Monday and Sept. 2. The additional flow will take 48 hours to reach Avon, said water managers. How much registers at the water gauge is dependant on how dry the river corridor has become. It will absorb some of the flow.

The release is a reversal of an earlier position by the boards, which had said they would retain all stored water in reserve. Those releases would be stopped if rain increases the flow of the river above the 125 cublc feet per second, or cfs, for five consecutive days.

The sequenced reduction in watering will be subject to a total ban on lawn irrigation when the Eagle River descends to just 25 cfs and remains there for 72 hours. When the river retains a flow of 85 cfs – the state-mandated minimum flow in summer – the latest watering restrictions will be lifted.

This week the flow of the river at Avon dropped from 49 cfs to 39 cfs. The lowest flow previously recorded for July was 160.

The new regulations reflect the balancing act between economic needs of water users – such as landscape contractors – and the dwindling surface water supply. The Vail Golf Course, for example, will be strongly encouraged by the district to pare its 600,000 gallons-per-day water use by half.

Mac McDevitt, another water authority board member, said he was concerned the new district-wide restrictions aren’t strong enough.

“I don’t think people will get the message about what we’re doing,” he said, noting water usage on the first no-watering Monday – after an earlier round of restrictions were imposed – actually increased 400,000 gallons, or about 14 percent.

How dry can it get?

For the first time, water managers are voicing concerns about having enough water for domestic needs.

“Flows are dropping at an alarming rate,” said Dennis Gelvin, the district’s general manager. “We’re still six months away from our lowest flows.”

Hydrologist Bob Weaver of Hydrosphere in Boulder told the boards the area is now in its fifth year of drought.

“We haven’t seen anything like it,” he said. “There just isn’t any moisture input to the system. Streams are dropping faster then predicted.”

The long-anticipated summer monsoon rains are showing signs of materializing nearly two weeks later than normal.

Weaver said the drought is the worst since 1579. That’s when Sir Francis Drake first eyed the California coast on a global circumnavigation.

The unprecedented low flows in local streams is causing a new focus on water.

“In some respects seniority (of water rights) is irrelevant,” said water lawyer Glenn Porzak. “This is about pure physical supply.”

With 2,800 acre-feet of water stored in reservoirs upstream, the Eagle River Valley area should have enough water enough to weather even another dry winter, Porzak said. Reservoir water needs to be reserved, however, for the eventuality of yet another dry year, he said.

Tough as grass

The lawn-watering restrictions – and even a ban – typically will not kill established lawns, said landscapers.

“Bluegrass lawns can go dormant for up to nine months,” said Ziggy Gosiewski of Intermountain Landscaping.

Trees and shrubs are not as hardy, but they can be sustained with hand-watering.

Based on comments from nearly 40 landscape contractors who attended the meeting in Vail, the new watering restrictions will be implemented late next week to allow time for irrigation clocks to be reset.

In Eagle, watering is allowed three days a week; Gypsum still has voluntary watering restrictions.

For complete information on local irrigation restrictions, visit http://www.erwsd.org.

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