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June 22, 2012
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City staff asks Aspen council to make drought official

ASPEN - Because of drought conditions in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, the Aspen City Council on Monday will face a request from city staff to declare a Stage 1 water shortage.

Staff will present various options to council members about how to deal with the shortage, including a temporary rate hike for the largest users of the city's water utility, said Randy Ready, Aspen assistant city manager, on Thursday.

The basic goal of a Stage 1 shortage declaration is to reduce water consumption by 10 percent, a target level that a different council configuration set during the 2002 drought, utilities operations manager Lee Ledesma said in a city memorandum dated Monday.

"This is coming about as a result of the ongoing drought and recognition that we need to be as prudent in conserving as much water as possible," Ready said.

On May 14, the council approved a municipal-code amendment that will allow the city to raise its current rates in the event of an official drought declaration. The city's 2002 council action also temporarily raised rates, but the code had to be adjusted this year because the emergency rates enacted 10 years ago were lower than the utility's current pricing structure.

Ready said council members won't be asked to raise rates to the maximum allowable amount, which is 175 percent of the current rate for Tier 3 users and 200 percent for Tier 4 users. The city also is not seeking to raise rates on Tier 1 and 2 customers, categories that identify low-consumption users.

"We're not proposing going to the (highest) rates," he said, adding that one suggestion might be a 125 percent hike for Tier 3 and 150 percent for Tier 4.

If those temporary but less-than-maximum rates are adopted Monday, Ready said, the city would still have some room to raise rates to a higher level should the drought continue through the summer and force the need for a Stage 2 declaration.

"The intent there is to prompt conservation," he said. "Tier 1 and Tier 2 users are already conserving. They are already our smallest users."

If those temporary rates are adopted Monday, Ready said, the city would retain some room to raise rates to a higher level or the maximum.

For the past few months, in recognition of the likelihood of a declared drought stage, the city has asked residents, businesses and its own employees to conserve water. At the Aspen Golf Club, irrigation efforts have focused on putting greens, fairways and tee boxes, and many of the rough areas and sections with native grasses aren't being watered, Parks and Recreation Manager Jeff Woods said earlier this week.

Meanwhile, no relief is in sight concerning precipitation for the remainder of June, which historically is Aspen's driest month of the year.

June 3 was the last time any precipitation was measured at the Aspen Water Department - a paltry 0.01 inches was recorded from the rain gauge. The last significant rainfall in Aspen occurred on May 24, when the department recorded about a half-inch of precipitation for the preceding 24 hours.

Ledesma's memo states that this year's stream flow in local rivers and streams is similar to the drought years of 2002 and 1977. Compared with 1977, this year's peak water flow in the Roaring Fork River occurred six days earlier, and the peak in the Crystal River occurred 13 days earlier.

The city relies on Castle and Maroon creeks for its water supply. Castle Creek peaked this year on June 1, 14 days earlier than the average. Maroon Creek peaked on June 10, 10 days earlier than the average, the memo states.

"All of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought condition with drought intensity in northwestern Colorado, where Aspen is located, being classified as 'extreme,'" Ledesma's memo states.

"Without a citywide water conservation and drought management plan, stream health, agricultural activities and fish and wildlife habitat along the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers will be more negatively impacted than if we contributed to water conservation efforts," she wrote. "Public safety concerns resulting in increased fire and flood hazards, as well as negative economic impacts due to decreased tourism, are also expected to occur if drought conditions persist."

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 22, 2012 06:25AM Published Jun 22, 2012 01:40AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.