Agency unveils valley-wide outdoor watering standards

Heather Sackett
Aspen Journalism

In an effort to unify the Roaring Fork watershed, a local agency has developed valley-wide outdoor watering standards its board members hope will be adopted by municipal water providers. 

Last week, the Ruedi Water and Power Authority Board, made up of representatives from local towns and counties, unanimously supported a set of unified permanent watering standards. The standards are focused on time of day and day of week for outdoor watering and would apply to any residential or commercial customer receiving municipal water from the city of Aspen, town of Basalt, town of Carbondale, city of Glenwood Springs, Snowmass Water & Sanitation District, and Mid-Valley Metropolitan District. 

The proposed schedule would limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m., three days a week. Properties with odd-numbered addresses could irrigate on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Even-numbered properties could water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. No outdoor watering would be allowed on Mondays. Water providers could still enact more stringent restrictions depending on local conditions in their areas. The standards would form a new baseline.

“If we can make this change, the idea that (watering restrictions) change from year to year to year will go away,” said Rachel Richards, Aspen City Council and Water and Power Authority board member. “It’s going to be much easier and less expensive than having to tell people every year what the rules are this summer.”

The new watering standards were developed with the help of a project accelerator grant from WaterNow Alliance, which according to its website is a network of water leaders advancing climate-resilient water strategies, and Boulder-based environmental advocacy group Western Resource Advocates.

Outdoor watering of lawns and landscaping is often the largest water use for local water providers. For the city of Aspen, outdoor irrigation represents about 70% of the total. 

The proposed schedule would result in water savings because watering would happen during the coolest periods of the day, peak demands would be reduced, and one day a week of no watering would allow storage to be refilled, according to a memo from WaterNow Alliance and Western Resource Advocates. 

“The three-day-per-week schedule is relatively easy to communicate to residents and other water users, and it can be easily programmed into all types of irrigation controllers,” the memo reads. 

The valley-wide watering standards were an outgrowth of the regional water efficiency plan, said the Reudi authority’s executive director, April Long. 

“We learned from the providers that were part of that plan that they still really needed some unified messaging about outdoor water use,” Long said. “We realized we don’t even have common ground to tell people exactly what to do because we have so many drought stages and restrictions implemented in different ways. We actually need some baseline standards, so we can provide a common message that’s not confusing for all of our residents.”

Some Carbondale residents irrigate their lawns and landscaping with the town’s ditches, like the Weaver Ditch, that flow through town. A new unified outdoor watering standard would not apply to those who use ditch water, but they still are encouraged to comply.
Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

There are some exceptions to the standards. Outdoor watering can still occur any time of day with a handheld hose or drip irrigation. And, those who irrigate with water from a ditch, like many residents in the town of Carbondale, are not subject to the standards but encouraged to comply. 

The standards lay out penalties for violation, including a written warning for a first violation, and fines increasing to $500 for a fourth violation. But, proponents will focus solely on an education campaign for the first season before issuing warnings or fines. 

The next step is for Long to present the watering standards to each of the participating municipalities and get them approved by elected officials. 

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to


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