Big lawns, poor water policies are sucking us dry |

Big lawns, poor water policies are sucking us dry

It may seem untimely to talk about the dry summer ahead. After all, it snowed and rained this week, just like it’s supposed to do in the spring.

Now is nevertheless the time to remind people just how scarce and precious water is in this part of the country. Our basic message: Less is more. Know how much water you’re using and what you’re using it for.

It almost makes one wince to see sprawling, manicured lawns brushing up to the bank of the Roaring Fork River – lawns that look as if they belong in some New Jersey suburb.

The water drawn to feed high-maintenance, non-native grasses is literally sucking the river dry, even if the owners are using wells instead of municipal water.

It also makes one wince to hear city of Aspen officials breathe a collective sigh of relief following an unusually wet April. Mandatory water restrictions are much less likely this summer, thanks to 4 extra inches of precipitation last month. That boost brought the early May snowpack up to 78 percent of the long-term average.

It’s hard to believe we’re rejoicing over just 4 inches of precipitation and the fact that our snowpack is 22 percent below average. But that’s the thing about water around here – there just ain’t much of it.

Instead of backing away from water-use restrictions, the city should be giving them serious consideration. During summer 2002, Aspen enacted a temporary water rate structure that penalized the biggest water users; at least partially because of that decision, consumption dropped by 10 percent – temporarily.

The best way to avoid problems the next time the river runs dry is to change people’s water-use habits permanently.

Basalt has multitiered water rates that reward people who draw less from the tap and punish those who take more. The first allotment of water is set at a reasonable per-1,000-gallons rate; once a certain volume threshold is passed, the rate goes up; once a second threshold is passed, the rate jumps again. The rate increases are steep enough to discourage people from planting huge, thirsty lawns.

Aspen should look to enact similar disincentives, whether through water rates or other methods such as mandatory watering days.

We like to think of ourselves as environmentally sensitive in the Roaring Fork Valley. But it’s hard to swallow that claim when we’re allowing trophy lawns to suck us dry.

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