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City asks for voluntary water conservation

Janet Urquhart

Aspen water customers will be asked to practice a little voluntary water conservation just in case forecasts of drought conditions this summer in Colorado prove accurate.

The City Council last week authorized the water department to include notices with its next billing asking customers to voluntarily limit lawn and garden watering to every other day. The city will also suggest residents avoid watering between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., when evaporation makes for inefficient watering. Customers with odd-numbered addresses will be asked to water on odd dates and vice-versa.

“We’re entering a period when water could be short,” said Phil Overeyender, director of the city’s water and electric utilities.

Just in case mandatory measures become necessary, voluntary action is a good way to ease people into conserving water, he reasoned.

“I think we’ll probably get pretty good compliance if we let people know this could be a problem,” agreed Mayor Rachel Richards.

Overeyender reviewed the city’s code provisions for water conservation with the council, just in case there’s a need to enact the restrictions at some point. “We just want to be prepared in the event stream levels do drop,” he said.

The code is divided into three stages, with each placing more severe restrictions on water use. The rules only apply to treated water provided by the city’s water system. Use of ditch water would not be restricted if the city imposes restrictions, Overeyender added.

The early spring runoff and below-normal peak flows in local rivers and streams may be an indication of a problem year, according to Overeyender.

Rivers hit their peak flows during the Memorial Day weekend, he noted, instead of around July 4, which is more typical. “I’ve never seen that early a runoff,” he said.

In addition, the Roaring Fork River peaked at about 500 cubic feet per second east of town. Last year it peaked at about 1,000 cfs, Overeyender said. Unless summer rains replenish the city’s water supply, streamflows could drop to a level that is cause for concern by next month, he said.

Aspen takes water from Castle and Maroon creeks for most of its water supply. It is the flows in those two creeks that the city works to protect, Overeyender said.

In his seven years with Aspen’s water utility, the city has never enacted even Stage I water restrictions, he added.

In 1994, a very dry year – and one that this summer has mirrored so far – city officials contemplated enacting restrictions on water use, but decided not to because the city’s system was hardly a model of water conservation at that time, Overeyender recalled.

“The City Council didn’t feel comfortable asking customers to cut back on their usage because so much water was leaking out of its system,” he said.

The city was losing about half the water it took in, Overeyender said. Now that loss is down to 10 or 12 percent, he said.

“We’ve improved dramatically on our performance, so we’re much more comfortable asking the customers to cut back on their water use,” Overeyender said.

Formal restrictions may not be necessary anyway, depending on how Colorado’s monsoon season shapes up, he added.

“There’s no need to worry yet,” he said. “It’s just something we’re watching closely.”


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