City of Aspen asking residents to reduce water use by 10 percent

Pete Thomas kayaks through Entrance Exam rapid on the Roaring Fork on Tuesday afternoon.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen is poised to enact water restrictions based on low snowpack levels.

City Council on Tuesday agreed with city staff’s recommendation to declare that “stage one” water shortage conditions exist. A formal resolution will be adopted Monday during council’s regular meeting.

The first phase of water restrictions is a 10 percent reduction in use and it is voluntary. Of course, the city encourages people to conserve on their own. The government suggests people water their properties at night and not during the day when it’s hot and dry. Odd/even watering days based on address also will be suggested.

It will be a mandatory 10 percent reduction for the municipal government’s public properties, said Margaret Medellin, the city’s utilities portfolio manager.

Snow water equivalent in the area is below average and tracking with conditions experienced in 2012, when stage one restrictions last went into effect.

Aspen and Pitkin County are fairing pretty well so far this spring, compared with the rest of the state. As of May 1, the U.S. Drought Monitor identified Pitkin County as having moderate drought conditions, with a severe classification in the western tip and abnormally dry in the northeastern section.

Aspen is somewhere in the middle of the state, between normal to wet in the northeastern part and exceptionally dry in the southwest region, according to Medellin.

Southern Colorado is experiencing exceptional and extreme drought, and conditions are worsening. City officials expect that Gov. John Hickenlooper will activate the Colorado drought plan for at least part of the state.

In terms of snowpack, March was one of the driest on record for the Aspen area. But with the storms and cool temperatures last month, it resulted in minimal snowmelt, Medellin said, adding that she and her colleagues were preparing for worse conditions.

“April was really good to us,” she told council. “We got some good snow.”

However, stream flows in local watersheds are expected to be lower than the median. Water supply forecasts prepared by the National Weather Service indicate that runoff in the Roaring Fork River is expected to be between 50 and 70 percent of average.

“We are worried we are going to have a shorter runoff period,” Medellin said.

She told council that typically when voluntary water restrictions are put into effect, the public responds positively.

“It’s really an awareness issue,” Medellin said. “We don’t see it as a hardship to the community.”