City pushes for water conservation |

City pushes for water conservation

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen should enact water-conservation measures this summer even though the city’s water supply is expected to be close to normal, City Council members agreed on Tuesday.

Last year, with all of Colorado in the throes of a record drought, the city declared a Stage 1 water shortage and set restrictions that resulted in cutting water use by 10 percent.

This year’s snowpack levels are close to the 30-year average in the upper Roaring Fork drainage, but the statewide drought emergency that Gov. Bill Owens declared last year remains in effect, noted Phil Overeynder, the city’s utility director.

Yesterday, he asked council members if Aspen should reinstate its voluntary conservation efforts and surcharges for excessive water use. It would essentially be Aspen’s way of helping restore water levels in the state’s depleted reservoirs.

“Our local water supplies are expected to be close to average,” Overeynder said. “It’s more a question of what we can do to assist in the water-conservation effort statewide.”

“So they would like us to conserve so people on the Front Range can squander it?” said Councilman Tom McCabe, one of three council members present for Tuesday’s work session.

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“Well, that’s one way to look at it,” Overeynder replied.

It is, however, in the city’s interest to conserve water, given the complex nature of water rights in Colorado, he said.

After four dry years, reservoirs statewide are down roughly 3 million acre-feet overall, Overeynder said. (An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover one acre with a foot of water.)

The 3 million acre-feet is equivalent to the amount of water that flows out of the mouth of the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs over three years’ time, he said.

The Roaring Fork flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood, and the Colorado provides irrigation water to agricultural interests in the Grand Valley. Those growers have a water right that is senior to Aspen’s; when they make a call for that water, Aspen avoids curtailing its diversion of water because water in the Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County is used to meet the agricultural demands instead, Overeynder explained.

The city doesn’t actually divert water from the Roaring Fork, but from Castle and Maroon creeks, which in turn feed the Roaring Fork.

“It’s all connected,” said City Manager Steve Barwick.

“Everything that we cut back on using here results in that much less water that has to be released from Green Mountain,” Overeynder said.

Ultimately, the goal is to refill the Green Mountain Reservoir so it doesn’t run short in a drought year, he said.

“Last year, it came close to happening,” Overeynder said.

Aspen’s Stage 1 water restrictions include a voluntary odd/even watering schedule and a surcharge on water rates that affects customers who use excessive amounts of water.

Last year, the city’s water utility took in about $200,000 in additional revenue from the surcharges, even though many users cut back, reducing overall water use in the city by about 10 percent during the summer months.

Some 1,365 customers who met targeted water-use levels received either a $60 or $90 rebate with the revenues, and the city used some of the money to refurbish a municipal well that now augments Aspen’s water supply.

Council members agreed yesterday to implement last year’s measures again this summer, along with some additional ones.

For one, the Parks Department, which is not billed for the water it uses for irrigation, should pay for excessive water use, the council agreed. In addition, customers who use raw, or untreated, water from what’s called the Thomas raw water system will also face charges for excessive use. That system serves the Iselin Park area, and Five Trees and Highlands developments.

Anticipated excess revenues will be used again for rebates, as well as to reward water-conservation efforts, such as installation of a low-flush toilet or the replacement of turf with xeriscape vegetation. Rebates will be available for such measures, according to Overeynder’s proposal.

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