Drought declared in the Aspen area | AspenTimes.com

Drought declared in the Aspen area

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With conditions that have surpassed the legendary drought of 1977, the city of Aspen formally declared a drought Monday for the first time.

The City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance declaring a Stage 1 water shortage and setting restrictions aimed at reducing water usage by 10 percent.

Temporary water rates that will force city water customers to pay more for excessive water use will go into effect with the July billing cycle, after the ordinance is passed on second reading later this month.

The city asked residents to begin an odd-even watering schedule yesterday.

Aspen has a three-stage strategy for coping with a water shortage that was developed after the drought of 1977, according to Phil Overeynder, utility director. Though the city has suggested water conservation in prior years, this is the first time it has formally declared a Stage 1 shortage, he said.

Stage 1 water-use restrictions are voluntary, while Stages 2 and 3 contain a list of mandatory measures that may be implemented to curtail water use.

“It could be this voluntary stage only lasts four or five weeks and then we have to do something else,” Overeynder said. That something else could be relaxing Stage 1 measures or declaring a Stage 2 drought, he said.

Conditions so far may not bode well for a quick end to the need for water conservation.

“It now appears the year has actually surpassed 1977 for being dry,” Overeynder said.

Flows in the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen peaked earlier this year than they did in 1977, and the peak was lower than it was 25 years ago, he said.

The water that actually flowed past the monitoring station this year, plus the water that was diverted to the Front Range, adds up to a peak flow of 620 cubic feet per second on June 1. In 1977, the peak (including the diverted water) was 712 cfs and it occurred on June 10, Overeynder said.

It will be the flows in Castle and Maroon creeks, however, in combination with weather patterns, that dictate what the city does next.

Overeynder will be watching flows on the two creeks, which supply Aspen with much of its municipal water, for the signs that could trigger a Stage 2 drought declaration.

When flows drop to 50 cfs in the two creeks, Overeynder will be assessing the situation. The flows typically drop to that level, the key is when it occurs, he said.

“It’s a question of when that happens, not if. It will happen sometime this summer,” Overeynder said. “The sooner that happens, it’s an indication of how dry it will be for the rest of the year.

“I would say this break point is in the first two weeks of July,” he said.

By that time, flows in the two creeks will be dropping, but the annual monsoon season, if it materializes, should be starting by then.

The afternoon rains both boost water supplies and ease demand, as people quit watering their lawns, Overeynder said.

For as long as the voluntary watering restrictions are in effect, the city will lead by example with the watering of its parks and other properties.

At the city golf course, a computerized irrigation system is tied into a computerized weather-monitoring system, so the grass receives only the water it needs, according to Steve Aitken, director of golf.

The system will be adjusted to cut watering by 10 percent, though the golf course uses ditch water and is technically not subject to restrictions placed on municipal water use.

“We want to put our best foot forward. We’re just trying to set the standard,” he said.

Aitken does not expect the cutback to mar the quality of play on the golf course.

“Overall, we think we can do this and still have a quality experience,” he said.

Although the course is watered at night, some newly sodded areas will receive intermittent watering throughout the day, Aitken said.

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