Aspen, Pitkin County in ‘extreme drought’ |

Aspen, Pitkin County in ‘extreme drought’

Low flows on the Colorado River near the state line lead to falling water levels.
Brent Gardner-Smith | Aspen Journalism

The city of Aspen is now under stage 2 water restrictions due to extreme drought conditions.

Aspen City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to move from stage 1 restrictions to stage 2, acknowledging that as of Aug. 18, the U.S. Drought Monitor elevated Aspen and Pitkin County from severe drought to extreme drought conditions countywide.

Above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation have led to these conditions, according to Tyler Christoff, the city’s director of utilities.

The last time the city declared a stage 2 water shortage was in 2018.

“We haven’t received any sort of measurable rainfall in over a month and we’re already in stage 1,” he told council. “Current stream flows are around the lows that we had experienced in 2018 and forecasted precip and temperature projections are not looking favorable to ending this drought.”

Stage 2 necessitates a 15% to 20% reduction in water use citywide, along with some stricter rules that are mandatory rather than voluntary, which was part of stage 1 restrictions passed in July.

As such, watering of any lawn, garden, landscaped area, tree, shrub or other plant is prohibited from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Alternating odd-even water schedules for addresses ending in odd numbers and even numbers are now mandatory.

Swimming pools can’t be filled with city water, and washing sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, tennis courts, patios, or other paved areas are not allowed.

Also, privately owned cars, other motor vehicles, trailers or boats cannot be washed except from a bucket and from a hose equipped with a positive shutoff nozzle.

New public or private landscaping installations are not allowed, with the exception that they are required as a minimum for erosion control of disturbed surfaces as determined by the city.

Staff will enforce the restrictions first by education and then by fines, which range from $500 for the first offense to $1,500 for subsequent offenses, as well as a disconnection of water services by the city.

Temporary rate increases for large water users also will go into effect to encourage efficient use of the commodity.

Without a citywide reduction in normal water usage, agricultural and recreational activities and fish and wildlife habitat along the Maroon, Castle, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers will be more negatively impacted, according to city officials.

Public safety concerns resulting in increased fire and flood hazards, as well as negative economic impacts due to decreased tourism, also are expected to occur if drought conditions persist, officials said.

Aspen’s municipal water supply comes primarily from Castle and Maroon creeks and is very limited, according to Christoff.

He said at the current use rate of about 6 million gallons of water a day, the city has about 12 hours of storage in Leonard Thomas Reservoir.

If avalanches or fire blocked access to water from either of those creeks, the city has less than a day’s worth of water to rely on.

The city is working on conditional water-storage rights and developing a water integrated resource plan to increase its storage capacity.

For decades, the city had rights to flood the Maroon and Creek valleys with dams and create reservoirs but after a protracted legal battle by several interests, the city agreed to find a new location for water storage.

The city has identified five other locations for where it could possibly store water. Those sites are the city golf course, the Maroon Creek Club golf course, the city’s Cozy Point open space, the Woody Creek gravel pit, and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought in 2018.