Public compliance key to surviving drought | AspenTimes.com

Public compliance key to surviving drought

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

What a difference 12 months can make. A year ago many Aspen-area residents were bemoaning the wet spring and the slow path Mother Nature was taking toward summer. Now we find ourselves on the threshold of an extremely dry season, facing the threat of numerous wildfires and government controls to conserve water.

So far this year, local, state and federal government entities have been proactive in their planning efforts to reduce the impact of wildfires and the drought. Last month, the Aspen City Council passed an ordinance that will allow the city’s Utilities Department to raise water-usage rates should a “stage one” drought be declared – the goal being to discourage its highest users from excessive consumption.

The city also has sent out notices to water customers asking residents and businesses alike to conserve their usage. In an effort to lead by example, it’s also examining ways that it can irrigate parks and the municipal golf course in a more strategic manner.

In early April, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo issued a burn ban for Pitkin County with support from fire chiefs throughout the area. That ban remains in effect, restricting open burning on all private and state lands. Among other things, it also prohibits campfires and charcoal grills except those in permanent fire pits or fire grates or located in designated campgrounds, picnic areas or developed recreation sites; welding or similar operations except within an area that is barren or cleared of all flammable material; use of any fireworks or explosives requiring fuses or blasting caps.

On May 24, the feds got into the act, with the Bureau of Land Management instituting fire restrictions on all lands covered by its Grand Junction and Colorado River Valley field offices. This includes BLM lands in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties. This includes the same types of bans that the county issued with regard to campfires (outside designated areas), smoking, welding and explosive materials.

The national forest surrounding Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley is ripe for wildfires, a supervisor of the White River National Forest recently told county officials. Drought conditions are predicted for western Colorado through July.

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Those who still wonder about the potential for local fire dangers need only to look to the southwestern part of the state and New Mexico, where devastating fires have quickly become a reality. Firefighters have been battling blazes in vast areas under ultra-dry and windy conditions. Perhaps recognizing that they might need the services of outsiders at some future point, Basalt and Carbondale’s fire companies have sent equipment and crews to help fight the Sunrise Mine wildfire near Paradox.

We’d like to urge residents in rural areas to immediately take steps to make their homes defensible against wildfires, removing brush and other flammable substances in the vicinity of their homes. In the meantime, both county and city residents, businesses and government entities should continue to prepare for the likelihood of a drought through most of the summer, initiating water conservation measures large and small – even if it means driving a dirty car or letting the backyard grass brown a little. Every little bit helps.