Water program is simply unfair
November 18, 2002
Water conservation is a desirable goal for all of us who live in Colorado. No one disputes this.
The key issue, however, is the means for achieving this end. Clear thinking and common sense are needed in contrast to emotional tirades in the newspapers or water rates that selectively punish only a few of the homeowners.
In Colorado, 85 percent of water consumption goes to farms and ranches. Only 5 percent is used for residences. The remaining 10 percent is for commercial and industrial use.
If every homeowner in Colorado made a serious effort to conserve water, residential use might drop by 30 percent. The end result would be a drop of 1.5 percent in the total consumption for the state.
A key problem in Colorado, and in the West in general, is that water rights are regulated in a manner that does not encourage conservation. In fact, just the opposite is the case.
The “use it or lose it” principle actually encourages individuals with water rights to use water they don’t need to preserve their water allotment for future years. The result of this policy can be seen all over rural Colorado.
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Who of us has not seen water running off agricultural land from leaky or broken irrigation pipes? Who has not seen spray irrigation running under the noon sun with one-third of the water evaporating before it soaks into the soil?
The ranchers and farmers have no incentive to save water and very few do. If agricultural interests were motivated to conserve water and achieved a 20 percent saving, the net effect would be a 17 percent drop in consumption for the state.
Agricultural water conservation has a much bigger impact than residential conservation. Strange that no one ever mentions this reality.
Even though residential water conservation is a small part of the big picture, efforts by homeowners can be part of the solution. The trick is to provide incentives for everyone to save water.
The recent change in water rates by the Basalt trustees fails to accomplish the intended goal. Approximately 75 percent of the homeowners in Basalt either have postage-stamp-sized lawns or lawns irrigated by raw water. The recent rate changes have no effect on these individuals.
They can take hour-long showers without any worry of significantly increasing their water bills. Homeowners who have access to raw water (Southside, Willits, River Oaks) can irrigate their lawns seven days a week for as long as they like with no impact on their water bill.
Why would the Trustees design a water conservation program that impacts only 25 percent of the homeowners?
The unfairness of the Basalt water rates is even more apparent if one considers the history that led up to the current situation. One of the neighborhoods that is severely impacted by the new water rates is Riverside Meadows. This subdivision was approved almost 25 years ago. The lot sizes were approved by the Town Council.
The irrigation ditch that supplied raw water to the subdivision was filled in for “safety reasons” at the insistence of the Town Council. The developer pleaded with the town not to throw away this valuable resource. He lost the debate.
Today, homeowners have no control over the size of their lots nor the need to use treated water for irrigation. If they wish to maintain attractive landscaping on their properties, they have to pay water bills that are astronomical. Their only alternative is to abandon irrigation altogether and live with a weed patch for a yard.
Basalt residents are willing to play their part in the battle to save water. Those of us who have been asked to carry an unfair share of the burden ask only that the Trustees go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that is more even-handed and that recognizes that one small town cannot solve the water problem for the whole state.
Peter W. Frey