No pretty picture of drought: Tough water measures eyed for 2013

The Ela Sanctuary pond at the entrance to the Connected Lakes section of the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park is dry. During normal years, it is filled by high water from the river. With another winter of low snowpack, water companies in the Grand Valley will try to rein in water users with restrictions and by charging more for the water they use.

As temperatures rose this summer and pleas to Grand Valley residents to conserve grew more urgent, water use actually went up. For the most part, the only penalty for using more water was a little more money toward the monthly bill.

That could change next year, though, if snowpack is low.

Instead of a gentle urging to reduce use, Grand Valley water suppliers could try harder to get customers’ attention, most likely by tapping their wallets with an even bigger bill.

Water rates already are structured to discourage unnecessary water use by charging more for greater use instead of offering volume discounts.

So far this year, though, the Ute Water Conservancy District, the largest provider of water in the Grand Valley, has seen water use rise 9.5 percent over last year. That translates to 147 million gallons of water over a seven-month period, Ute Water said.

What water providers found was that water use rose as temperatures leaped and precipitation simply didn’t happen.

There is enough water in storage to serve the Grand Valley for the rest of the year, but providers “are preparing for the unknown in 2013,” said Joe Burtard, chairman of the Drought Response Information Project. “If the snowpack this winter looks anything like last year’s snowpack, then our customers can expect to be placed on mandatory water restrictions.”

The hammer for those restrictions would be Stage II drought rates, which remain to be set, said Burtard, who also is the spokesman for Ute Water.

Stage II drought restrictions also would require that restaurants serve water only when requested by customers and curbside vehicle washing would be prohibited. Private swimming pools couldn’t be filled and ornamental fountains would have to be turned off

“We’ll have a pretty good feel in February” whether water suppliers will have to set rates intended to rein in water use in the face of an even greater drought than the one so far this year, said Dave Reinertsen, assistant general manager of Clifton Water District.

Comparisons with 2011 are somewhat skewed because of the high runoff that year, which was accompanied by increased levels of spring and summer precipitation, Reinertsen said, so Clifton is comparing its 2010 usage against 2012.

“To date, we’re at about 5 percent greater use than for 2010,” Reinertsen said.

Grand Junction also has seen increased water use, but “they’re not exorbitant numbers,” said Terry Franklin, utility and streets director for Grand Junction. “They’re within the range that we thought.”

As with Clifton and Ute, Grand Junction officials will be watching the snowpack and autumn and winter skies for signs of snow.

If snow doesn’t start to accumulate by December, “Then we’ll start getting serious,” Franklin said, noting that even a dry winter could be reversed by a powerful March snowstorm.

Burtard and Reinertsen spoke Tuesday during a presentation recognizing Mesa County Animal Services for cutting water consumption by 84 percent in August from the same month in 2010, when Animal Services was housed on 28 Road rather than its new location near the county landfill.

The animals housed inside get plenty of water, Director Penny McCarty said, but they don’t get walked on grass. Instead, they get to visit the dusty landscape that gets no irrigation.

“The dogs and cats haven’t noticed it at all,” McCarty said.


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