Water managers push public to conserve it

In response to the drought conditions that have swept across western Colorado and beyond, Grand Valley utilities are requesting that residents and businesses use water more conscientiously this summer.

The recommendations, announced Friday, are meant to encourage water users to conserve whenever possible and to generally not waste what has become an even more precious resource this summer.

News of the impending recommendations were first reported by The Daily Sentinel on Thursday.

The recommendations stem from a drought response plan on which the four domestic water utilities — Grand Junction, Clifton Water, Palisade and Ute Water Conservancy District — collaborated following the 2002 drought.

Because conditions are similar to those in 2002, but enough water remains in storage at this point to meet the valley’s needs for the year, mandatory restrictions are unnecessary, the utilities said.

But drought conditions have led the utilities to identify this year as a Stage I Drought under that response plan, spurring them to educate the public about money- and water-saving conservation measures, including cutting back on water used for washing, fountains or pools.

Water managers hoped government agencies would take the lead in this effort, including saving money on landscaping outside city offices and possibly trying to save water at parks and public fountains.

“The city does need to take the leadership here” if we are asking the public to reduce their water use, said Greg Trainor, Grand Junction’s utility and street systems director.

He noted that recommendations such as turning off the fountains downtown or in parks would be up to the Parks and Recreation Department.

Parks superintendent Mike Vendegna had not yet seen the recommendations but said the department already has a suite of conservation measures in place, including checking sprinkler heads almost every day and carefully monitoring plant needs to tailor irrigation to the plants rather than an arbitrary schedule.

“We’ve already started conserving and have been for years,” he said. “We understand the water shortage this year and are doing everything we can to conserve water.”

Vendegna also said the department would be open to new conservation measures. Even limiting the operation of the fountains in downtown Grand Junction? “Absolutely,” he said, though he noted that aside from what evaporates or splashes out, that water is already recycled and refiltered back into the fountains.

Stage II Drought measures would include some mandatory water-use reductions, though that would only occur after at least one of the four utilities’ supply approaches a minimum storage level.

The oxymoronic “voluntary restrictions” announced Friday are just that — voluntary — raising the question of whether utilities should recommend water conservation measures to the public every summer. Trainor said he hopes some of these recommendations become part of an ongoing effort to better utilize water in the valley.

The majority of water used during the summer goes to watering outside, and Trainor and other managers said Friday that most people overwater and that their the efforts “were just about using water wisely, not letting it run out into the street.”

“We want to get people to be aware that they don’t need to water every day,” Trainor said.

To that end, Grand Junction, Clifton and Ute Water have been putting together a water conservation plan.

Meanwhile, more reports of the severity of the drought season are being issued every day.

On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2012 has been the warmest year ever in the United States, or at least in the 117 years on record.

At the Utah state line, the Colorado River’s flow is at or equal to less than 97 percent of previous streamflow recordings for this time of year, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Eighty-five percent of the stream gauges in the Upper Colorado River Basin are recording below-normal levels, while 65 percent are much below normal or low, according to an analysis released by the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University on Tuesday.

And snowpack at high elevation sites in Colorado has nearly completely melted off, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced Thursday, about a month ahead of average.


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