With drought upon us, it’s time to discuss conservation

By Greg Trainor

One of our respected water leaders recently commented that “a drought is a terrible thing to waste. ”

On April 4, the city of Grand Junction completed its monthly survey of the snowpack in the city’s Kannah Creek watershed. Snow depth was 59 percent of the 24-year average and water content was at a similar level.

Next week’s survey is expected to show an additional drop in depth of snow and water content because of meager early spring precipitation, warm winds and deposition of dust on now. The latter speeds up the snowmelt, but it is questionable whether much of the snowmelt will show up in the streams.

United States Geological Survey data for the Colorado River, at the state line, showed flows of 2,080 cubic feet per second last Thursday. This is 32 percent of the average flow for April 19, which is 6,490 cfs. These measurements are approaching the levels experienced during the drought of 2002.

Is it a good time to talk “water conservation?”

The city of Grand Junction, in conjunction with its sister drinking-water providers, Ute Water Conservancy District and Clifton Water District, recently completed a regional water conservation plan. The plan was published. The public was asked to comment. Guess what? As of this writing, there has been no public comment.

Agreed: The regional water conservation plan is not a page turner, nor does the prose guarantee intense readership of the document.

However, the plan does provide a concise description of the city’s water system from the acquisition of its Paramount Water Right in 1911 down to the city’s water acquisition of the Somerville Ranch in 1990.

Likewise, the Ute and Clifton water systems are described in enough detail to give the reader comfort about the redundancy of the Grand Valley’s domestic water systems and the pipe interconnections among the providers. These interconnections ensure that drinking water comes from many sources: Kannah Creek, Plateau Creek and the Colorado River by way of the Clifton treatment plant.

The water conservation plan provides an answer to questions raised by The Daily Sentinel’s recent and very comprehensive writing about the dust-on-snow phenomenon and dwindling snowpack. Questions like: What can we do? Do we have a plan to save water? Do we pack our steamer trunks and move on in the search for water? Why do we need a plan?

Historical and paleo-evidence, such as tree ring studies, show that drought has been common in the past. Frequency and length of drought are wild cards in water planning and beg answers to the serious questions asked above.

I don’t think the answer is to pack our steamer trunks and move on in the search for water. Yet.

But for the city’s money, the plan provides a way that water consumption can be reduced by making our in-house and out-house use of water more efficient. The plan helps us to maintain gardens and beautiful landscapes with less water.

If we are serious, a conservation plan will also have the long-range benefit of reducing a projected statewide gap of 600,000 acre feet of water by 2050. The gap is fed by a projected doubling of the state’s population from 5.1 million people to 10 million people by the year 2050. By my calculations, this means that the 5 million additional people that show up by 2050 could be without water. Gulp!

One other alternative for reducing the gap is the increased transfer of water from agriculture to the cities. Such an outcome bodes ill for the Grand Valley’s essential agricultural base. A strong case can be made to increase conservation and decrease transfers of agricultural water.

Although a modest start, the Regional Conservation Plan provides a pattern for the next 40 years that can be built on as we experience growing demand.

The plan allows for the city, Ute Water and Clifton Water to implement different portions of it in accordance with each system’s unique organization and governance policies.

For example, the city’s service area is an older system in the center of the urbanized area. City water customers live in older homes. Because of this circumstance, the city will probably be the entity that promotes the exchange of high-volume flush toilets for low-volume toilets.

The plan describes a modest start of 50 toilet retro-fits, with water savings of 560,000 gallons of water per year for the program.

In addition, there are provisions for water audits of the largest commercial and industrial water users in the valley.  When completed, the audits could produce savings between 14 million gallons per year to 23 million gallons per year.

The water providers carry out leak detection programs, designed to reduce lost-and-unaccounted-for water. Replacements of defective water meters, quick response to water breaks and the expenditure of millions of dollars for replacement of old and leaky water pipes have ensured a significant reduction in wasted water across the Grand Valley. Additionally, the entities have provided ongoing drought response information to their users in an attempt to describe best management practices for low-water outdoor irrigation and landscape planning. 

With a possible 2012 drought as a backdrop, let’s not waste this time. The public is invited to read the conservation plan. We need people’s ideas.

The Grand Valley Regional Water Conservation Plan can be found at City Spotlight at http://www.gjcity.org or by calling Joe Burtard of Ute Water Conservancy District at 242-7491.

Greg Trainor is the Utility and Street Systems Director for the city of Grand Junction.


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