Make every drop count

Cheyenne Brake, 10, left, spashes her little sister, Lakelyn, 2, in their kiddie pool Monday in the front yard of their Grand Junction home. With the recent hot weather, consumers in June used about 19.5 more gallons of water than they did during the same month last year. Voluntary water restrictions are in place for the Grand Valley because of the drought.

The Grand Valley is lucky when it comes to mandatory water restrictions — we don't have any like other parts of the state, at least not yet.

That could change, however, if next year's snowpack is as bad or worse than this year's, water officials warn.

The state's low snowpack and lack of significant spring rains have caused several water suppliers statewide to put in place some mandatory restrictions, some of which go as far as to ban all outdoor landscape watering.

While that hasn't happened in the Grand Valley, water suppliers have placed the area on voluntary restrictions, meaning they are asking, but not requiring, area residents to be more judicious in how they use water.

"(The year) 2018 has quickly become even more significant than the 2002 drought," said Joe Burtard, external affairs manager for the Ute Water Conservancy District. "The domestic water providers along with the irrigation water providers moved Mesa County into a voluntary water restriction the earliest we've ever moved in, in early May of this year."

That's why Burtard, along with local businesswoman Katie Munro Powell, got the Mesa County commissioners to approve a resolution Monday calling July Smart Irrigation Month.

That's a project started by the International Irrigation Association, and Powell is chairwoman of its Smart Irrigation Month initiative.

It is designed to raise awareness of the need to conserve water, and to teach users how best to do that, said Powell, owner of Grand Junction-based Munro Supply, which makes irrigation parts.

"The campaign highlights simple practices and innovative technologies to minimize overwatering while keeping landscapes and crops beautiful and healthy," she told the commissioners. "(Also) to apply water and nutrients more precisely for improved results with no waste, to minimize runoff and topsoil erosion, to save money on utility bills and to help protect community water supplies for today and the future."

Burtard said the four main water suppliers in the valley — Ute Water, Clifton Water District, the city of Grand Junction and the town of Palisade — have created a Grand Valley Regional Water Conservation Plan.

Part of that plan includes the Drought Response Information Project, a collaborative effort created by the four water suppliers after the 2002-03 drought to help instruct Grand Valley residents about water conservation.

While that plan asks water users to voluntarily place themselves on restrictions — or at least be a little smarter about how they use water — it also comes with an agreement that if one of the water suppliers decides to make those restrictions mandatory, they all will.

"Where we would move into mandatory water restrictions is if we have another back-to-back drought," Burtard said. "If next year's snowpack is equal or less than what we experienced this past winter, then we would automatically move into mandatory water restrictions. There are different triggers. If one domestic water supplier hits that trigger, then all four of us move in, so it's a common voice across the valley."

The water suppliers also have a plan to increase rates if and when mandatory restrictions are necessary, rates that could be as high as five times what Grand Valley residents are used to paying depending on how much water they use, he said.

Burtard said the hot weather is causing people to use more water than they did last year.

In June, for example, consumers used about 19.5 million more gallons of water than they did during the same month last year.

He said Ute Water is treating 14 million to 15 million gallons of water a day. That's compared to about 7 million gallons a day during the winter.

"We've been really aggressive with an outreach campaign to get our consumers to conserve both indoor and outdoor, in both residential and commercial settings," Burtard said. "The temperatures are weighing against us with above-average temperatures that have caused our water consumption to increase."

All this is something Grand Valley resident Thane De Puey has been saying for years.

De Puey, former owner of Mountain Clear Water Co., said he sees water wasted all the time in the Grand Valley.

"I see it in my neighborhood with large and small businesses, with the city government, with the school system," De Puey said. "We demand quality water at our homes, at our businesses, and yet we waste the water that's flowing right past us in the Colorado River and coming from the Grand Mesa by overwatering our grass, not using conservation methods and not using xeriscaping for our yards or landscaping."

As far as the valley getting any relief, don't hold your breath, according to the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service.

Senior forecaster Norv Larson said the region is entering the "transitional" stage of the annual monsoon season, but that doesn't mean it's coming anytime soon, or at all.

"The problem with the monsoon season for the Grand Valley is that it's hit or miss," he said.

Larson said the recent afternoon thunderstorms that have dropped more moisture at higher elevations than in the valley will diminish in the next few days, pick up again later this week and then diminish again over the weekend.

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