CO named drought area; water dispute escalates

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A federal designation that the entire state of Colorado is a national drought disaster area further reinforces pleas from the Colorado Springs City Council for residents to conserve water.
It also amplifies the importance of Colorado Springs Utilities director Phil Tollefson’s speech to members of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation.
The importance of Tollefson’s visit was underscored by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman’s stopover Friday in which she declared all 64 of Colorado’s counties drought disaster areas. The designation frees up money for farmers and ranchers to obtain low-interest loans.
“Whiskey’s for drinking and water is for fighting,” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens, prominently displayed on a slide Tollefson used in his talk.
The water fight could start soon, and pits Colorado Springs against Pueblo, where officials fear its thirsty big sister to the south will pull enough water from area supplies to render its recently completed Historic River Walk project downtown a dry bed. More on this later in this article.
Colorado Springs’ water shortages are getting worse, and a warm, dry spring abetted by several thousand additional water users from a year ago exacerbate already heavy drains on city water reserves, Tollefson told about 200 people attending the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation’s monthly luncheon.
Further, virtually all the state’s snow pack is gone, melted nearly six weeks early.
Until additional water sources come online, the city needs to conserve, and if that does not happen soon, residents could face Stage II water restrictions invoking both voluntary and mandatory measures to cut water consumption, Tollefson said.
Additionally, said Tollefson, a proposed ordinance “gives Colorado Springs Utilities the authority to implement water conservation and restrictions.”
Presently about 70 million gallons daily goes to watering grass. Even with the current water outlook, the picture isn’t all grim. As new sources are developed, the problem will not be as severe, Tollefson added.
However, the city worries about low water levels in its reservoirs, and the fact that not much will be added until next winter’s snow pack melt next spring.
Pikes Peak Reservoir is at just 36 percent of capacity, compared with the usual 70 percent; Rampart Reservoir is at 76 percent of capacity, compared to 85 percent, and the local total is 61 percent, when it is usually 76 percent.
By 2008, enough new sources will be online to have a cushion of about 45 million gallons per day, Tollefson said. Today’s usage capacity is about 82 million gallons per day, while consumption is about 83 million gallons per day. Next year when the Otero pipeline project is complete, the city will have a capacity of about 95 million gallons per day.
If all water projects were online, Tollefson said, the total water supply would be 197 million gallons per day. “We have enough water rights, but we need additional storage and pipelines,” Tollefson said.
Reenter the water feud between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
Part of Colorado Springs’ future water needs depends on additional storage in an expanded Pueblo Reservoir. The $730 million proposal needs congressional approval and support from Pueblo City Council.
Pueblo officials worry expansion of the reservoir and a pipeline project will turn the Arkansas River into a mere stream. That would ruin River Walk, improved fishing, and plans for a kayak park, the Pueblo council said. Colorado Springs can’t get congressional support for the project, said Colorado Rep. Senators Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, until the city reaches an agreement with Pueblo.
“Colorado and several other states are facing catastrophic droughts,” said Allard. “We need a coordinated effort to respond to states needs and to prepare for future droughts.”
Meanwhile, Colorado Springs is focusing on conservation, and has devised several plans to reduce consumption through conservation and price structure changes, Tollefson said.
Besides implementing the Stage II conservation plan, a block structure to price consumption is possible, or the city could initiate a seasonal rate plan, added Tollefson.
The utilities department is also offering rebates for those installing ultra-low flush toilets (flushing comprises 13 percent of total daily water use); high-efficiency clothes washers, and the use of xeriscaping.
“Storage (water) is critical to the future of Colorado Springs,” Tollefson said. Also, a “cooperative approach to solutions is necessary…along with regional participation… and enlargement of existing reservoirs.”
While it is not envisioned the city would implement Stage III water restrictions, its limitations are severe. Only essential water use is allowed and mandatory conservation measures reducing water consumption by 50 percent.