Water woes send ripple through economy

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The water shortage hit Colorado Springs like a sucker punch, except in this case it was telegraphed two years in advance. Colorado had already endured consecutive years of drought, but spring came and the water flowed.

By the time the Colorado Springs City Council invoked mandatory conservation measures, water supplies were seriously low, and consumers never achieved conservation targets.

Since, builders kept building, landscapers continued to lay sod, and homeowners kept watering, at least until the council turned the spigots off at the end of the season. Watering is now allowed one day per month.

Presently, reservoir supplies are at 30 percent of normal. The level is normally about 70 percent.

The city’s experts say it will take three or four years of average precipitation to refill reservoirs. Therefore, Colorado Springs is likely to enter next year with water restrictions already in place.

A water shortage in Santa Fe, New Mexico, resulted in a requirement that for each new building permit issued, builders must install, free of charge, eight to 12 new high-efficiency toilets in existing homes, hotels and shops. The words growth moratoriums are becoming part of council lexicon.

Experts say toilets are second only to outdoor sprinklers and garden hoses in consumption of domestic water supplies in the United States. Since 1994, federal law has required that all toilets in new homes be low-flow models, which use about 1.6 gallons per flush – older toilets can use twice as much.

Moratorium is not a word people locally want to hear, especially with unemployment in Colorado Springs already high.

Construction accounts for nearly seven percent of the city’s workforce, with almost 16,000 workers earning an average of $37,000 per year.

Any construction moratorium could also cause layoffs in financial and insurance firms, as well as in other businesses providing goods or services to the construction sector and home buyer.

Agriculture, admittedly a tiny portion of the area economy, is also suffering because of the continued drought. Cattle ranchers have cut herd sizes drastically, and dry land farmers will reap little benefit from winter planting.

“If water supply, capacity, delivery and consumption are not brought into equilibrium soon, our community will not be able to grow,” reported the economist-authors of the recently released Southern Colorado Economic Forum. “Quality of life will be threatened… existing and future employment could suffer. Water issues need to be solved.”

The report said Colorado Springs has “legal access” to sufficient quantities of water for growth to 2040 or 2050, but “Colorado Springs Utilities is having difficulty delivering the water to our community.”