Drought leads to water restrictions starting in April

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droughtA hot dry summer followed by low snowpack in the mountains this winter and higher-than-expected demand has created a water crisis for Colorado Springs Utilities.

Trying to refill reservoirs that are at 48 percent of capacity, the city-owned utility is suggesting Stage 2 water restrictions for customers starting in April. That means that outdoor watering — lawns, trees, shrubs, gardens — can occur only two days a week.

“We need to conserve however, wherever we can,” said Utilities CEO Jerry Forte at a City Council meeting earlier this week. “We’re looking at a significant shortage. I’d call this a crisis.”

People who go above the threshold of 2,000 cubic feet a month will see bills skyrocket. Council will vote on the surcharge and restrictions at its March 20 meeting, with a public hearing March 26.

“People who water their yards every day will see a substantial increase in their water bills,” said Ann Seymour, Utilities’ water conservation manager. “We’re going to use that as an incentive to get people to conserve. You don’t want to water every day; you want the grass to sink its roots deep.”

For businesses, however, Utilities will look at their traditional water use, and charge extra for going over that baseline. For customers following the rules, there should be no difference in the bills.

“We want to make it fair, but we need to emphasize that this is serious,” Seymour said. “We have a water shortage.”

Customers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. CSU expects a $17 million drop in revenue, thanks to the restrictions. Utilities officials say they aren’t expecting to increase water or electric rates, however. Instead, they’ll put off projects to stay within budget, Forte said.

Reservoirs are now around the levels of the 2002 drought, near historic lows. Utilities is not only looking at conservation, it wants to boost supply as well — moving water from other places and working with the Bureau of Reclamation to find needed supplies.

According to Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of water supply, some of the needed water is just down the road in the Pueblo Reservoir. Getting it here before Southern Delivery System is finished will be costly, he said.

“It’s not just a matter of finding enough water, it’s about where the water is, and the cost to move it,” he said.

Utilities says the restrictions will be accompanied by a new campaign to teach people about water use. They’re supplying rebates for indoor conservation devices, though indoor use is not yet restricted. Customers can also get rebates for rain sensors on sprinkler systems, Seymour said.

If the area’s drought persists, the restrictions could get tighter, she added:

“What we worry about is 2014, 2015. If this drought persists, and the signs are that it will, we’re going to be in a serious situation. Right now, we’d need a year of about 150 percent of average snowpack to fully replenish the reservoirs. That’s only going to get worse if we don’t take action now.”

Supply and demand

8 percent: Increase in water demand in 2012

49 percent of average: 2012 precipitation

109 percent of average: 2012 temperatures

What’s next

City Council will get the formal report March 20, and a public hearing will be held March 26.

One Response to Drought leads to water restrictions starting in April

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    Rick Wehner
    February 15, 2013 at 5:36 pm