Sunday, May 27, 2012

Aspen Reducing Water Consumption Before Anticipated Drought

As the city of Aspen prepares for a water shortage and higher usage rates during an anticipated drought, the government is taking measures to reduce its own consumption.

If city officials declare a “stage one” drought, which was last done in 2002, usage restrictions will be put in place that aim to reduce water consumption by 10 percent — the amount the city is voluntarily cutting back on currently.

“We are being proactive on that as we speak,” said Jeff Woods, manager of the city’s parks and recreation department. “We have been planning for conservation. ... We saw this day coming.”

Woods anticipates that the city will have to curtail watering in certain parks in the event of a declared drought, which will have evident impacts.

“We know that we will need to back off further,” he said. “You will see slight browning areas ... and we’ll back off on some neighborhood parks.

“We’re trying to be proactive with water management.”

The city is reducing the number of fire hydrant flushings and testings it does, as well as completing street cleaning before streamflows reach their peaks, said David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives.

And a more strategic watering plan is in place at the municipal golf course, which is managed by a sophisticated “evapotranspiration” irrigation system that controls the amount of water dispersed on the 120-acre course based on weather patterns.

The system was installed in 2006 and has saved 40 percent in water consumption annually — from 1 million gallons a night to 600,000 gallons, or from 90 million a year to 60 million, said Steve Aitken, director of golf at the Aspen Golf Club.

“I can look at the computer at 7 p.m. and ramp down individual [sprinkler] heads,” he said. “We can manipulate that system to create the savings we need and still maintain the playability and the aesthetics of the course.”

Last year, the city used a total of 38.8 million gallons of water, Hornbacher said. The municipal government, which provides water to all users within the city primarily from Castle and Maroon creeks, paid $35,807 for the water it used in 2011.

The golf course uses non-potable water from the Holden and Marolt ditches. The rest of the city’s consumption is potable water from Castle and Maroon creeks. The largest consumer within the municipal government is the parks department, which used 18.7 million gallons last year, Hornbacher said.

Wagner Park, for instance, takes about 1 million gallons a year, Woods said.

“We are absolutely going to take that back” this summer, he said. And while the parks department typically waters at night as opposed to during the day when evaporation is in play, the city has been irrigating Wagner more often to get the field germinated with new seed.

All city users combined used 823.8 million gallons of water last year, generating $1.7 million in revenue, Hornbacher said.

That amount will have to be reduced if a drought is declared, city officials said, and should be regardless.

“Throughout the city, people over-water,” Woods said. “People are just putting down too much water, period.”

Aspen City Council last week adopted an ordinance to encourage water conservation and penalize overuse with higher rates, in the likely event of a shortage this summer.

The ordinance allows the city to enact temporary increases in water rates for users who consume more water than prescribed, which includes the municipal government.

The ordinance allows the city to impose surcharges of 175 and 200 percent, respectively, for users in “Tier 3” or “Tier 4,” which are the highest categories of water use for city customers.

“We are certainly trying to target different segments” of water users, Hornbacher said. “The general intent is as you move into the third and fourth tiers, you are moving away from basic uses and we’re trying to get people to make wise decisions, otherwise pay a premium price.”

According to the ordinance, a stage-one drought seeks to cut city water usage by 10 percent, stage two sets the target at 20 percent and stage three aims for 50 percent. City Council must vote on whether Aspen falls under those categories.

Hornbacher said it’s likely a drought will be declared in the future, based on the streamflows of the creeks.

“Utilities staff is monitoring stream levels,” he said. “We generally are anticipating that the peak would not be as high and come earlier,” and the duration of flow will not be as long as in years’ past.

The city is sending out a newsletter this month to all water customers, suggesting ways to conserve (see box above). And at the Saturday farmer’s market, city officials will be giving away for free low-flow aerators and low-flow shower heads. 

City suggests the following ways to conserve water:

• Adjust sprinklers so only the lawn is watered, and not the house, sidewalk or street.

• Water the lawn and garden in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation.

• Install a rain sensor on the irrigation controller so the system won’t run when it’s raining.

• Consult with a local nursery for information on plant selection and placement for optimum outdoor water savings.

• Remember to check sprinkler system valves periodically for leaks and keep the sprinkler heads in good shape.

• Spreading a layer of organic mulch around plants retains moisture and saves water, time and money.

• Adjust the lawn mower to a higher setting. A taller lawn shades roots and holds soil moisture better than if it is closely clipped.

• Buy fixtures and appliances that are water efficient.

• Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Compost vegetable and food waste instead and save gallons every time.

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