by Rick Langenberg
Local lawns, parks and golf links will be impacted:
Don’t be fooled by last weekend’s snow storm and the occasional March blasts infiltrating the high country.
That’s the message of Woodland Park city officials who are bracing for the worst in preparing for another super dry spell and proposing restrictions to preserve the town’s limited water resources.
According to officials, Teller County and much of Colorado and key water-storage reservoirs are experiencing a severe drought, comparable to the conditions of the Hayman fire in the summer of 2002. As a result, the city of Woodland Park may go brown this summer. Last week, elected leaders unanimously approved the first set of H2O restrictions and additional water cutbacks are expected shortly. Starting March 27, Woodland Park homeowners, and especially customers with spray irrigation systems and those who use hoses and sprinklers, can only water their lawns three times a week and at set hours. Plus, no watering can occur on any day with winds exceeding 10 miles per hour.
And this is just the beginning of the scheduled cutbacks. The city is expected to soon impose Level Two restrictions that limit lawn watering to two days a week. Local lawns aren’t the only property areas that will incur a H2O diet. Softball/baseball players and other recreation buffs won’t be competing on Woodland Park sports fields sprouting in green this summer, as parks will only be watered four times a week. And for golfers, gone are the days of super lush, Broadmoor-like fairways at Shining Mountain, as linksters will hit shots from much browner playing areas than what they have been accustomed to in recent years.
These are just a few of the highlights of the city’s newly approved water policies, as the officials grapple with growing drought realities. “We are trying to maximize how much water we have in storage,” said Woodland Park Utilities Director Kip Wiley during last week’s council meeting. “We want to conserve what we have now.”
Not going dry
According to Wiley’s staff report, Woodland Park has found itself in a comfortable position from its current lineup of local water sources, such as the North Well Field. But an extremely bleak 2012/2013 winter, based on annual snowpack levels in the high country, has left the Arkansas and Colorado river basins quite dry, with statistics almost parallel with those of last year and in 2002—the time of the Hayman fire. This has impacted reservoirs that the city has bought augmentation water shares from, such as Twin Lakes and Colorado Canal, with these lakes falling well below their average supply of water. The city’s rented-portion of this water is pumped through the Colorado Springs’ Homestake Pipeline.
These drought trends translate to a future problem for the city in meeting its augmentation requirements to support its local water sources. According to Wiley, the city is trying to pursue lease options at Twin Lakes as a safety precaution. Under a worst-case scenario, he fears that that the city may fall short of its necessary augmentation water in 2014. However, that reality won’t be known until next winter. On the physical side of the equation, the city is still in the driver’s seat, but with a few question marks. “The physical water needs of the city are not expected to be a problem in 2013,” said Wiley in his staff report. “However, the outlook for future years is uncertain at this time and we are planning for future years.”
Several council members, who serve on the city’s utilities advisory committee, downplayed any reports of Woodland Park going dry. “We have plenty of wet water,” said Mayor Pro Tem Eric Smith. “It’s not that we are running out of water.” But like most council members who closely monitor the city’s water picture, he admitted that the drought of the last few years has had an impact.
The city’s proposed water restrictions generated a few questions from the council during last week’s hearing. Councilman Gary Brovetto asked if the city has a “trigger point” for evaluating when it has a water problem and needs to take definite action. He also raised concerns about enforcing the city’s new watering restrictions. In previous meetings, the idea of local “water police” prowling the area in search of violators sparked lively discussions.
But according to Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery, enforcing water restrictions in WP has never posed much of a problem. “It is almost self-policing,” said Buttery.“It doesn’t become a big enforcement issue.”
In the past when previous restrictions occurred, he said city employees only had to visit a few residents who weren’t following the mandated orders to provide more public education. City officials and council members also noted that the citizens of Woodland Park have been very cooperative in conserving water. They cited the Hayman fire as a turning point in influencing the watering behaviors of local residents. In addition, Buttery told the council that the city’s newly-tiered utility rates are done in a way that rewards those who use less water and don’t dose their yards with continual water.
As for a “trigger point,” Buttery and Mayor Dave Turley cited a variety of indicators that impact the city’s water situation, including weather and reservoir and snow melt levels. Concerns were also asked about the expected draining of the Antero Reservoir and if this had any links with the city’s situation (see related story). Wiley said no, as this is part of the city of Denver’s water supply.
However, he did say that the water restrictions explored by Woodland Park are quite similar to those under consideration in Colorado Springs. In other water news, the city council last week also signed off on its water tap management plan, calling for no tap fee increases for 2013. As part of its future water pursuits, the council again touched on the idea of developing a local reservoir within the next five years. The city also is projecting slow growth in tap sales for residential homes, but nothing compared the heyday of the 1990s.