Water worries

City officials ask residents to practice conservation

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— For the first time since 1994, city officials are asking residents to voluntarily conserve water.

Although a full Fish Creek Reservoir means that Steamboat is in better shape than most of state, lack of snowpack and little rainfall has stream flows lower than average.

As streams dry up, Bob Stoddard, Manager of Mount Werner Water, said water from the reservoir would probably be drawn three to four weeks before they normally would.

Even with that predication, city officials said Steamboat does not look to have a water shortage, but conserving water could help out the rest of the drought-stricken state and save reserves for next year.

In the past weeks, city council members have been urging citizens to conserve water on its city page by offering education tips. The council will likely pass a resolution tonight that ask citizens to voluntarily limit the watering of lawns and vegetation to every third day, which would be determined by the calendar system used in Denver.

Under the system, residents water on dates determined by the last two digits in their address, which divides the city into thirds.

For instance, those living with addresses ending in 61 to 99 could water their lawn today. On Wednesday, those with property addresses ending in 00 to 30 could water their lawns, and Thursday would be designated for addresses with the last two digits ending in 31 to 60.

This cycle would continue until the end of September.

Public Works Director Jim Weber said Steamboat residents should have easy access to the schedule because it runs in the Denver Post weather section daily and can be found on the Denver Water Department's website at http://www.denverwater.org/conservation/conservframe.html.

Weber said the system, which was also used in Steamboat in 1994, runs on most television stations.

"It's very accessible and useable," he said.

By limiting when residents can water their lawns, Weber roughly estimates that a single home can save around 200 gallons of water per week. The Denver Water Department estimates its voluntary water restrictions reduce consumption by 10 percent.

Along with limited lawn watering, the city is recommending not to use sprinklers or water plants with filtered water between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., because water usually evaporates during the warmer hours of the day.

Weber also suggested using conservation methods such as washing cars on lawns and sweeping, not washing, sidewalks and driveways.

He said there is always the possibility for the city to enact mandatory watering restrictions, which would be enforced by fines.

"We looked at the snow pack and water runoff and based on stream flow, these are down. We can't rely on these, we have to rely on the reservoir more so then we normally would," Weber said.

Stoddard expects the streams to start slowing down in a week or two and the reservoir to be used a month sooner.

He said the reservoir was in use by mid-July last year, but this year could be used as early as July 1.

Stoddard said the Fish Creek Reservoir was full Monday, but there was no snowpack on Buffalo Pass, where a snow base typically has a water equivalent of 32 inches on June 10.

Even with those numbers, Stoddard and Weber said the reservoir is not in danger of drying up and water will meet demand.

As of April 1, before the snowmelt, Stoddard said Fish Creek Falls was about 55 percent full.

The state also gave the city approval in May to fill Long Lake for the first time since 1998. Long Lake, which Weber said would begin filling in the next few days, has the holding capacity of 400 acre-feet.

It will be filled by snowmelt and rainwater, Weber said, and would act as a supplement to the Fish Creek Reservoir.

Although water supplies are sufficient for this year, Weber said the city must also prepare for next year in case of another drought year. That means making sure the summer ends with enough water in the Fish Creek Reservoir.

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