What is the city's water situation? Behind the headlines

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Q. With a relatively wet spring, what are the conditions of the city's water supply? How far ahead are we from last year and have we had enough moisture to recover from the drought?

A. The residents of Steamboat are fortunate to live at the headwaters of the Yampa River as we typically have an abundance of water. The winter of 2002-03 was considered average for our watershed. The snow water equivalent for 2002-03 peaked at 55 inches near Buffalo pass versus 30 inches in 2001-02. Runoff this year has been faster than normal due to the warm temperatures. This quicker runoff is largely responsible for the high flows seen in Fish Creek and the Yampa River during the week of May 26. From a water supplier's perspective, we would like to see cooler temperatures to extend the runoff period, thereby delaying usage from storage to later in July. With both Fish Creek Reservoir and Long Lake expected to fill by July and an expected extended runoff period compared to 2002, the water supply for Steamboat looks positive.

Q. If Steamboat's reservoirs will fill (or have filled) to capacity, is it necessary to continue to conserve water?

A.Water conservation is always a good practice. Although we believe that the water district and city have properly planned for dry years by the enlargement of Fish Creek Reservoir, the procurement of additional storage in Stagecoach Reservoir and the construction of the infiltration galleries as a backup water source, it is possible that a series of consecutive dry years would challenge our resources.

In addition, if consumers follow practical water conservation measures, the district and city can delay the expense of a costly water filtration plant expansion.

Q. At last week's Yampa River Basin Water Forum, people discussed water storage plans for the next 20 to 50 years. Where is the Mount Werner Water Board in planning for future growth or long-term changes in climate?

A. The boundary of the Mount Werner Water District closely matches the city limits on the south, west and east, and Fish Creek on the north. No large population annexations are expected to be made to the district in the foreseeable future.

Thus, the majority of growth within the District will be attributed to infill and redevelopment. The Mount Werner Water District, with cooperation from the city, enlarged Fish Creek Reservoir in 1994 to meet the water demands of the district through buildout.

The district is not actively working on developing new or expanding water supply sources. However, the district is working diligently on protecting the quality of our existing water sources by the development of a wellhead protection plan and a watershed protection plan.

Q. The prevailing thought is "prepare for drought during wet years." What steps can we take to prepare for drought?

A. Each of us on a personal level can learn to use water responsibly. For example, inside the home:

n Install water saving devices: low-flow toilets, showers, faucets and washing machines

n Stop leaks in toilets, faucets and showerheads

n Operate your dishwasher and clothes washer only when they are fully loaded.

Outside the home:

n Water the lawn only when needed, between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

n Install a rain shut-off device on your sprinkler system.

Landscape irrigation accounts for about 60 percent of the water usage in the months of June, July and August.

Homeowners and businesses are encouraged to minimize the installation of grass and instead use the principles of Xeriscape. Xeriscape uses native and drought-tolerant plants, mulch to hold in moisture, and grouping plants according to their water and light needs.

At the district level, we will continue to educate our customers about responsible water use, keep our customers informed about their water sources, properly manage and closely monitor our water supplies, work to minimize leaks in the distribution system, and prepare a drought response plan detailing restrictions in water use in the event of a severe drought.

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