City may regulate landscape designs

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Residents might be months away from turning on their lawn sprinklers, but the city already is looking at ways its landscaping ordinance can encourage water conservation during dry summers.

City staff is reviewing an ordinance put in place by the cities of Erie and Lafayette that requires property owners to follow water-efficient designs in landscaping.

The City Council grew interested in revising its ordinance after receiving an update on the city's water supply. Council members saw a graph that showed a dramatic increase in water usage during summer months.

During the April 6 council meeting, Mount Werner Water Manager Bob Stoddard showed a graph indicating the amount of water used during peak winter months, when the town was packed with tourists, was less than 70 million gallons a day. In the summer months, the peak amount of water used in 2003 was just less than 180 million gallons a day.

"Three times as much water is used during the summer," Stoddard said, and noted 120 million gallons more could be attributed to irrigation.

Councilman Loui Antonucci asked city staff to review the landscaping requirement policy. He said he feared the amount of trees and grass required for new construction could exacerbate the problem.

Councilwoman Susan Dellinger requested shifting away from requiring lawns to encouraging xeriscaping.

City Manager Paul Hughes said the city is looking at an ordinance passed by Erie and Lafayette. Those findings could be discussed by the council at a May 11 meeting.

City Planning Director Steve Stamey will be helpful in looking at the other towns' ordinances because he was the community development director in Erie before coming to Steamboat a year ago and is familiar with the ordinance, Hughes said.

Passed by the Lafayette City Council in January, the ordinance requires all landscape plans to be deemed water efficient and have an annual water budget of 15 gallons per square foot. The ordinance also requires property owners to practice water conservation by using mulch to maintain soil moisture and reduce evaporation, to group plants by the amount of water they need and to encourage protection and preservation of native species and natural areas.

During the April 6 Steamboat Springs meeting, council members discussed increasing rates after a certain point to dissuade excess water use. Hughes said one of the proposals could be to increase the rate after a household reaches a threshold for typical use.

With fear of another dry summer, Hughes questioned the use of voluntary water restrictions, such as those the city put in place during the dry 2002 summer. He said the last time restrictions were used, water consumption increased by 5 percent from the previous month.

"It may take more than voluntary restrictions," Hughes said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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