Steamboat Springs Steamboat II Metropolitan District officials hoped they could wait until July 1 to enact strict, mandatory water restrictions in the face of a severe drought. Mother Nature had a different timeline.
On Thursday, the Yampa River stopped running high enough to feed water into the ditch that recharges and fills the district’s well field just west of Steamboat Springs. Faced with the threat of the wells eventually drying up completely in extreme drought, mandatory water restrictions were put in place Friday for the district’s 400 customers for the first time in 19 years.
“We’re holding our breath right now,” Doug Baker, the district’s manager, said Monday. “We’re checking (the water level) several times a day to make sure we’re still OK.”
As a result of the Yampa’s decline, Baker said the well field that supplies more than half of his district’s water was only 60 percent full Monday. He also doesn’t like what he’s finding at the wells he now is inspecting several times a day. He said they’ve never been this dry this early, and they must now be cycled on and off to prevent air from entering the water system.
On top of that, the water district already is utilizing the maximum 4.5 million gallons of water per month it is allowed to purchase from the city of Steamboat Springs.
“This is a serious situation,” Baker said. “There’s a good possibility the well field will run dry if we don’t get any rain or divert any more water” from the Yampa.
The mandatory restrictions apply to Steamboat II, Heritage Park and Silver Spur residents and prohibit outdoor watering of any kind from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and during all hours Wednesdays. Residents have been assigned three days per week to water based on their addresses.
But if the conditions remain as dry as they have been, Baker said all outdoor watering eventually could be prohibited.
The current restrictions will be enforced by the district’s parks and recreation employees, and violators will be fined $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense and $100 for each subsequent violation.
“The residents have been really receptive to the restrictions,” Baker said, noting no citations have been issued since the new rules went into effect Friday. “They understand what’s going on. We really appreciate the public taking note of the restrictions and following the rules.”
And as the river continues to slow and as temperatures continue to simmer, Steamboat’s other two water districts are likely to soon move from voluntary restrictions to mandatory ones.
Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District General Manager Jay Gallagher said Monday that he expects his district to begin releasing reserve water from the reservoirs in the Fish Creek watershed as early as this week, about four weeks ahead of schedule.
“I’m not concerned we’re going to run out of water, but it really depends on how people respond to the drought,” Gallagher said. “What we’re asking them to do is use water wisely.”
Gallagher said both of his district’s reservoirs are full, but water restrictions are in place to ultimately conserve the water that must be utilized until March.
“It is important to conserve the reserves we have in our reservoirs, because we don’t know if the winter is going to be dry, as well,” he said. “I’m looking ahead, and I see we might be looking at mandatory restrictions sometime in the first two weeks of July.”
He added that Mount Werner Water and the city of Steamboat Springs previously enacted voluntary restrictions in 1984 and 2002. Never before has either entity imposed mandatory water restrictions on residents.
Meanwhile, Steamboat Golf Club superintendent Andy Keyek is cutting back on watering his nine-hole course west of Steamboat. Like the Steamboat II Metro District, he lost the ability to pull water from the Yampa River on Thursday.
“It’s a little bit stressful,” he said. “I think we’re all getting together and holding on to see what happens.”
He estimated that in a matter of days he will start watering only the greens to try and conserve the precious water left in a retention pond.
Upstream at the city-owned Haymaker Golf Course, Director of Golf Tom Taylor said they’re a little better off. He estimated the course has enough water in its ponds to continue watering everything for an estimated two to three weeks, but the timeline is dependent on how they continue to water the course. When the water does become scarce, he said the course likely will cut back on watering the driving range (excluding the tee boxes), then the roughs and then the fairways.
“We’re not sure when we might start that yet,” Taylor said. “A little rain would help a lot.”
June has seen only 0.1 inches of precipitation through Monday afternoon, according to local weather observer Art Judson. The historic monthly average for June is 1.54 inches. Monday’s high temperature in the city also might have set a record. Judson’s weather station logged a high of 93.4 degrees at 2:55 p.m. Monday. The station at Steamboat Springs Airport hit 92 degrees. The all-time high for June 25 is 91 degrees, set in 1927. The National Weather Service certifies daily temperatures at 7:30 a.m. the following day, meaning the record could be verified early this morning.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com