Steamboat enacts mandatory water restrictions, effective immediately |

Steamboat enacts mandatory water restrictions, effective immediately

Brent Boyer

Sprinklers wet the new sod last week in West Lincoln Park in downtown Steamboat Springs. The city of Steamboat Springs and the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District announced mandatory water restrictions Friday, effective immediately. Lawn irrigation is among the restricted uses of municipal water.

— Underscoring the extreme drought conditions plaguing Northwest Colorado, city of Steamboat Springs residents and businesses were hit Friday with mandatory water restrictions.

The Stage 2 restrictions, which went into effect immediately, dictate the permissible uses of treated municipal water during times of drought. The restrictions include all water customers of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, City of Steamboat Springs Water District, Steamboat II Metro District and Tree Haus Metro District. Those four districts provide treated water to all of Steamboat Springs and the immediate surrounding residential areas.

In a news release Friday, water officials from each district cited the historically low flows of the Yampa River, discharges from Fish Creek Reservoir that are exceeding natural inflows and the likelihood for continued drought conditions as the biggest factors in their decision to move forward with the mandatory restrictions.

"The natural flows in Fish Creek have already dropped to mid-summer levels, requiring us to release reservoir water six weeks earlier than normal to meet irrigation demand," Jay Gallagher, general manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, said in the news release. "Reducing water demand will allow us to strike a balance between conserving our water supplies in the reservoirs and meeting riparian needs."

It's the first time in Joe Zimmerman's 37 years with the city that he can remember enacting mandatory restrictions, though he can recall voluntary restrictions in years like 2002, when wildfires raged on all sides of Steamboat.

"Right now, we're in a lot worse scenario than we were in 2002," said Zimmerman, the city's water and wastewater superintendent.

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Fish Creek Reservoir supplies the drinking water for most Steamboat Springs residents and businesses. Officials had few concerns about the reservoir filling to capacity this spring despite the below-average snowpack, but increasing demand during the busier summer months has combined with near nonexistent precipitation in May and June to cause heightened concern. Before the brief rain showers that hit Steamboat on Friday, the city had received just 0.1 inches of rain in June, a month that averages 1.54 inches. May wasn't much better, with only 0.68 inches of rain falling compared to the historic average of 2.04 inches.

The issuance of a drought warning and Stage 2 water restrictions are in accordance with the Steamboat Springs Community Water Conservation Plan adopted in 2011.

Criteria for declaring a drought warning are: April 1 snow-water equivalent at the Tower Snotel site on Buffalo Pass being below 80 percent of average; early runoff resulting in low flows in the Fish Creek watershed; persistent higher-than-average temperatures; and below-average precipitation. All the criteria has been met, Zimmerman said.

The Stage 2 restrictions state:

  • Potable water shall be used for beneficial purposes and should not be wasted.
  • No outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Outdoor watering schedule is based on the last number of the customer's street address. Odd-numbered addresses can water Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays; even-numbered addresses can water Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. There is no watering permitted Wednesdays.
  • No vehicle washing at residences.
  • No washing hard surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and parking areas. Sweep with a broom instead.
  • No running outdoor water features.
  • No use of domestic water for dust control.
  • Limit the filling of swimming pools to one filling per year, unless draining for repairs.
  • Permits may be secured for newly-sodded lawns and newly-planted trees for as many as 14 consecutive days and for newly-seeded lawns for as many as 25 consecutive days with the exception of Wednesdays.

Stage 3 restrictions could be enacted by a drought declaration or a water supply emergency caused by wildfire or failed infrastructure, according to the Water Conservation Plan. Stage 3 restrictions would ban all lawn irrigation and would require businesses, including hotels, restaurants and property management companies, to implement Stage 3 water conservation measures.

"We need to be conservative," Zimmerman said Friday evening. "We have no idea how long this (drought) is going to last. If this is a one-year thing, great. If it's a two-year thing … well, we've got to keep that in the back of our mind."

The National Weather Service is calling for sunny skies and daytime highs in the low to mid-90s for the next week. Although spotty rain showers like those that hit Steamboat on Friday are possible, no significant precipitation is in the forecast.

"Unfortunately, a little rain just really has very little impact on drought conditions or fire conditions," Zimmerman said. "It's very, very temporary. The next day, the sun is out, and the wind is blowing, and that water is gone. It really doesn't amount to more than a dust-settler."

The flow of the Yampa River was at 59 cfs Friday afternoon, compared to a historic average for June 29 of 940 cfs. Friday's water level actually was up from the previous day's, the result of Friday's rain and the release of purchased water from Stagecoach Reservoir. Read more about the water release here.

The city had enacted voluntary water restrictions several weeks ago. Zimmerman said officials agreed they weren't sufficient.

"It just wasn't quite doing the job," he said. "We've got to be conservative and safe.

"I hope people will abide by this. We don't want to be out there having to police this. We're asking people to cooperate."

Tips for conserving water

  • Avoid watering in windy conditions.
  • Adjust sprinklers to avoid watering hard surfaces. Set timers to avoid over-watering.
  • Because our clay soils restrict penetration of water, it is better to water for three short intervals than for one long interval.
  • When irrigating with a hose, use a spring-loaded nozzle, not a free-running hose.
  • Cut your lawn no shorter than 3 inches to reduce soil moisture loss and to promote deeper roots.
  • Avoid planting trees and shrubs or sodding new lawns during the drier, hotter months.
  • Plant native grasses and shrubs or drought-tolerant species in place of water-intensive species.

Source: Community Water Conservation Plan

To reach Brent Boyer, call 970-871-4221 or email

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