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Blood boils over water

Lu Snyder

SUMMIT COUNTY – Water has taken a front seat in many conversations as Colorado’s drought conditions worsen.

Denver Water Board officials have warned Summit Countians there is not enough snowpack to fill the Dillon reservoir this summer. And though no local municipalities depend on the reservoir for their water, that doesn’t mean there’s no need for concern.

“This is a for-real drought,” said Scott Hummer, water commissioner for the Blue River Basin, which includes Summit County. “No one’s crying wolf about this – this is a serious problem.”

Gov. Bill Owens has asked Coloradans across the state to voluntarily reduce their water consumption.

“We are seeing flows at much less than historic averages,” Hummer said. “So I think it’s only prudent that Summit County… look at seriously doing some individual water conservation.”

Town officials in Silverthorne, Breckenridge and Frisco said they are not anticipating a need for water restrictions this summer, though they all encourage citizens to conserve water.

Silverthorne Town Manager Kevin Batchelder said the town depends on six wells for its drinking water. And though those wells have an excellent supply, “we realize that in these conditions the town needs to set an example with good water-use practices,” he said. “(We’re) doing our best to conserve water.”

Though Silverthorne already has used water to clean the medians on Highway 9 this year, they’ve since made the switch to sweeping instead.

“Given the conditions this year, we cut back on how much of (cleaning with water) we did,” said Bill Linfield, director of Silverthorne public works. “We won’t be doing any more of that. We’re conscious of the water shortage and the perception the public has.”

Sometimes that perception is important to consider.

Numerous readers contacted the Summit Daily News over the past week with concerns about what they perceive to be frivolous use of a precious resource. The town of Frisco and some commercial areas have been criticized for using water to clean street medians and parking areas.

Frisco community relations director Linda Lichtendahl said the town must clean the medians to prevent deterioration, and water is the best way to clean off the slurry and magnesium chloride. Sweeping would create a dust problem, she said.

“We used 125,000 gallons of water to clean the medians,” Lichtendahl said. “Every day in Frisco, we use between 750,000 and one million gallons of water. When you look at it that way, it really wasn’t all that much water.”

And despite appearances, the town is being conservative, Lichtendahl said.

Like Silverthorne, the town is not watering during mid-day hours – when wind and evaporation create greater waste. Additionally, the towns’ public works employees turn off irrigation systems when it rains.

Lichtendahl said the town doesn’t expect there will be a need for water restrictions this summer, but “in this time of low water and low rainfall, we hope our residents are being conservative with their water use and being smart.”

Dillon and Dillon Valley are not so lucky. Both depend on the snowmelt for their water supplies. The town already has requested voluntary water conservation, and the Dillon Town Council is currently working on a water restriction program.

“If we get hurting for water later on, we’ll get mandatory restrictions,” said Tommy Luce, chief water plant operator in Dillon.

Even though Summit County water supplies might not require restrictions this summer, it’s important that citizens look beyond their own backyard, advise water experts.

Taylor Hawes, co-director of the water quality quantity committee of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said local politicians are putting pressure on Denver city officials to implement restrictions on the Front Range so locals can continue to enjoy recreation on Lake Dillon. Which is a bit hypocritical, Hawes said, if Summit County residents don’t make any efforts to conserve themselves.

Water and water rights are finite.

“Every town has a certain quantifiable amount of water they get to use,” Hawes said. “Once the town has used its water rights, you don’t get to reuse it.”

Additionally, there’s no way to tell if the drought will end soon.

This is Colorado’s third year of drought conditions, and though most historical patterns indicate most droughts last only two to four years, some last as long as 10, water commissioner Scott Hummer pointed out.

It’s like accounting, Hawes said. There might be enough water this year, but everything used now is unavailable for next year.

“We all need to be thinking about conservation, especially if this is a multi-year drought,” Hawes said. “If we have another year next year, like we had this year … that could be a problem.”

Denver’s reservoirs are 73 percent below normal, and the city is implementing voluntary restrictions, Hawes said. Those restrictions won’t become mandatory until reservoir levels reach 60 percent or lower.

“I don’t think most people in Summit County want to see what the reservoirs look like at 60 percent,” Hawes said.


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