Drought Watch 2012: Water conservation efforts in the High Country

Zach Margolis
utility manager
Town of Silverthorne

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles that the Summit Daily will run over the summer to keep the community informed about ongoing drought conditions in the county.

How can something that is so inexpensive be so valuable?

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water” – Ben Franklin

If your water comes to you from a municipality or district it probably costs somewhere around $5 per 1,000 gallons (which is about 8,340 pounds). That’s a food grade product, delivered for $0.0006 per pound. Obviously, the water itself is worth a lot more, this is just the cost of pumping and treating the water. As Ben Franklin pointed out over 200 years ago, the true worth isn’t appreciated until the supply is limited. Welcome to the drought of 2012.

As our water commissioner discussed in last week’s article, to legally take water out of the ground, or from a river or lake, you have to have water rights that are older than the water rights of the other folks that also want to use that water. So even though some on the West Slope have a good supply of what we call “wet water”, we may not have the legal “water right” to use it. In any case, by the end of this summer our rivers and lakes will be much lower and if this turns into the “Drought of 2012 and 2013”, Colorado will have real problems.

It turns out this is a really good question: different things motivate different people.

Some may be motivated by the knowledge that water conservation is good for the environment, some by the knowledge that saving water saves money, and some by the knowledge that saving water saves energy. More than 12 percent of the energy used in the western U.S. goes to pumping, treating, using, heating, collecting, re-treating and releasing water. The EPA has estimated that the actual cost of using water is over $62 per thousand gallons, more than 10 times what shows up on a typical water bill.

In Silverthorne, we have water meters that incorporate leak detection. This enables the town’s water operators to contact customers to alert them to a possible problem. We’ve helped customers find everything from leaking toilets, which can use 100,000 gallons in three months, to severely broken plumbing and flooded basements. We also have an aggressive leak detection program for our water mains; a tiered water rate structure to encourage conservation; and our town code makes water conservation a priority.

Reduce water use by fixing leaks, even steady drips add up. Don’t let water run unused, buy efficient fixtures and appliances and absolutely minimize consumptive use of water. Most indoor use is “non-consumptive” because it is returned to the river or lake after being treated and it is used again downstream. Outdoor use, such as lawn watering that results in evaporation and uptake by plants, is “consumptive” and is not available for reuse.

Look for this column every Monday throughout the summer. Articles will focus on drought, water conservation and the perspectives/realities of water management in Summit County. Due to drought conditions in the Blue River watershed, water providers in Summit County are implementing increased levels of water conservation. Please go to your water provider’s website to see how these changes will affect you. For additional water conservation tips visit:

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