Town of Dillon adopts water conservation plan to ensure long-term sustainability

A chart showing water use by provider within the Blue River watershed.
Blue River Watershed Regional Water Efficiency Plan

The town of Dillon officially adopted the Blue River Watershed Regional Water Efficiency Plan at their regular town council meeting Tuesday afternoon, taking another step forward in the town and region’s dedication to water conservation and education.

The plan, now adopted by Summit County and Dillon, was spearheaded by High Country Conservation Center and centers around collaboration between the area’s major water providers — Dillon, Frisco, Breckenridge, Silverthorne and the Copper Mountain Consolidated Metro District — to ensure the sustainability of the headwaters and protect the environment.

The regional plan will serve as a sort of umbrella plan on top of a number of more specific water efficiency plans either passed in recent months or soon to be passed by municipalities, all meant to address the growing issue of water conservation. The districts, the county and HC3 all worked together to create the cohesive plans.

“This goes back to 2016,” said Jennifer Schenk, executive director of HC3. “We knew there were a lot of people working on conservation individually, but we weren’t sure if people were talking to each other or not. We went around and asked if it would be helpful to work together as a community, and everyone thought that would be fantastic.”

The Blue River watershed is a critical water supply headwater in Colorado, serving Blue River, Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Montezuma and Silverthorne, along with the ski areas of Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin. But growing stress factors have experts concerned about the future of the headwaters.

According to the regional plan, since 1970 the population of the watershed within Summit County has grown from 2,665 to more than 30,000 in 2016, and the population is expected to surpass 51,000 by 2050. Combined with warming temperatures and declining snowpack, along with heavy demands on the rivers through irrigation and snowmaking, officials decided to make some changes.

Several activities are recommended in the plan to help individuals and businesses better regulate and understand their water usage. Those activities — some of which will be handled by individual water suppliers and others with a broader regional focus — include billing upgrades, targeted technical assistance and incentives, ordinances and regulations, and education and outreach programs.

The regional plan largely lines up with the goals set out in individual water provider plans.

“A lot of the things that the efficiency programs would put in place we already have in place,” said Robert Buras, utility superintendent for Dillon. “But there’s a lot of alignment in the plans, and that’s the whole reason to adopt it. It was in support of the Summit County government and this whole region.”

Billing upgrades are an individual provider-led program, which could include providing customers with a WaterSmart report card, giving them detailed information about water usage, how it compares to similar customers and suggestions for improving efficiency. The upgrades could also include an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which could save an estimated 7 percent of annual demands for providers without AMI already in place. The plan also calls for conservation-oriented rates, wherein customers will be billed in tiers of water usage, and costs for water will be greatest for those who use the most.

“It’s different for each provider based on what they have in place, and what they don’t have in place,” said Buras. “But if someone doesn’t have an automated meter system in place they might not know how much they’re using. Their conservation efforts could be improved dramatically.”

HC3 and Resource Central will be tackling the targeted technical assistance and incentives part of the plan. HC3 will be performing indoor residential water audits that include the direct installation of water-saving fixtures in toilets, faucets and showers, as well as providing customized recommendations for additional water savings. In addition, HC3 is providing direct installations for commercial entities through its Resource Wise program with rebates covering 50 percent of the cost of water-saving projects up to $400.

Providers are also anticipated to work with Resource Central’s “Slow the Flow” program, which will provide customers with a free irrigation assessment including a watering schedule and efficiency tests.

Resource Central will be providing 120 assessments for free for the next year, along with discounted rates in year two of implementation.

Outdoor water assessments are one of the key components of the plan. According to the regional plan, irrigation was responsible for 71,502 acre-feet of water diverted in 2015, or about 28 percent of water diversions not including power generation and storage.

“One of the things that came to light with this is that one of the biggest uses is irrigation,” said Buras. “So if we can improve the water efficiencies of outdoor usage, mostly irrigation, that would conserve water for the whole region.”

Another key to the plan is the addition of ordinances and regulations to municipalities. The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is in the process of developing model codes that incentivize water quality and conservation objectives, as well as provide best practices for things such as land use. Once complete, the study will serve as a template for municipalities to update their codes to better incentivize conservation. Finally, HC3 will lead regional educational efforts to promote awareness around water saving opportunities.

“I think it’s becoming more and more important,” said Schenk. “We can all look at Lake Dillon and get the sense we’re in a drought. But I think people don’t often know what to do. Next summer you’ll see a coordinated effort to talk to the public about ways they can get more engaged in their water conservation.”

Luckily, Summit County’s perception of water issues may help ease the transition toward more conservative efforts for some. According to a survey completed by HC3 and Alpine Insights in 2016, 72 percent of respondents said that their awareness of future water shortages would increase their likelihood to conserve water, and less than 1 percent of respondents said they weren’t motivated to conserve water.

In all, the plan seeks to save about 377 acre-feet of water per year in the region through 2025.

“I think a lot of times as mountain folks we tend to point fingers at the Front Range and urban areas downstream,” said Schenk. “This plan shows that our local water providers and residents really care and recognize this as an important issue. Water is such a critical resource, and we need to be able to say we’re doing our part to conserve water and preserve our natural resources in the mountains.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.