We’re playing in the white stuff now, but get ready for a brown summer
Here in Summit County, we’re in the midst of record snowfall, playing in more snow than literally any of us are likely to see in our lifetimes. The only things nervous about all the moisture that will be around in the ground in the spring are the pine beetles. Plenty of water means plenty of sap in the lodgepole pines, which means some of the brown pines may be able to give the beetles the boot this summer and make a comeback.Local officials should be nervous, too; government officials here in the High Country who didn’t budget to remove all the snow that’s fallen, or the potholes that will pock the streets in the spring. So far, the sound of hand-wringing by the nervous officials is being drowned out by the cackling of the short-sighted ones already thinking of ways to spend the extra sales tax revenues from this winter.But all of them should be nervous. While we’re enjoying record snowfall in the mountains, in Denver the only thing falling from the sky is ash from grass fires on the eastern plains.
Front Range cities are parched in the middle of the fourth driest winter on record, with warm, sunny days and no moisture of any kind. The fire danger in the western foothills, which was never worse than high even during the drought of 2002, is already posted as extreme, with no relief in the forecast.And, as usually happens in the early stages of a dry spell, water consumption is up. In Denver, a full third of the water used goes to lawns and gardens, and developers and homeowners enraptured by vast expanses of water-sucking grass are pumping away, building up top soil moisture for the spring. Of course, the social lunacy of maintaining a broad green featureless vista unbroken save for the “Keep Off The Grass” sign is not unique to Denver. Some of those same fools have second homes here in Summit County, where they try to replicate the same broad green featureless sward at 10,000 feet in the midst of the forest, although to what purpose is never clear.On a macro level, the Front Range is growing again, and economic growth means a greater demand for water. So Denver is looking at drought this summer, and as we know from experience, a water shortage in the Front Range has a direct impact on Summit County.
Right now, we should expect Dillon Reservoir to be a big brown hole this summer as Denver empties the reservoir to water its lawns.If the drought in the Front Range continues into the summer, the board might see advantage in using all the water they’ve stored, rather than raising rates as they did in 2002. During the last drought, the Denver Water Board had the chutzpah to raise water rates and most Denver residents, to their credit, responded by using less water. But Denver residents used so much less water that the Water Board was faced with a revenue shortfall so big that they almost had to raise rates again to close the revenue gap. In the next drought, they won’t raise rates again so dramatically; instead, they’ll raise rates just enough to pay for using the water they have, the water they’ve stored in Dillon Reservoir.So a wet winter in the High Country may mean water shortages in summer unless it starts to snow across the Front Range. While economic growth took a dip in the Front Range, it never faltered up here. There are a lot more homes in Summit County, and the demand for water will be even greater in 2006 than in 2002.
Moreover, as we were reminded in 2002, we don’t own any of the water that helps define Summit County. And while city officials in Denver have stored water and made plans for the next drought, town officials in the High Country are busily planning new public works. Better fill the water jugs now, because the wettest winter on record may be followed by the driest summer.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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