Ask Eartha: Drought still a concern despite snowpack
With all our big spring storms, do I need to be concerned about drought this year?
— Lindsey, Dillon Valley
Great question, Lindsey. I sure had a fun ski season, and I hope you did, too. Now that our minds are shifting to big whitewater, it can be tough to look any further than our current situation — I applaud you for looking ahead!
The short answer to your questions is, “YES!”
Current drought conditions
While the U.S. Drought Monitor currently shows no drought in Summit County, parts of Park County are still considered abnormally dry. Even with all the recent snow, some of our neighbors to the south still haven’t recovered from last summer’s drought. Summit County saw its first fire of the season a few weekends ago in Silverthorne. Although small and quickly extinguished, it was a strong indicator of just how quickly conditions can change.
The reality is that we need to shift how we think about drought. A recent study found that river flows in the Upper Colorado River Basin — which Summit County is part of — declined 16.5% between 1916 and 2014. And that’s even with a slight increase in precipitation. The culprit? Higher temperatures caused by — you guessed it — climate change.
Climate change impacts peak runoff, evaporation and soil absorption, all of which complicate overall water availability. With Colorado being one of the fastest-warming states in the country, and our community sitting at the heart of the West’s mightiest river — we always need to be mindful of how we’re using our water.
Our community is amazingly proactive when it comes to wildfire. The Summit County chipping program is one example, and fuel breaks saved neighborhoods in last summer’s Buffalo Mountain Fire.
So how can we be equally proactive about our water use?
Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to shower with a bucket. Instead, consider a WaterSense showerhead. WaterSense is an Environmental Protection Agency program that works with a third party to certify things like showerheads, toilets and faucet accessories. To earn the WaterSense label, products must meet both efficiency and performance standards.
The key here is performance. WaterSense products must perform as well as or better than their more wasteful counterparts. That means you won’t have to sacrifice a satisfying shower to save water. With the average American spending 8.2 minutes in the shower, a new showerhead alone could save a family of four 12,000 gallons a year. That’s more than a month’s supply!
Want to take your efforts up a notch? Look beyond the showerhead and the savings can really add up. To help Summit County residents become more water savvy, High Country Conservation Center is now offering Tame the Tap, a free program that includes checkups on your fixtures as well as installation of WaterSense products. Their staff will test your toilets, faucets and showerheads, and help you understand your current water use. You’ll start saving water immediately — the WaterSense products installed by HC3 can save a family of four an average of 25,000 gallons of water each year. If you choose to take a bigger step — say, purchasing a new toilet or water-efficient appliance — there are rebates available to help with costs.
Don’t get caught overwatering
While many of us still have snow around our homes, yards are beginning to peek out across the county. Soon, homeowners will be thinking about keeping their grass green. But just like a car, your sprinklers need an occasional checkup to make sure they’re watering your lawn as efficiently as possible.
As much as 50% of the water we use outdoors is lost to wind, evaporation and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation. To curb that kind of loss in Summit County, the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne have partnered with the organization Resource Central to offer free sprinkler checks for their residents.
The program, called Slow the Flow, includes a 90-minute visit to check your irrigation system’s efficiency, run a few tests and diagnose any problems the system might have. It’s an easy way to keep your lawn healthy while potentially saving thousands of gallons each year. To learn more about both water efficiency programs, visit HighCountryConservation.org/water.
Lindsey, you may recall that Summit County was in extreme drought just last year. Instead of waiting for the next one, which could be around the corner, let’s start working together now to protect our precious water resources.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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