Council to hear Utilities plan for water restrictions, surcharges

RYAN MAYE HANDY Updated: February 9, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 9, 2013

Colorado Springs Utilities is gearing up for a drought season that could trump the low snowpack, dryness and record heat of 2012.

At Monday’s informal Colorado Springs City Council meeting, Utilities will propose a plan to help the city grapple with the persistent drought that, it believes, will continue to plague Colorado into the summer months. Utilities will present water restriction guidelines to council, along with an overview of the drought and water situation in El Paso County and suggestions on how to get residents to cut down on water use. If the plans are eventually adopted by the council, the water restrictions should go into effect on April 1. Utilities officials are seeking approval in early March.

“We have been here before,” said Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier on Friday. “It was not as drastic as we are now seeing.”

The phenomenal amount of snowfall and precipitation in 2011 carried Colorado through 2012 without water restrictions being imposed in El Paso County, said Lehermeier. But, the reserve moisture and water that allowed Colorado Springs homeowners to water their lawns regularly last summeris no longer there. Instead, the city has started 2013 in greater need of precipitation.

To balance the unusually high amount of water used in Colorado Springs last summer — and to create a decent reserve of water for public safety concerns, such as firefighting — Utilities has come up with two main alternatives for homeowners. Starting on April 1, pending council approval, restrictions may include two day or three day per week watering restrictions, or a drought surcharge for those whose water use surpasses the restrictions.

Last summer, the city consumed the highest amount of water — 28.7 billion gallons — since 2001, Utilities statistics show. In 2012, the average annual temperature was the highest it had been since 1895.

In addition, persistent drought is stretching across the United States, from southern California through Colorado and up into Wisconsin, according to a seasonal drought outlook map from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Colorado is among a handful of Western states that could be hard-hit by the dwindling water supply this year, according to January stream flow forecasts from the Natural Resource Conservation Service. January got off to slow start, precipitation-wise, and snowpack levels are the fourth lowest they have been in 32 years, according to the report updated monthly.

Colorado will need above-average snowfall for the next few months to overcome the water-deficit and lessen the drought’s severity, the report said.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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