It’s been seven years since lawn lovers in Colorado Springs had to suffer through water rationing.
The drought of 2002-2005 is no longer ancient history. The bad old days are here again.
If City Council approves, watering restrictions would begin April 1, just when grasses and plants are spreading their roots and need plenty of moisture.
So how will it work?
The plan being put forward by Colorado Springs Utilities would limit residents to two days of watering a week, even-numbered addresses one day and odd-numbered addresses another day, and only before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. to limit evaporation.
Plants and shrubs — but not grass — could be watered any time with drip irrigation systems or hand-held hoses with a shut-off nozzle.
Cars could be washed on a designated watering days and Saturdays and Sundays.
So, it might not be the best year to plant a lawn, but residents still can try. They would be required to buy a $50 “establishment permit” from Utilities and show a receipt that they have bought four cubic yards of a soil amendment such as mulch for every 1,000 square feet of new lawn.
So, how do you police watering in a city of 426,000 people?
With utility bills.
Utilities uses a tiered rate structure, with customers paying more for using more water. Rates would stay the same for the lowest tier, those using 999 cubic feet per billing cycle. The ceiling of the second tier of rates would be lowered from 2,500 to 2,000, meaning anyone who uses more than 2,000 cubic feet would pay double for that water only.
The utility is planning to add an online application at its website, csu.org, to let customers log on and see their water use.
If that first eye-popping bill doesn’t curtail illegal watering, Utilities can fine people for violations. A first offense leads to a written warning, followed by charges on bills of $300 to $600.
During the last drought, residents proved capable of policing each other. After all, who wants the neighbor’s lawn looking green while yours is brown?
But Utilities did issue 10,937 violation notices to residents and businesses from 2003 to 2005. While 85 percent were warnings, Utilities charged repeat offenders $544,300 in penalties.
City Council is expected to vote on the water rationing March 26. Officials hope the measures will lead to 30 percent less water being used from April to October.
“We’re all doing snow dances,” said Utilities water conservation manager Ann Seymour. “If we could get it to snow and be the snowstorm of the century, that would be the best news ever, but based on our modeling and experience in maintaining and watching our watersheds and the moisture that comes into them, we don’t think there’s a way to catch up.”