Published: May 5, 2013
One billion gallons of water is no drop in the bucket.
That amount of water could fill 1,515 Olympic-style swimming pools. And it is the amount Colorado Springs residents saved in April compared to water use in April 2012. It's double the amount Colorado Springs Utilities managers hoped would be saved after instituting lawn watering restrictions for the first time since 2005.
No doubt Mother Nature helped launch the conservation effort. April brought some precipitation to the city, although it was below average. On average, temperatures were 43 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, compared to last April when temperatures were 59 degrees.
The colder, sometimes snowy days of spring, may have delayed the annual ritual of breaking out of the garden hose or setting sprinkler time clocks, said Patrice Lehermeier, spokeswoman for Utilities.
'It's a nice boost to kick off the savings, ' she said.
Now comes the true test. Weather forecasters are talking about persistent drought conditons through July. And if lawns look less perky, some might be tempted to water more.
Two years of extreme drought caused Colorado Springs City Council to set lawn watering restrictions for what has become known as irrigation season - April to October. Last season, customers used 19.9 billion gallons of water.
In water math, there is 7.48 gallons of water in 1 cubic foot. A typical Colorado Springs household uses about 1,100 cubic feet of water per month and 1,400 cubic feet during the irrigation season.
The council, hoping that residents would want to save money and water, doubled the price of residential water rates on every cubic foot cresting past 2,000 per month. In April, about 2 percent of households used more than 2,000 cubic feet of water.
Anyone who got close to that 2,000 mark got a call from Utilities with a friendly reminder of summer water rates and watering schedules.
'For the most part, folks have been pretty understanding, ' Lehermeier said. 'We are seeing customers who want to learn more and take action - they are taking ownership of this. '
Some residents already have informed on their neighbors who have violated the watering rules. Those folks will get a warning letter from Utilities - so far 15 warning letters have been sent. Residents can only water the lawn two days a week - Tuesdays and Saturdays for odd numbered street addresses and Sundays and Wednesdays for even numbered addresses. And beginning this month, lawn watering is not allowed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. because the sun just soaks up that water anyway, Lehermeier said.
During the past month, Utilities rolled out a multi-media water conservation campaign with TV commercials, social media and even outdoor billboards. Officials hosted neighborhood meetings, and even hired a magician to take their conservation message to kiddos.
Now, renegade water users will be policed. A nine-member Utilities team head out on Monday and take note - and video - of watering violators. A first-time violation yields a warning. Then fines will be imposed. But if history is an indicator, one warning usually does the trick, Lehermeier said.
'It's a pretty serious situation we are in and we need to rebuild the public water supply, ' Lehermeier said.
First offense: written warning
Second offense: $300 fine, added to water bill
Third offense: $400 fine
Fourth offense: $500 fine
Fifth offense: water use restricted or cut off