Colorado Springs Utilities will forgo watering restrictions

May 1, 2014 Updated: May 1, 2014 at 10:22 am
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While there will be no watering restrictions this summer, Colorado Springs Utilities is still urging conservation. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

This summer when residents head outside to water the lawn, they won't have to check the date.

That's because there will be no watering restrictions, no assigned watering days and no penalties, no matter how much water is used, Colorado Springs Utilities Officials said.

A snowy winter in the Upper Colorado Basin is the city's water savior. It's the snowpack that fills Utilities' reservoirs, which in recent years had dipped to below normal levels and had officials nervous about having enough water in storage for emergencies.

Once this year's snow melts, Utilities expects it will have 2.3 years of water in storage - or about 73 percent of capacity. That's a pretty good place to be, said Abby Ortega, Utilities water planner.

"We are expecting to fully recover storage levels to normal," Ortega said.

Still, Utilities will roll out a $600,000 conservation campaign encouraging residents to water their lawns three days a week or less.

"There is a concern, that people will say 'we are not in restrictions' and will use more water," said Patrice Lehermeier, a spokeswoman for Colorado Springs Utilities. "We don't want that rebound effect."

Last summer, the City Council, which doubles as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, issued mandatory watering restrictions coupled with penalties for water use over a certain amount. The goal then was to save 5.8 billion gallons of water. Utilities reached the goal but took hundreds of phone calls from angry residents who opened water bills that were double or triple their typicalcharges.

But hitting the pocketbook helped, Utilities officials said.

"With customers cutting demand, we were able to maintain storage levels," Ortega said.

The conservation campaign is an effort to keep from dipping into those reserves, said Ann Seymour, Utilities conservation manager.

"What we are trying to do is help customers identify the best ways they can conserve through information and classes," she said.

Utilities also will offer two rebate programs - paying for up to 50 percent of the cost for homeowners to install drip watering systems and a paying a partial amount for commercial property owners to install drip systems.

"Last year there were customers who were concerned about landscape and wanted to switch or convert to xeriscape or something that didn't take as much water," Seymour said. "We heard that and saw that as an opportunity for us to offer new incentives."

Utilities has about $350,000 to spend on all its residential rebates programs.

"We are hoping a lot of customers will participate," she said.

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