Two members of the Colorado Springs City Council are concerned that the city's watering restrictions are too hard on residents with big yards.
Some homeowners have to choose between letting a lawn die and paying a premium to water it, council member Joel Miller said.
The drought, coupled with the watering restrictions and the higher price tag on water usage over 2,000 cubic feet per month, is forcing some people to decide what is more important - saving the grass or saving money, he said last week in his role as Colorado Springs Utilities board member.
"People are saying, 'I have to choose - is it going to cost me $5,000 to put in a new lawn,'" Miller said. "People are doing the math. I wish we didn't have to do that. There are lawns that are dying."
It's the 2,000-cubic-foot threshold triggering higher water rates that troubles Miller and council member Don Knight.
If water restrictions are needed next summer, there should be some consideration for residents who have yards larger than 3,000 square feet, which was the figure used to calculate typical usage, Knight said. Even if homeowners with yards larger than 3,000 square feet follow the two-day-a-week watering restrictions, they find themselves going over 2,000 cubic feet of water per month, he said.
"Would we want the same restrictions," Knight said. "Is 2,000 cubic feet really a fair cap?"
The goal of the Utilities restrictions is not to collect more money from users but to save water, said Abigail Ortega, Utilities planning supervisor, water services division. Years of drought caused the council to set lawn watering restrictions for irrigation season, which is April to October. Residents can only water the lawn two days a week - Tuesdays and Saturdays for odd-numbered street addresses and Sunday and Wednesday for even-numbered addresses.
Savings was off to a great start in April, when Utilities customers used 1 billion gallons less than last April. In May, water use was down 14 percent over last year. But as temperatures rise, so will the water use, Ortega said.
"We expect demand to go up with 90-degree days," she said.
Overall, water use is down 20 percent compared with last year, and Ortega believes the city is on target to meet its savings goal of 5.8 billion gallons. While customer demands have stayed low, it's not enough to lift the restrictions, said Wayne Vanderschuere, Utilities general manager, water services.
"The goal is to stay the course," he said.
A typical Springs household uses about 1,100 cubic feet of water per month and 1,400 cubic feet during the irrigation season. From April to October, water prices double for every cubic foot cresting past 2,000 cubic feet per month. In April, about 2 percent of households used more than 2,000 cubic feet of water. In May, it was less than 5 percent. So far in June, the number is about 11 percent, Vanderschuere said.
This summer, there have been 20 violations reported - basically, neighbors turning in neighbors for watering more than twice a week. Utilities has sent 3,251 enforcement letters but hasn't issued any fines for violating the restrictions.
A nine-member Utilities team is on patrol looking for water violations. A first-time violator receives a warning. A two-time offender will see a $300 charge on their water bill; $400 for three offenses; $500 for four offenses; and a customer could have service cut off for five or more offenses.
"We are not out of the woods yet in terms of the total amount of water we want to save," Vanderschuere said.
Watering restrictions will be lifted in December.