Colorado Springs is following the lead of Denver and other Front Range cities that have instituted permanent water restrictions amid mounting concerns about future water shortages.
Under the new rules, residents and businesses that use sprinklers and other irrigation systems to water lawns and gardens may only do so three times a week. From May 1 to Oct. 15, landscape watering must take place before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
The restrictions, which won final approval from the City Council on Thursday and will take effect Jan. 1, make exceptions for recently planted vegetation and turf grass on sports fields.
Residents may still water gardens or potted plants more than three times a week if they are using a handheld hose with a nozzle, a watering can or other handheld container or a low pressure, low volume “drip irrigation” system, such as a bubbler, drip emitter, in-line tubing or soaker hose.
“We do know that if you plant the right plants, three days a week is an adequate amount of days for folks to water in Colorado Springs,” City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said Thursday before voting in favor of the rule changes. “I really want us to be proactively working toward that goal.”
Colorado Springs Utilities has for years recommended that its customers follow these parameters. In some dry periods since the early 2000s, the city has required them.
Meanwhile, municipalities including Denver and Fort Collins have mandated that residents and businesses abide by similar restrictions at all times.
“Right now, we’re playing catch up,” Gaebler said. “Considering we get up to 70% of our water from the Western Slope and the Colorado River, we do need to be leaders in this area.”
Utilities is competing with tens of millions of people in Colorado and six other Western states who also depend on the Colorado River Basin’s water supply. And as the Pikes Peak region’s population increases, so does the demand for the dwindling resource in the arid high desert of Colorado’s Front Range and plains.
A study released this year by Boulder-based Hydros Consulting found that the Front Range could lose as much as 97% of its Colorado River water if the state can’t meet its legal requirements for supplying water to downstream states. Adding to that uncertainty is climate change, which experts predict will lead to more frequent and severe droughts.
Other water providers in El Paso County are mainly dependent on dwindling groundwater and are facing more pressure to find reliable water sources — ones replenished regularly by precipitation — rather than deep aquifers that are slow to recharge.
Countywide, the water supply needs to increase by more than a third over the next 40 years to avert a shortage, according to the county’s water master plan. The current supply is about 146,000 acre-feet per year, but demand is expected to increase to about 206,000 acre-feet per year by 2060, according to the document.
An acre foot of water is equivalent to roughly 326,000 gallons; 2 acre-feet are enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.
Utilities expects the permanent restrictions will save up to 1,000 acre-feet of water annually over the next 50 years. That would account for about a tenth of the agency’s long-term water conservation goals, said Pat Wells, Utilities’ general manager of water resources and demand management.
“Every drop of water that we save now can help us with our future supply. So that’s realty what’s driving this change,” said Utilities spokeswoman Natalie Eckhart.
Those who break Utilities new Water-Wise Rules will be subject to a range of penalties. First-time violators will be issued a written warning, and any subsequent violations within a year will result in Utilities adding an additional $100 charge to that customers’ water bill.
Water customers can apply for a permit if they must break the rules to establish new grass or plants. They can seek a water allocation plan, as well, if they need more flexibility.
The rules will also prohibit residents from using water to clean sidewalks, driveways and patios, “except when cleaning with water is necessary for public health or safety reasons or when other cleaning methods are impractical or inappropriate.” Utilities customers will be barred from allowing water that’s meant for irrigation to pool on paved surfaces or accumulate in gutters and drains.
The regulations also advises against watering landscapes during high wind or precipitation events and recommend that hoses with nozzles be used to wash vehicles and that restaurants refrain from serving drinking water unless a patron requests it.
In addition to instituting permanent restrictions, the City Council also updated its three-tiered water restriction system. Stage I emergency restrictions, which mirror the rules that are to become permanent, will be replaced with irrigation restrictions for nonpotable water users, which account for a small fraction of Utilities customers.
Council members Don Knight and Andy Pico voted against passing new regulations on second reading.
Pico said he is opposed to the changes because there will be little difference between the permanent restrictions and the Stage I emergency restrictions.
“I think we have one of the best conservation programs in the state. I wouldn’t put us up second-best to anybody,” Pico told his fellow council members Thursday.
Knight said after the meeting that he agreed with Pico’s concerns.