In the works: water-use restrictions

The cities of Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland are considering new restrictions on water use in response to a drought expected to last at least through summer.

One city has positioned itself perhaps better than most for drought, but it’s not located in Northern Colorado.

The city of Aurora once relied on water from the city of Denver. In the 1940s, Denver decided to stop delivering water to Aurora, which was then forced to begin finding its own water supplies.

“Aurora came into the water game late,” Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker said. “We have to go further and look harder to find water.”

“Everything we own has very junior rights, which means that we’re, frankly, the last ones to take the water as it comes,” he explained.

Aurora’s position led the city to adopt a number of conservation measures.

In 2010, the city built the more than $650-million Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility, a state-of-the-art recycling system that can treat 50 million gallons of water daily. It recaptures water from the South Platte River downstream of the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s plant and purifies it using intense ultraviolet rays that destroy impurities.

“We’re the only utility right now that does that in Colorado,” Baker said.

The city also offers residents and businesses rebates for xeriscaped property and installing water-efficient toilets, as well as irrigation rebates. Furthermore, Aurora restricts water use throughout the year, allowing watering only three days a week from May 1 through Sept. 30. Residents can decide when they want to water, except between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The city’s water conservation measures have won it praise from environmentalists, who believe utilities could do more to help conserve water.

“Every water provider can improve upon their water efficiency program,” said Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates in Boulder. “The better they are at their long-term water efficiency planning, the more prepared they are for drought and the easier it will be for their customers to make it through the drought.”

Cities already are considering restrictions ahead of April, when the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District sets quotas for how much water cities can take.

In Fort Collins, City Manager Darin Atteberry has the authority to enact water restrictions, though the City Council reviewed the matter earlier this week. The city’s two main sources of water, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and Poudre River, likely will yield less water this year because of the drought as well as High Park Fire destruction.

The city is considering Level 1 water restrictions, which allows watering only two days per week and on a schedule. The restrictions bar watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and prohibit watering of surfaces such as sidewalks and patios except as necessary for health and safety. The last time the city enacted water restrictions was a decade ago.

Greeley has had water restrictions in place since 1907. It normally only allows watering just three days per week, and no watering between noon and 5 p.m. The city will decide whether to enact tighter drought restrictions in April, when Northern Water issues its quotas, said Jon Monson, director of Water and Sewer.

Greeley, like the city of Fort Collins, is concerned that it may have to curb its consumption of Poudre River water because of debris-filled runoff during spring, he added.

City of Loveland officials also are discussing water restrictions, said Gretchen Stanford, customer relations manager for the city’s utility. But like Greeley, Loveland is waiting for Northern Water to make a move.

However, Loveland considers itself well-positioned for tight water supplies this year, considering it receives water from Green Ridge Glade Reservoir in addition to the Colorado-Big Thompson project, Stanford said. But next year could pose a problem if the drought wears on.

“If we have the same exact summer as we had last year, we would be concerned about 2014,” she said.

And despite its water conservation efforts, Aurora likely will go forward with its own tighter water restrictions in April, a month earlier than usual, Baker said. It will allow watering only two days per week and on a set schedule.

“We’re concerned about this year,” Baker said. And, “We’re concerned that over the past decade we have seen warmer, drier weather starting much earlier and our runoff beginning and ending much earlier.”

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