by Pam Zubeck
Residents fretting over their brown lawns may get a reprieve, with watering restrictions likely to loosen. Tuesday, Colorado Springs Utilities reported that water storage has improved since April, when officials worried the drought would suck too much water from the city's reservoirs.
Water official Gary Bostrom told the Colorado Springs Utilities Board that water savings is above the targeted amount due to the two-day-per-week restrictions, adding, "We are in a much better place than anticipated" on storage. Specifically, Bostrom said if the board allows three days of watering per week, reservoirs should hold 1.53 years' worth of storage at the end of the year, compared to 1.57 years' worth if the two-day restriction remains in place.
"That’s significantly better than what we thought it would be in April, as we looked at how we thought the year would shake out," he said. "We’re in a good place to get through 2013 now, and we’re really looking at 2014. The unknown is snowpack."
Rains in July have made a big impact, he said, noting the first two weeks of the month brought 2.59 inches, or 177 percent of normal.
For the year to date, however, the city has still received only 68 percent of normal precipitation.
"Fundamental to all of this, we are still in a drought," Bostrom said. "We continue to be in severe to extreme drought as of July 9.
"If we go to three days a week, we would look at 1.1 billion gallons less savings," he continued. "We would have to manage over the rest of this year and next year’s snowpack."
Utilities' recommendation stems in part from residents complaining that their lawns have been dying. Several members of the Utilities Board, comprised of City Council, also had complained. Councilor Joel Miller, who represents the northern part of the city where many neighborhoods have sprawling lawns on large lots, was the most vocal.
On Tuesday, board member Don Knight sounded cautious: "I just don't see how we can say we're out of the woods of two days a week when we're going to give away all of our ground" gained through restrictions, he said.
And board member Merv Bennett said, "We're not out of the woods. Our ratepayers have responded well to us, and it's painful. I don't think there's a perfect solution to this. I'm shocked the [Utilities] staff would come to us with a resolution like this. I'm hopeful we will support the recommendation."
Board member Andy Pico also said he was happy the city could switch to three days a week, but suggested a media campaign be undertaken to remind the public drought still threatens the city's water supply.
Utilities staff noted several factors combined to build up supply, including rainfall in other parts of the state that reduced calls on the Colorado River, a city water source. In addition, a late snowmelt allowed the city to capture more water.
Discussion was continuing as of 5:10 p.m. Wednesday. A vote is expected at Tuesday's City Council meeting.