City Council FYI: Water — “Stay aware. But don’t panic.”
Many people in our community seem to be concerned with the water supply in Steamboat Springs, frequently citing the water restrictions we have seen for the last several years. After hearing this time and time again, I decided to dive a little deeper into the issue after hearing a presentation on water by city staff at our Steamboat Springs City Council meeting Jan. 15. I reviewed the 2011 Water Conservation Plan and spoke with city of Steamboat Water Resources Manager Kelly Romero-Heaney.
What I learned was, when it comes to water, the city is in good health. Not only does the city have sufficient water for current water demands, it also has enough raw water supply to meet the potential water demands of future developments within city limits, including the currently-proposed West Steamboat Neighborhoods annexation.
Moreover, the city also has secured rights — and continues to work on redundant supplies — that would allow the city to be secure if there happened to be a call on the Colorado Compact. This water security is due in large part to the work that city staff has done in securing water rights, finding adequate storage and planning for the future and to the city’s water conservation plan.
The watering restrictions that have people so concerned are not due to a lack of water supply in the community; rather, these restrictions are part of a water conservation plan implemented in 2011. The primary focus of an ongoing water conservation program like this is to reduce or eliminate waste and increase efficiency in how water is used community-wide. Water conservation is not only key to creating a sustainable community, it also allows us to be strategic and responsible in our use of our water, infrastructure and financial resources.
Fiscally, water conservation can slow the rate at which additional public dollars must be invested in new water supply and treatment facilities. In fact, for every gallon of water not used on a hot summer day, we could postpone investing a dollar toward a new filtration bay. This means water conservation has the potential of deferring $3 to $4 million in capital expenditures across 25 years while also reducing the growth rate of operating costs.
The following are other proven water conservation benefits.
- Using less water results in less energy consumption, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the community.
- Reductions relieve the stress of our wastewater treatment plant, reducing its rate of growth of operating and maintenance costs and pushing out the timetable for investment in the expansion of the wastewater facility.
- Customers see direct cost savings by reducing their water.
- A reduction in long-term water demand means that more water remains in our community, including our rivers, reservoirs and groundwater aquifers.
It is clear that the water conservation plan is working. Since 2011, while the population in Steamboat has grown, the overall usage of water has gone down. Considering these benefits and successes, maybe we should follow council member Robin Crossan’s suggestion and call this work a “Water Conservation Policy” rather than “restrictions” to avoid any further confusion about water supply.
But the city’s plans for water sustainability doesn’t stop there. The city, in conjunction with Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, has set a goal to continue to identify and implement strategies that promote water supply resiliency by preparing for growth, planning for drought and wildfire, planning for a Colorado River Compact Call, planning for water conservation and developing a redundant supply. All said, the city has prioritized water in our community, and I think council member Scott Ford put it best when he said, when it comes to water, “Stay aware. But don’t panic.”
Lisel Petis is a member of Steamboat Springs City Council.
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