Marcia Martin: City must protect water resources
January 31, 2019
Councilwoman Petis wisely touts the benefits of water conservation in her Jan. 28 column in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. However, a close reading of the 2011 Water Conservation Plan, which she refers to, reveals issues that no practicable amount of conservation can mitigate.
The plan was developed because, "limited raw water resources and treatment facilities dictate the need to live within certain limits related to both natural resource carrying capacity and existing infrastructure."
The Fish Creek Basin contributes approximately 75 percent of the city's water. The remainder comes from Yampa River well fields. These sources are adequate to meet current needs and future development.
Unfortunately, adequacy of supply is only part of the picture. Both sources are southeast of the city, leaving the supply vulnerable. The 2009 water and wastewater master plan updates recognized this: "The single source of treated water supply from the Fish Creek/Yampa supply systems represents a significant shortcoming, leaving the west city area vulnerable in the event of an emergency main break, required maintenance/replacement and forest fire in the water shed."
The 2011 plan acknowledged the need to develop another source: "… it is a priority to explore water supply opportunities in the Elk River Basin." This would create a redundant, looped city water supply that could provide approximately 3,000 acre feet of water yearly for West Steamboat fire protection and future development. Additionally, it would provide increased security to the city should current water sources become compromised.
Petis states that, "the city has secured rights — and continues to work on redundant supplies." Redundant supplies and facilities must be in place before any annexation takes place.
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Another part of the picture is the current drought and the possibility that it is the new norm. A goal of the 2011 plan was to “prepare the community for responding effectively to a drought or other water emergency…." On Tuesday, the AP reported that several states have agreed to a plan for the Colorado River which recognizes "a long running drought [and] the dwindling supply of water…." The 2011 plan states, "…it is possible that the Steamboat area could experience a drought more severe than has ever been recorded, and it could stress the water supply system…."
Ensuring the health and safety of residents is the paramount responsibility of city government. The city must be proactive in developing and ensuring our community's water resources for generations to come before considering granting water service outside current city boundaries.