Work to boost city water supply redundancy continues

Outdoor water conservation key to city of Steamboat Springs’ plans

Suzie Romig
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
A work crew from Native Excavating installs a new raw water transmission line from an additional shallow well, which is meant to increase the capacity of the Yampa Water Treatment Plant. (Photo courtesy of Mount Werner Water District)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — City of Steamboat Springs officials know the municipality’s primary fresh water supply is increasingly at risk from potential wildfire danger in the Fish Creek watershed, so work will continue this summer to boost water supply redundancy.

The city along with Mount Werner Water District are proceeding with construction of enhanced and expanded “infiltration galleries,” or shallow wells that are filled by ground water near the Yampa River, to increase the volume of secondary water supply intake. Water collected through the Yampa well field, which is located near where Walton Creek meets the Yampa River, is piped to the nearby Yampa Water Treatment Plant

Frank Alfone, water district general manager, said the district’s work should be complete by Dec. 1 for a third shallow well and new raw water transmission line located about a quarter mile south of the district’s two existing wells. The additional well will push intake capacity for 2022 from 1.8 million gallons per day to 2.8 million.

The Yampa Water Treatment Plant, built in 1972, has about half the capacity of the primary Fish Creek Filtration Plant. The Yampa plant was updated in 2018 to be able to process more gallons per day and is used primarily to process water for the outdoor watering season from June through September, Alfone said.

Kelly Romero-Heaney, city water resources manager, said the city will open up bids in 2022 for construction of four additional Yampa River shallow wells to increase the overall intake capacity in the location to 3.5 million gallons per day, which would be available by 2023.

The secondary water intake improvements are part of the city’s updated Water Supply Master Plan, completed in 2019, and a key component of the overall supply plan is the updated Water Conservation Plan approved in May, Romero-Heaney said. The goal of the 10-year Water Conservation Plan is to reduce the amount of water used per household by 10%.

The two water managers agreed that educating and transitioning city and district water users to reduce outdoor water use is critical. In the case of a wildfire emergency in the Fish Creek watershed, outdoor watering would be curtailed.

“The more our community is accustomed to saving water, the better prepared we are if one of the water supplies gets shut off by a catastrophic wildfire,” Romero-Heaney said.

She said the city accomplished six key water conservation measures in 2020. Steamboat Springs City Council and the district adopted regulations that permanently limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. three days per week based on the last digit of a street address. The city replaced 619 feet of aging and possibly leaking water lines, fixed five water main breaks and replaced irrigated sod in front of City Hall with a low water use demonstration garden.

The city updated the water distribution infrastructure master plan to prioritize water line replacements to mitigate leaks and water loss.

In August, the city launched a Report Water Waste tool on the Water Conservation webpage. Residents are encouraged to use the tool to inform officials about such issues as watering during the warm middle section of the day or excessive water runoff. City and water district staff will use the submitted tips to educate wasteful water users.

During what is predicted to be a drought-plagued summer this year, Romero-Heaney encourages all property owners, management companies and sprinkler maintenance professionals to be certain to set sprinkler systems to run only at the allowed times now that the water conservation schedule is permanent.

Water projects for 2021

City of Steamboat Springs Water Resources Manager Kelly Romero-Heaney said the city plans to complete four water plan and conservation objectives this year.

• The city will finalize the exact design for the city’s portion of the Yampa River well field expansion project toward boosting the security of the overall water supply.

• The city will update the water tap fee and rate study to evaluate rate structures that promote water efficiency while sustainably funding the replacement of leaking water lines.

• In partnership with Mount Werner Water District and nonprofit Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, the city plans to launch a Water Conservation and Equity Education and Outreach Program, including such measures as watering education workshops and volunteer opportunities.

• The city plans to construct a 1 million gallon West Area Water Tank near the city airport to enhance system redundancy and water flow for possible fires.

“Do what you can to minimize lawn irrigation,” she said, as approximately 30% of the community’s treated water is used outdoors.

The updated conservation plan, posted on the city’s Water Conservation webpage, notes the city is actively engaged in meeting a variety of challenges to ensure a reliable water supply. Those challenges include drought, wildfire, need for more water treatment capacity, uncertainty of Colorado River Compact call, aging infrastructure, low flows in Fish Creek, growth in the west Steamboat Springs area and the uncertainty of climate change that has increased the statewide annual average temperatures by 2.5 degrees through the past 50 years.

“The sustainable management of water resources through water conservation and land use planning are critical components to maintaining a well-balanced community in a semi-arid climate,” the plan overview notes.

The plan looks to preserve the health of Fish Creek and the Yampa River and protect drinking water supplies while reducing the use of chemicals and the energy intensive carbon footprint of treating fresh water and waste water. The plan also factors in the water requirements of the estimated 400,000 to 500,000 visitors to the city each year.

Steamboat’s primary source of treated water comes from snowmelt from the 22-square-mile Fish Creek watershed. Those supplies are stored in Fish Creek and Long Lake reservoirs and treated at the Fish Creek Filtration Plant.

Questions about the water conservation plan can be emailed to

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