Drought news: ‘Early in 2002, we did not realize how bad it would get’ — Stacey Chesney #codrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

No water rationing is planned in Pueblo unless drought conditions severely affect flows in the Arkansas River next summer.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works initiated outdoor watering restrictions in 2002, but then increased the amount of water to avoid rationing. The strategy paid off in 2012, a year that was nearly as dry as 2002, because Puebloans did not see rationing.

“The board has made an investment of its customers’ money to allow them to use the water when it’s dry,” said Terry Book, executive director of the water board. “If we put in restrictions, we have to cut off extraterritorial water, and it just snowballs.”

The water board’s budget also is predicated on a certain level of use. Ratepayers are seeing the
benefit of greater-­than-anticipated water use last year in lower bills in 2013. The revenue is necessary to operate, maintain and improve the water system, Book said. “We still encourage customers to use water wisely,” he added.

Pueblo water customers have reduced the amount of water used per account by about 17 percent since 2002, an earlier study showed.

The trigger for restrictions would come if Pueblo’s 1874 water right fell out of priority, as it did in 2002. Water rights are determined by court decrees that recognize when water was first put to beneficial use. Some ditch companies — notably Bessemer Ditch and the High Line Canal — have rights senior to Pueblo’s 1874 decree. Pueblo also has several senior rights, but not with large amounts of water.

Last year, the water board used some of its water in storage to meet heavy demand in late summer and early fall. However, the board still has 27,000 acre­feet in storage and expects to accumulate more during runoff. The board has cut off one-­year leases that provide supplemental agricultural water in 2013 to build up storage.

Here’s a report about the drought panel at last week’s Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

When customers’ water is about to be cut off, the first impulse might be to use even more.
The solution for one water provider: Normal or nothing. “When we told them we were about to move to the next level, people used even more water,” said Diane Johnson of the Eagle River Water Conservancy District.

She was part of a panel of water providers who shared the lessons learned from the 2002 drought at last week’s meeting of the Colorado Water Congress. Stacey Chesney of Denver Water and Russ Sands of Boulder also spoke. The drought conditions of 2002 are similar to 2012 and could continue this year. Some cities already are in or considering outside watering restrictions.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is not planning restrictions at this time. In general, the state is better prepared to deal with a short­-term drought, the panel agreed. “Early in 2002, we did not realize how bad it would get,” Chesney said. Following 2002, Denver pushed a goal of 22 percent reduction of per capita water use by 2016 and already has seen a 20 percent reduction, she said.

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