The Craig City Council is recommending residents make some common sense, voluntary water conservation efforts despite assurances from the city's staff that Craig is in a good position to withstand the drought without them.
"We are in really good shape," City Manager Jim Ferree said. "The city has made some really good moves in the past. I don't see us having to institute any water rationing or conservation at this point."
But in the face of the worst drought the state has seen in a century, council members said the city should do all it can to preserve the natural resource.
"Any water we don't use wastefully benefits someone down river," Mayor Dave DeRose said.
Ferree presented the city's first-ever water conservation plan to the council at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The plan calls for the city to institute voluntary conservation efforts once it begins to release its stores from Elkhead Reservoir. Efforts will be voluntary for the first 500 acre feet of water released Phase I.
Phase II mandatory lawn water restrictions would go into effect when the city releases more than 500 acre feet of water from the reservoir.
"We'll have to play with this and watch how good our voluntary conservation is," Ferree said.
Once the city releases more than 1,000 acre feet of water 60 percent of the city's total active reserves in the reservoir, stricter mandatory restrictions will be put in place that limit outdoor use of water to twice a week.
When 1,500 acre-feet of the city's storage has been released from Elkhead Reservoir, the city will ban all outdoor watering. Violations of the restrictions outlined in Phases II, III and IV will incur a fine of $15
The city of Craig uses 6 million gallons of water a day during peak usage in the summer months and 1 million gallons per day during the winter. That shows what can be saved by banning, or even restricting, outdoor use, Ferree said.
The conservation plan was created at the request of council members, some of whom have received daily calls asking about the state of the city's reserves.
The city owns six water rights on the Yampa River, two of which are very senior rights the second and third rights to the river. The city also owns 1,668 acre-feet of water in Elkhead Reservoir and 3,000 acre feet in the reservoir's "dead pool" water below the release point that must be obtained using a pump.
An acre foot is equal to 300,000 gallons of water.
Ferree said a release of water would be initiated when the city begins having problems pulling water from the river at its intake structure.
Public works director Bill Earley said the city should begin a release only after it has made a call on the river and claimed its rights to the water there.
"We'll try to exercise our senior rights before we release," Earley said.
Putting a call on the river means those with junior water rights would lose all use, and that decision is a political one.
"Nobody wants to see a call on the river," Ferree said, "but at what point do you give up your cushion?"
Councilor Bill Johnston asked that the numbers used to define the level of water restrictions be more conservative.
"Why do we wait so long to do mandatory conservation?" he asked. "Are we implementing mandatory conservation too late?"
According to Ferree, the city has enough water storage in Elkhead to last a year.
"My assumption is we'd never get there," he said.
The availability of the dead pool is why the city can wait so long, Earley said.
According to Ferree, the plan would still go into effect if the city did a voluntary release of its stores in Elkhead. If they responded, for example, to another entity's request that water be released to aid fish populations.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission and its partners own the remainder of water in Elkhead Reservoir. They initiated a release of 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) July 13, but reduced their release to about 20 cfs days later. They plan to stop the release today.
They also released 25 cfs from their reserves in Stagecoach Reservoir on Monday as a test on the release to see if the water reaches the Craig Station Power Plant and how long that would take, according to Tri-State representative Tim Driver.
It takes 21 hours for water from Elkhead to reach the Craig Station. It takes four days to come from Stagecoach Reservoir and it is estimated Tri-State gets only 20 percent of what was released, Driver said.
Tri-State owns 11,000 acre feet of storage in Stagecoach Reservoir.
"It occurs to me that if we're releasing from Elkhead Reservoir, the city doesn't have to worry because you're upstream," Driver told council members.
He suggested the city and county meet to discuss water issues and the possibility of doing joint releases from Elkhead.
"It would be prudent for us to collaborate on any of these releases," he said.
The council plans to hold a workshop on water issues, and invite representatives from Tri-State and a water attorney to discuss how a call on the Yampa River works and what its impact is on irrigators.
The council is recommending that residents take some of the steps outlined in Phase I of the conservation plan.
In other business, the council:
Approved a request for a variance of the side yard setback for a storage building in the Davis Gardens Subdivision. Ted Wheeler is making the request.
Approved the final plat of the Willow Creek Cove Subdivision from Don Christensen.
Approved 6-1 Ocean Pearl's application for a hotel and restaurant liquor license. Councilor Kent Nielson voted in the minority saying the city had enough establishments that served alcohol
Re-appointed Sid Arola to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Awarded a bid for $45,400 to paint the interior of the Sandrock water storage tank.
Awarded a bid of $5,495 from Rocky Mountain Hotsy, a local vendor, to purchase a pressure washer for the solid waste department.
Considered an ordinance amending the off-street parking requirements of the Craig Municipal Code that requires sidewalks be placed along private access streets by the developer of a property. A private access street is a developed street that is paved, curbed and guttered, which provides primary or secondary access to a development in business, commercial, light industrial and high density residential zone districts. Most council members didn't favor the ordinance as written. It will be redrafted and submitted again. Councilor Tom Gilchrist said he applauded the efforts of the planning department to improve sidewalks in the community.