Water conservation measures not sought yet

Craig won't be joining a number of Colorado cities in asking residents for voluntary or mandatory water conservation measures anytime soon.

At this point, there's no need, City Manager Jim Ferree said.

Craig City Council member Bill Johnston, in response to the state's growing list of towns enacting water conservation strategies, has approached Ferree to suggest the city consider what its resources are and at what point officials should ask residents to conserve those resources.

"I'm not suggesting we immediately get into water conservation efforts," Johnston said. "I don't want 'the sky is falling' approach. We should have a phased in approach. When the river flow diminishes, so should our use."

Officials say the city doesn't have a formal water conservation plan and has not, in anyone's memory, had need for one.

Craig not only has rights to the Yampa River, it has enough storage in Elkhead Reservoir to meet peak demand 6 million gallons a day for up to three months, according to city Public Works Director Bill Earley.

With that kind of reserve, he said he sees no need for the city to invoke water conservation strategies.

Johnston said he wants the city to create a plan that is based on water flow of the Yampa River. When the water flow falls to a certain level, voluntary conservation efforts would be requested. As it continues to fall, certain mandatory restrictions would be put in place, which would get stricter as the flow decreases.

"My problem is that when our reserves are gone, they're gone. Then what do we do?" he asked. "We should always have a plan in place and it should be based on river flows. When we release from Elkhead, we are tapping into our reserves and we should have stringent water restrictions in place by then."

The city has never had to release water from Elkhead Reservoir for municipal use.

Earley said he doesn't see Elkhead Reservoir as part of the city's water reserves, he sees it as part of the city's water system and thinks there is enough water to provide to city residents without restrictions.

The city of Craig has the rights to 1,668 acre feet of water in Elkhead. Tri-State Generation and Transmission owns the rights to 8,753 acre feet. An acre foot is equal to 300,000 gallons of water.

Despite historically low snowpack levels, the reservoir was filled to capacity this year and flowed over the spillway for several weeks.

Ferree said he believes conservation efforts should begin when or if the city has to release water from Elkhead, but he doesn't see that happening this year.

"The Yampa River is flowing almost as much as the Colorado River below

Glenwood Springs," he said. "We're in good shape."

According to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site, the Yampa River is flowing at 3,130 cubic feet per second (CFS). Where it runs outside of Glenwood Springs, the Colorado River's water flow is 3,640 CFS.

One CFS equals 600,000 gallons of water.

The Web site is tracking water flows daily.

According to city Water/Wastewater Department Supervisor Joe Theaman, on peak operating days, the city pulls between 10 and 14 CFS from the river.

To meet minimum requirements, it pulls 1 CFS from the river.

"We're at the headwater of the Yampa River and we do have Elkhead as a large reserve," Theaman said. "So, we're not in any real trouble at this time."

Theaman said, if necessary, the first step in water conservation would be to shut down water use by entities such as the school district, fairgrounds, cemetery and parks department.

"That will cut off a whole lot of water use right off the top," he said.

But it's a step that shouldn't be necessary, Theaman said.

"Because we've got what we've got and we're located where we're located, we're OK. I wouldn't project any really big problem," he said.

There are entities down river that hold senior water rights to the Yampa, and the city would be required to reduce its intake should they approach the water commissioner because they aren't getting their share.

But that's not likely, Ferree said, considering the current water flow in the Yampa River.

"That doesn't effect us at this point," Ferree said. "Unless the river dried up. Then we're in a whole different ball game. At that point is when I would really see us doing some alternate watering days."

A majority of water is used outdoors watering lawns, filling pools.

In the summer, peak usage is 6 million gallons a day. In the winter, it drops to 1 million.

The city's lack of water conservation efforts won't negatively impact users down river, Ferree said.

"We have very small impact," he said. "Our draw of about 10 CFS has minimal impact."

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