Water use hits new record

A sizzling summer sees less electricity, gas usage

As summer comes to a close and the sweltering heat of July fades to memory, demand on the Craig Water Plant is waning. While the operators at the plant may get a breather after producing record amounts of water, other utilities look forward to winter to pull them out of summer slumps.

The city of Craig Water Plant's monthly production for July hit a record level of 129 million gallons.

Winter numbers are considerably lower.

In January, the plant produced 33 million gallons of water, according to Mark Sollenberger, assistant water operations director.

Sollenberger said July's heat wave was responsible for the record numbers, which just eclipsed the July 2002 total of 127 million gallons.

The machinery at the plant runs nearly 24 hours a day during these peak production times, Sollenberger said.

The plant's rated production capacity is about seven million gallons per day, but Sollenberger said that's a theoretical number under ideal conditions.

Bob Nelson, a water plant operator, said he's seen the plant produce as much as 6.4 million gallons per day. Those times, Nelson said, can be nerve wracking for operators closely monitoring the machinery running at near capacity.

Depending on spring precipitation, water demand begins to pick up in May or June. Typically, that demand reaches about 60 million gallons per day. However, in May 2002, in the midst of a very dry spring, the plant produced about 90 million gallons, Sollenberger said.

Demand for water closely follows precipitation trends. The plant will almost immediately see decreased demand for water following a heavy rain.

"After the wet weather we had last week, we saw production go down," Sollenberger said.

While operators at the water plant toil under increased summer demand, other utilities see it as the down time in their annual cycle.

Yampa Valley Electric Association designs their system based on peak usage in winter.

"We have a large heating load and a very low air-conditioning load," said Jim Chappell, manager of consumer accounts.

Although much of the decreased load is because of inactivity of ski mountain operations, Chappell said even home consumers use less electricity in the summer.

A 22-year average of electricity usage indicates residential customers expend about 1,414 kilowatt hours in January but only 539 kilowatt hours in July. The number bottoms out in August and September at 524 kilowatt hours.

Craig's natural gas supplier, Atmos Energy, also encounters less demand in the summer, according to spokeswoman Karen Wilkes.

Wilkes said although gas water heaters and stoves still are in use in the summer, the lack of a need to run furnaces contributes to the drastic declines in gas sales.

On a typical day in July, the company sells about 89 percent less natural gas than on an average January day.

During this slow time when wholesale natural gas prices drop, Wilkes said Atmos looks ahead to winter. The company tries to stock up, holding about 50 percent of the gas it anticipates it will need for the winter.

This is one of the strategies the company uses to keep rates low for its customers.

Despite the company's efforts, Wilkes said, natural gas prices around the nation continue to rise with demand increasing and supply remaining constant.

In October, Atmos will announce new rates that will become effective Nov. 1 for Craig customers. Wilkes said the company is contemplating a 10 to 15 percent increase in rates for natural gas customers.

Wilkes stressed that this is a presumptive number, subject to change by many factors.

"It's hard to predict, and we won't know until all the numbers are together," Wilkes said. "It's all about supply and demand."

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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