Feeling hot, hot, hot | CraigDailyPress.com

Feeling hot, hot, hot

Summer weather has arrived in Craig, a step ahead of the season itself

A youngster sits beside the pool Tuesday in the heat of the afternoon in Craig.
Sheli Steele / Craig Press

It’s that time of year again when this Saturday’s forecasted high of 88 feels like a reprieve.

While the season doesn’t officially start until Sunday, the reality is setting in already: Summer is upon us in Craig.

The Weather Channel’s 10-day prediction doesn’t quite touch triple digits — though surely that’s ahead — but it does expect highs to butt up against the century mark this week, with no forecast hotter than Wednesday’s high of 97 degrees.

While early summer highs don’t necessarily portend a hot season, the ongoing historic-level drought and general climate trends make that seem likely — and mean a great deal for the utilities upon which the region relies to stay cool and hydrated.

“Right now, running in this dry spell, the demand is on us,” said Craig’s water and wastewater director Mark Sollenberger Tuesday by phone.

Providing water in drought conditions

Sollenberger is responsible for the department that delivers water to the city. He’s not panicking, but he’s keeping his eye on the skies.

“We’re making about 4.5 million gallons a day,” Sollenberger said. “In the winter months, it can be less than a million a day. Our annual average, over 365 days, is 1.7, 1.8 million. But the summer months — July is historically the hottest, and we do over 100 million in that one month, and June can be bad too if it’s dry like it is now. June, July, August are the big production months, and this fits in with a dry June.”

Sollenberger said that between the city’s reasonably senior water rights on the Yampa River and its roughly 4,400 acre feet stored in the Elkhead Reservoir, Craig is well outfitted for even a blistering season like the one it feels like is approaching. But the low-precipitation winter, not to mention the ongoing, years-long trend, doesn’t make it easy.

“We have drought contingency plans,” Sollenberger said “Everybody does. If it got bad — we’ve had calls on the river two of the last three years — if we get into a pushing match with the folks on the river, we’d have to implement that drought contingency plan where we curtail water users to a certain amount, restrict watering lawns, those things. I haven’t seen it done in a long time, but this could be one of those years.”

Sollenberger described the river levels as “OK,” but said the Yampa was lower than a typical June.

“Elkhead Reservoir and the creek going into it are almost down to nothing already,” he said. “Everything’s unusual this year for flows. And it could be sooner than i’d like. I usually rely on the summer months’ good production to get revenue, but if we have to curtail usage, that’s what has to happen. We’ll see — the river’s running OK, but it could change.”

Sollenberger wasn’t making predictions, noting things could shift with a positive change in the weather.

“I hear a cooling trend’s coming this weekend and maybe some moisture,” he said. “I’ve seen it snow in June, so nothing surprises me. If we can get a wet spell and take some pressure off, that’s why I don’t jump the gun.”

That said, the pressure’s on at the moment.

“It was a normal May, about 60 million gallons produced, but midway through June, the flows are lower than normal at this point,” Sollenberger said.

Sollenberger said an average June sees between 80 and 100 million gallons of water produced for his customers. This year, it’s sure to hit the high side.

“I’m a little concerned on levels, and I have a feeling if it doesn’t change soon and we don’t get some moisture, we’ll get a call on the river from the state,” he said. “Might be sooner than last year. It’s always a concern.”

An electric season

The water department isn’t the only one responsible for keeping folks comfortable in the hot months. That also falls on the electric company.

In Craig, that’s Yampa Valley Electric Association, or YVEA, which is proud to report it’s invested heavily in ensuring it can handle a hot spell like this one.

“One of Yampa Valley Electric Association’s main focuses is to work on our grid and ensure it is operating at an optimum level,” wrote YVEA spokeswoman Carly Davidson in an email. “We have committed $10 million to infrastructure improvements for the years 2020-2024. This goes beyond the day-to-day maintenance of our infrastructure and focuses on the larger projects that will continue to bring safe and reliable electricity at an affordable prices to our membership.”

Davidson said the biggest concern for YVEA during the summer is on behalf of the company’s customers and the high bills that come from added customer usage.

“We work with our members to assist them with any high bill concerns during these warming months and to offer tips on how to be more efficient with their usage,” Davidson said. “We do not have as many high bill concerns during the summer as we do during the winter, be we recognize as heatwaves like the one we’re experiencing happen more frequently, we sill start addressing more high bill concerns during the summer as well.”

Davidson pointed to the association’s Energy Hero program as part of the company’s efforts to help customers out in this respect.

“Our July tip involves best practices for keeping your house cool without breaking the bank,” she said.

Members with high bill concerns can reach out to Member Services at 970-879-1190, Davidson said.

“There are a few things members can do to ensure systems run smoothly,” she said. “The first is to assist us with keeping rights-of-ways clear. If you notice a tree or anything that may be too close to our lines and may cause service disruption, please contact dispatch at 970-879-1160 so we can come out to evaluate the potential hazard. Please do not attempt to clear anything without contacting us first — your safety is paramount to us.

“The second is to work on being more efficient with how you are cooling your home.”

Davidson noted the recommended temperature setting from the U.S. Department of Energy is 78 degrees while home.

Outages do happen, and that’s a bigger problem in time of extreme temperatures.

Davidson said first to call dispatch, then check breakers, should an outage occur at a member residence. YVEA also offers text message alerts, which can be set up through their SmartHub account. An outage center is also online at yvea.com/outage-center.

“As with any time of year, we recommend having a good outage kit in place in any home,” she said. “These kits can include flashlights with working batteries, nonperishable food, water storage containers and water.”

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