PAWSD revises conservation, drought plan

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved revised Water Conservation and Drought Management plans last week.

While both may be subject to periodic modification, each will guide responsible community water use through 2018.

PAWSD first adopted a water conservation master plan in January 2000. In 2004, following a devastating 2002 drought, the district modified the plan to include conservation and drought management guidelines under various water supply margins.

The 2004 plan contained three primary drought management components. First, it identified five diminished supply margins as specific percentages of adequate supply, then described mandatory actions under each level. Finally, it imposed financial incentives on water users in each category, to encourage reduced consumption.

While the new 2008 Drought Management Plan does not revise the drought management sections of the 2004 plan, it does separate them from the water conservation components revised earlier this year, and adopted last week.

Further, the plan guides district operations and actions during periods of low water supply, but doesn’t address concerns under severe drought conditions. At such times, the district will likely modify the plan.

In 2007, PAWSD delivered nearly 2,200 acre-feet of water (about 717 million gallons) to consumers in two separate districts. District One is described as the original PAWSD service area west of downtown Pagosa Springs (dating back to 1977), while District Two includes the town and areas north, south and east. District Two was added to the PAWSD service area in 1992.

In District One, primary raw water resources include Four Mile Creek (through Dutton Ditch) and the San Juan River Pipeline. Most of the water in District Two comes from the West Fork of the San Juan, through the Snowball Pipeline. Once the Stevens Reservoir enlargement is done — perhaps later this year — PAWSD’s total annual supply will approximate 4,300 acre-feet of water.

To guard against drought and related water shortages like those of 2002, PAWSD must maintain a firm water supply defined as, “adequate raw water facilities incorporated with conservation measures to provide the normal water demand without mandatory restrictions, plus a one-year supply safety margin.”

If, between March 1 and Oct.1 of every year, only a percentage of a firm water supply is available, the following restrictions may be implemented:

• 90 percent or less, Voluntary Status.

• 70 percent or less, Level One restrictions.

• 50 percent or less, Level Two restrictions.

• 40 percent or less, Level Three restrictions.

• 30 percent or less, Level Four restrictions.

The actual implementation of restrictions depends on existing conditions, including anticipated runoff, or other unforeseen events causing a loss or reduction of district water supplies. As restrictions are implemented, each succeeding level adds additional constraints to those of the previous level.

Under Voluntary Status, the district frequently observes reservoir levels and all direct flow rates from raw water resources. District staff informs customers of the situation and if storage levels continue to fall, mandatory water restrictions may follow. Meanwhile, the district asks customers to observe voluntary water conservation procedures.

Voluntary procedures include watering lawns early or late in the day; letting lawns grow taller; using slower drip irrigation systems; converting to a xeriscape landscaping design; removing leaves or dirt from exterior surfaces with a broom or rake rather than water; using gray water (from bathing or washing) to water plants, trees and shrubs; washing only full loads of laundry or dishes; washing vehicles with a bucket of water or hose with a shut-off nozzle; and repairing any leaks in personal water systems.

Among other things, under Level One restrictions, all voluntary restrictions continue and watering days are alternated between even- and odd-numbered homes and businesses. Allowable times are restricted to between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. Owners may wash vehicles only on watering days, during designated watering times. Wasting water is strongly discouraged.

Level Two restrictions further limit watering days and times, while reducing the length of time turf may be watered. Watering trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables can only be done at specified times on assigned days, using a hand-held hose or low-volume non-spray irrigation system. Except for health or safety reasons, washing driveways or sidewalks is prohibited.

When conditions warrant Level Three restrictions, residents may only water trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables between 6 and 10 p.m., one day a week. Watering turf, lawns or sod is prohibited.

Level Four restrictions are the most critical. No outside watering is allowed, vehicle washing may be prohibited and, except for health or safety, any non-essential use of water is strongly discouraged.

Under all limitation levels, restaurants are asked to avoid serving water to customers, except upon request, and hotels are encouraged (or required) to limit linen changes to every four days, for guests staying more than one night.

While Voluntary Status is in force, standard monthly water rates apply. Under Level One, standard rates also apply, but a drought surcharge is added. As conditions worsen, the surcharge continues and rates increase to two, three, or four times the standard rate, depending on severity of the shortage.

When consumer use exceeds recommended levels under specific restrictions, users are subject to penalties. A first violation warrants a written warning, while a second one constitutes a $100 fine. Third and fourth violations are assessed $250 and $500 respectively, and all fines are added to the consumer’s monthly bill. Lack of payment could result in interrupted service.

For more detailed information on the PAWSD Drought Management Plan and its associated water use restrictions, visit pawsd.org and click on Conservation. Hard copies are available at the PAWSD main office located at 100 Lyn Ave.

chuck@pagosasun.com