The drought hits home
April starts order limiting outdoor watering to 2 days a week, setting surcharge for higher use

       Pointing to a “continued drought” here and around the nation, Colorado Springs Utilities has gained City Council approval for landscape-watering restrictions that will start April 1.
       The new rules state that the city is in a Stage II, Level B shortage, which limits the days businesses or residences can spray-water outside (drip-watering is allowed any time).
       Utilities is not dictating how much water is allowed, but is doubling the surcharge for residential households that use 2,000 cubic feet or more in a month. For non-residential, the surcharge is more complicated. Utilities plans to set individual “thresholds,” where applicable (based on 2012 usage), then double the rate if that's exceeded.
       According to Utilities CEO Jerry Forte, the drought this year and (predicted) into 2014 will be “worse than 2002” (the last time Utilities took such action). The restrictions then continued part way into 2005, a Utilities graphic shows.
       “We haven't seen anything like this on the hydrologic record,” Forte told council.
       The Utilities goal is to use 30 percent less water than in the 2012 “irrigation season” (April to October). “Achieving this will help rebuild Colorado Springs' water supply, which could take several years to accomplish,” the Utilities website states.
       As a result of the restrictions, Utilities expects a “revenue shortfall of $16 million” (from reduced water sales to its ratepayers), plus “a cost for drought response of $6 million,” Forte's document states.
       The residential spray-watering days are:
  • Even-numbered addresses - Sundays and Wednesdays.
  • Odd-numbered addresses - Tuesdays and Saturdays.
           The allowed times, at least from May 1 to Oct. 1, are 6 p.m. to 10 a.m., the ordinance states.
           An exception to the restrictions will be properties affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire, council decided at its meeting March 26.
           Anyone who believes the limited number of days are too restrictive on them individually can apply to Utilities for an “alternative management plan.”
           A feature of the ordinance is its enforcement arm. Under Stage II, the ordinance states that a “first observed violation” will bring a written warning, with any future violation resulting in a $500 fine.
           This aspect bothered City Councilmember Angela Dougan, who suggested that instead of “patrolling the streets,” a more neighborly approach would be to monitor people's water bills and to give a friendly call to anyone showing excessive amounts of water use.
           She also did not see a rationale for limiting the number of days people can water when they'll get a surcharge for exceeding 2,000 cubic feet a month, anyway.
           However, the majority of City Council did not side with her on either of those points.
           Some information presented by Utilities representatives at the council meeting March 26:
  • July is the month when the most water is used.
  • 75 percent of residential customers use less than 2,000 cubic feet a month.
  • 82 percent of non-residential customers shouldn't have to pay the double-cost surcharge.
  • The snowpack is currently 52 to 64 percent of average in the city's watersheds.
  • The ordinance states three potential levels under Stage II. Level A would allow three days a week of watering, while Level C would allow only one.
  • If a Stage 1 shortage were declared, all usage restrictions would be voluntary.
  • If Utilities ever decides to move to a Stage III shortage, there would be a ban on watering lawns, while in a Stage IV the only outside watering allowed would be existing trees and shrubs once a month.

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