Senior rights, storage pay off

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“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

Remember “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” poem? Well, thankfully, we don’t have to be worried about our water supply for this summer in Westminster.

Last week, Westminster City Council concurred with staff’s recommendation to implement voluntary watering restrictions.

This means the city is asking residents to limit outdoor watering to two days a week between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 a.m. And we are not to start watering until May 1.

PRUDENT TO WAIT

You may have previously read or heard that other area public water providers had already announced their restrictions earlier this year. Denver, Aurora, Thornton, Arvada and Broomfield have already imposed mandatory water consumption measures. Westminster was prudent to wait until the middle of April to have a better handle on the snowpack and water forecasts.

March and April are our two wettest months and produce the most snowfall. Thus, these two months have an important impact on the level of snowmelt which public water providers can count on.

As of April 15, when the city council discussed this year’s water picture, snowpack levels were better than a year ago — Berthoud Summit Snotel station at 84 percent of average versus 58 percent last year, and 81 percent of average at Loveland Snotel station versus 70 percent in 2012. And these figures do not include the recent wet snowstorms we have “enjoyed” in April.

VOLUNTARY PLAN PRODUCES SAVINGS

The voluntary water restrictions assume a savings of 2,300 acre feet if it is a hot summer. It is enough water to serve 4,600 single family homes for a year.

This amount of savings without any penalties to the two days a week watering plan may be a little optimistic, but regardless the city has a safe margin of water.

In fact, the city plans to lease 500 acre feet of water to farmers, which is still decreed for agricultural use along with 200 acre feet to Hyland Hills for golf course irrigation.

Westminster has a strong water rights portfolio of senior water rights in the Clear Creek Basin and a reasonable amount of raw water storage in Standley Lake. These two key factors and a strong water conservation mentality serve the community quite well. It is commendable that Westminster’s per capita water usage is 90 percent of the 2001 water consumption.

CONSERVATION DOES WORK

As part of the water conservation picture in Westminster, it is important to point out the early implementation of a “water conservation rate structure.”

In the mid-1970s, Westminster abandoned the norm in water rate structures and imposed a tiered pricing structure whereby the more you used the higher the unit price became. This took away the previous practice used by all public water suppliers of rewarding users to waste water and not be diligent in their water “habits.”

The inverted rate structure, which is still in effect today, saved 15 percent in water consumption right from the start. This “out of the box” policy thinking has helped keep water consumption down per household and has reduced the amount of water rights that Westminster would have needed to acquire. Conservation does work!

Bill Christopher is former city manager of Westminster and represented District J on the RTD board of directors.

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