Thornton City Council recently adopted measures to help the city’s water supply in the short-term, while Westminster City Council discussed a new water supply plan for the long-term. Both cities, …
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Thornton City Council recently adopted measures to help the city’s water supply in the short-term, while Westminster City Council discussed a new water supply plan for the long-term.
Both cities, like many others in Colorado, are trying to be proactive about water usage given the current and future drought conditions as climate change intensifies. The measures Thornton City Council recently passed clamp down on water waste, while Westminster’s water supply plan prioritizes water-efficient utilities and mindful land use.
At a March 23 meeting, the Thornton council unanimously approved amendments to city codes about water usage and a new drought mitigation plan. The first major amendment limits turf irrigation to three days a week and only between 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. There are exceptions for homeowners associations and sports fields field if those organizations are meeting the city’s water-saving goals.
There are also harsher penalties for water leaks. If there is a water leak, the city will issue a home or business owner a warning and if they don’t fix it, the city will issue a violation. If someone receives a violation, they have 10 days to pay a fee. For a residential customers’ first violation, the fee could range from $100 to $400 depending on the drought stage the city has declared. The fee amounts are higher for commercial users or if a customer has previous violations. If the customer doesn’t fix the leak in 10 days, the city can shut off that person’s water.
The new drought mitigation plan contains minor, yet significant, changes from the last drought mitigation plan that the council approved in 2019. The 2019 plan outlined four drought stages, while the new plan has three stages, meaning the transition between stages is slightly less gradual. For example, the new drought stage #2 prohibits outdoor irrigation, a rule in drought stage #3 in the 2019 plan.
The new measures are immediately necessary, even though the city’s water supply is better than it was two weeks ago, explained Emily Hunt, Thornton’s deputy infrastructure director. The snowstorm on March 13 and 14 brought more than 20 inches to the Front Range, adding to the snowpack in water reservoirs. Yet, the United States Drought Monitor says Adams County is still within moderate to severe drought conditions.
Thornton’s current water supply is 68 percent of the average for this time of year. The city projects its water supply by July to be between 60 and 75 percent of the average.
Next door, Westminster is drafting a new water supply plan that is part of the overall 2040 comprehensive plan that the council will vote to adopt later this year. The current water supply plan is from 2014.
To draft the new plan, the city used computer software to produce models accounting for major variables and changes to those variables. They include variability in water supply during wet or dry weather, land-use decisions and conservation trends. Among the two variables the city has more control over, land-use decisions and conservation trends, conservation will be the most determinant, said Sarah Borgers, water resources and quality manager. Staff presented the plan to the city council at a March 15 study session.
“If we can continue on that (conservation) trend, then we can build what is shown in the current comprehensive plan land use,” Borgers said. If more people use water-efficient appliances in their homes, such as toilets and washing machines, the city will save a lot of water and as a result, won’t need to worry as much about land development
Councilor Kathryn Skulley commented on Borgers’ analysis, “There is often a lot of statements about, `If you stop developing, you save water.’ I think you made it pretty clear tonight that that’s not necessarily the correct answer.”
Max Kirschbaum, public works and utilities director, agreed but said council should “consider carefully” major deviations from the current land use plan, like approving a data processing center, for example.
If the city and its residents are mindful about water usage in the future, Westminster will be in a stable situation, Borgers explained. Multiple councilors asked about a calculation in the 2014 plan saying there would be a gap between water supply and demand when the city is fully built out. That calculation hasn’t disappeared, but Kirschbaum said this new plan will “step away from using the word `gap’ and be conscious of those variables.” He added that the new plan is based on the mindset, “Yes, we have enough water for our future, if.”
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