Consultants managed by the Ruedi Water and Power Authority have begun work on a regional water efficiency plan that could save 347 acre-feet of water a year and result in more water flowing through local rivers.

“Part of the regional goal is to see if municipal water conservation might help us to put some more water into these reaches of streams that are getting de-watered at certain times of the year,” said Peter Mayer, an engineer with Water Demand Management in Boulder, one of two consultants on the project.

The regional plan will be based on new or updated efficiency plans created with the five major water providers in the watershed: the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs; the towns of Basalt and Carbondale; and the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District in Snowmass Village.

The efficiency plan is being funded with a $93,500 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), $31,000 from the five water utilities, and $30,000 in in-kind contributions from the water providers, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, and the Community Office for Resource Efficiency.

A CWCB memo notes that “the plan is estimated to save 347 acre-feet annually once implemented” and that the effort could “improve watershed health.”

Stretches of the Roaring Fork River through Aspen, and the Crystal River above Carbondale, regularly flow at levels below those found necessary by CWCB “to protect the environment to a reasonable degree.”

Mark Fuller, the executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, who is managing the project, said during a recent presentation on the plan that “water conservation will ultimately have a beneficial effect on the availability of water for us, and the availability of water for stream flow.”

Fuller also said the regional efficiency study would give the Roaring Fork Valley some moral high ground in the broader debate of potential new water diversions under the Continental Divide.

“If we are going to make demands of the Front Range that they increase their water savings, we need to set an example for them and do the same thing here,” he said.

The steps in the efficiency plan are to first profile the five water supply systems in the valley and study their past and future demands. Then a list of water efficiency measures will be developed for each town, including short-term projects and long-term goals.

Once that is done for each entity, a coordinated regional plan can be written. And that’s rare when it comes to water planning, according to Beorn Courtney, the director of water resources engineering for Headwaters Corp. in Denver, and the lead consultant on the efficiency plan.

“To do it on a regional scale, to look at the watershed, to look at mutual goals and benefits and capitalize on those, that is really unique,” Courtney said.

Courtney, speaking at the same presentation as Fuller, said she uses the terms “water efficiency” and “water conservation” interchangeably when talking about saving water.

But her colleague, Mayer, noted that “some people have a problem with the word ‘conservation.’ Some people feel that ‘conservation’ means ‘deprivation.’ So there’s been a movement to the word ‘efficiency.’”

Either way, Mayer said, “you are doing the same job, but using less water.”

Courtney said there can be several aspects to water conservation. It can be fundamental, such as repairing leaky pipes. It could be an emergency plan for a severe drought. Or it could be a consistent communications program to encourage less consumption on an everyday basis.

The grant proposal for the local efficiency plan already has shed some light on local water use.

It showed, for example, that the five big water providers in the Roaring Fork Valley used 7,675 acre-feet of water in 2012.

And collectively across their systems, residential use accounted for 64 percent of their water consumption, while commercial properties used 28 percent of the water, and irrigation 8 percent.

The water providers primarily serve urban areas and the figures do not include water use outside of their respective water-service areas.

Of the five water providers in the valley, the city of Aspen uses, or sells, the most water, according to a chart listing “total annual retail water sales” for each entity.

In 2012, Aspen sold, or used 2,813 acre-feet of water, or 917 million gallons of water.

Glenwood Springs, at the other end of the valley, used 2,192 acre-feet, or 714 million gallons.

Snowmass used 1,500 acre-feet, or 490 million gallons of water, while Carbondale used 914 acre-feet, or 298 million gallons.

Basalt, the smallest town of the five, used 432 acre-feet, or 141 million gallons, in 2012.

“Each community is a little different,” said Mayer. “Some are dominated by residential demands and others have much more commercial or industrial demands. And those two different types of customers may require a different type of planning approach.”
Where does the water come from?

Aspen got almost all of its water — 2,700 acre-feet — from Castle and Maroon creeks in 2012. And Aspen got another 113 acre-feet from three wells, described in the grant proposal as the “Rio Grande,” Post Office” and “Little Nell” wells.

Snowmass got all of its water — 1,504 acre-feet — from East Snowmass and Snowmass creeks.

Basalt used 358 acre-feet of water from two springs, “Basalt” and “Luchsinger,” and used 189 acre-feet from the “School,” “Wiley” and PW Shop” wells.

Carbondale used 633 acre-feet from Nettle Creek in 2012, and 585 acre-feet from the “Roaring Fork” and “Crystal River” wells.

Glenwood Springs that same year used 2,192 acre-feet of water from Grizzly and No Name creeks, which drain into the Colorado River upstream of downtown Glenwood.

All of the local water providers already have some level of water efficiency measures in place or planned.

For example, Snowmass Water and Sanitation is in the midst of a $366,000 upgrade to its residential water metering system.

The district is installing automatic-read meters, which will help it monitor leaks, make it possible to send monthly — not quarterly — bills, let customers monitor water use in real-time, and make it easier to work with heavy water users.

A draft of the water efficiency plan is to be turned into the CWCB for approval in October, and public comment is a required part of the process.

Once the plan is approved by the CWCB, local water providers can then ask the agency for a loan or a grant for an efficiency project.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...