In May, the US Department of Agriculture designated Delta and Montrose counties as primary disaster areas due to recent losses and damage caused by the ongoing drought.
In light of the ongoing dry conditions and the end of spring runoff, North Fork area municipalities are considering how best to address possible shortages. But it isn't this low water year that concerns them most. For now, according to public works directors in all three communities, the situation hasn't reached a critical point. While this year is a concern, it's next year that concerns them the most.
Before summer is over, however, municipalities could take measures to conserve what little water they may have available.
Paonia Town Administrator Ken Knight said the upper Lamborn Mesa Water Plant continues to spill surplus water into Minnesota Creek. As long as that continues, "The town can't reasonably declare a drought."
Paonia has yet to adopt a drought plan. While the town considers its options, the Public Works Committee is studying drought plans from surrounding towns. "The question is, at what point does the town declare an emergency?" asked Knight.
Should an emergency be declared, communities, in general, have three options, said Knight. The first is to request users to take voluntary conservation measures and cut back on use. If that fails, the second step is for the town to demand conservation measures by the public. Paonia provides treated water to town residents and to users on Lamborn Mesa, Minnesota Creek and the Mathews Lane area. Since many of the town water users get their water from different sources including wells and springs, the issue becomes one of enforcement, since it's difficult to know where the water is coming from, said Knight.
The third step is to coerce water users into cutting back through increasing rates. For example, said Knight, the town could pass a resolution charging double for usage a set number of gallons per billing cycle. With this, said Knight, comes the question of whether to exempt certain businesses, such as nursing homes and laundromats.
The town has also prioritized the need to replace the liner in the one million gallon Clock water storage tank on lower Lamborn Mesa, which is currently out of service. The floor was heavily damaged in 2015 and repairs were completed in 2016. A fall, 2017, survey by the Colorado Department of Health revealed that the lining failed, putting the tank at risk for contamination. The health department ordered the tank shut down until the lining is repaired.
If repairs go as planned, the tank should be back in operation by mid-July, said Knight.
Crawford has had a drought plan in place since 2012, said public works director Bruce Bair. If initiated, the first step is a combination of voluntary reduction in use and a cost increase.
Data on the town's source, a single spring, "is that it takes more than one bad year to impact the springs to where it really hurts," said Bair. In addition, because the aquifer that feeds the spring moves slowly, peak flows occur in fall and winter.
Hotchkiss is already drawing its potable water from storage. "This is earlier than I ever remember" relying solely on stored water, said town public works director Mike Owens, who's been with the department more than two decades. "The runoff is gone."
Hotchkiss owns water shares from Leroux Creek and other sources, which is treated at the Horse Park Water Treatment Plant. Based on their rights and number of shares, the Leroux Creek Water Users Association has assured the town it will receive its water, said Owens.
Owens said he plans to ask town council to approve water restrictions, with enforcement measures to be taken only if necessary. "Right now, it's about education," said Owens.