ALAMOSA — After being reminded of the necessity to conserve water, the Alamosa city council on Wednesday approved an ordinance amendment specifying water-wasting activities that are prohibited in the city.
City ordinance already prohibited water wasting, but the ordinance did not detail what that meant. The ordinance passed on Wednesday outlines the types of activities prohibited as water wasting. These include watering more than three days a week, watering during the day (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), watering during rainy or windy weather, allowing water to run on pavement, sidewalks and driveways, using water to wash areas instead of a broom or mop, allowing water to pool, not fixing leaks in a timely fashion and washing cars with a hose without a shut-off valve.
The city council had earlier passed a resolution enacting voluntary water restrictions (odd numbered addresses watering on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and even numbered addresses on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays with no watering on Mondays.)
Two residents spoke during the public hearing for the water-wasting ordinance amendment. Business owner Ruthie Brown was concerned about delineating specific days for watering because some people might not have sprinkler systems or might be out of town on their watering days, so they might need to water at a different time.
Brown also said she washes down the sidewalk by her business to wash off the urine, dog messes and other things. “I like my sidewalks clean,” she said.
She recommended more educational efforts as well as incentives like rebates for reduced water consumption to help people use water more wisely.
Brown also discouraged making the water restrictions mandatory because the city does not have the manpower to enforce them, and police have more important things to do, she said.
Resident Don Thompson said the incentive for those who use less water is a smaller water bill. He said he uses 1,000 gallons a month. “There are ways to save water,” he added.
He supported the water-wasting ordinance amendment and said he hoped if people knew what constituted water wasting, hopefully they would stop doing it.
Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley said the way the ordinance would be policed would be if people report abuses. She said she believed neighborhood peer pressure would help reduce abuse as well. She added that a lot of this was just using common sense.
Councilor Kristina Daniel clarified that the ordinance amendment Wednesday was to define what wasting water meant. The city already passed the voluntary water restrictions resolution, she added.
Councilman David Broyles said he believed education was a better tactic than enforcement and that voluntary was better than mandatory. “I think people will come around,” he said.
Councilman Jan Vigil said, “I personally think this is a huge deal.” He pointed to information shared earlier in the meeting about the drought conditions, and added, “I think there needs to be a huge emphasis on education … not just a flyer in their water bill.”
He added that he believed the city should be serious about enforcing water-wasting prohibitions.
Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said this is just part of the city’s and the Water Smarts Committee’s efforts around water conservation. She said education would occur on the web site, in flyers with the water bill and possibly some incentives. She added that the code enforcement officers are busy with many other duties including nuisance, weeds and other violations, but if the council wants this to be a priority, it needs to give the staff that direction.
Councilor Charles Griego said he liked the idea of recognizing people in a positive way for conserving water, such as rebates or other incentives.
Earlier in the June 6th meeting Griego introduced guest Heather Dutton to speak about the dire water conditions of the San Luis Valley. Griego serves on the board for the SLV Water Conservancy District for which Dutton is the manager. She shared a snowpack graph that compared average snowpack levels to past years, the current year and drought years. Last year was a good water year. However, this year’s low snowpack too closely mirrors the historic drought year of 2002, she pointed out.
Dutton also pointed out that in an average year the gauge at Del Norte will measure about 600,000 acre feet of flow on the Rio Grande, but this year only about half of that, or about 320,000 acre feet, is predicted. “It’s pretty dry,” she said.
She said because everyone from agricultural to recreational users to municipal users depends on water, it is important to encourage everyone to find ways to conserve it. She said her district has and is working with other partners to educate the people through various means such as newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, Facebook posts and posters.
The district is distributing posters asking everyone to “Help Save Water!” with the simple message that the Valley is a desert with limited water supplies and regardless of the weather or aquifer levels, water should be treated as a precious resource.
Councilman Vigil asked Dutton what the precipitation forecast looked like, and she said the forecast predicts continued dry weather for the next couple of months but hopefully some moisture after that.
Vigil also asked Dutton about measures farmers in the Valley had taken to reduce water consumption. Dutton explained that some well water rules have been in place for some time and new well regulations are pending to require replacement of well water that is pumped. Those irrigating with larger capacity wells must augment that well usage somehow, she explained, either through their own augmentation plan or a joint plan through water management sub-districts. The other alternative is to quit using the well, she added.
She said many farmers have decided to address their water usage impacts collectively by taxing themselves and providing incentives for conservation. She added that the state developed a model that shows the farmers what their pumping impacts are to the aquifer and what they need to replace.
Griego said the city has taken steps to conserve water and has set up a Water Smarts group. Brooks said she has asked Dutton to be a part of that group.
Mayor Ty Coleman asked Dutton for talking points the council could use with community members. Dutton said the largest water usage in the community is landscaping, and residents need to be reminded this is a high mountain desert. They could be encouraged to use more native plants or plants that consume less water, for example, to conserve and reduce water usage. People can be thoughtful about the plants they choose to grow, she added.