SAN LUIS VALLEY— This year’s dry conditions may bring to mind the multi-year drought experienced throughout the San Luis Valley starting in 2002. The sustained lack of precipitation and over-appropriated water usage caused nearby streams and water tables to shrink. Some wells even dried up.
The situation seemed dire but a Valley-wide effort— which includes farmers and ranchers paying for water and fallowing portions of their fields—has helped water usage get to a more sustainable level. The Valley’s shared aquifer has since recovered nearly 250,000 acre-feet of water.
While it’s great that the aquifer is rebounding, there’s more that can be done to help it recharge to sustainable usage levels, says Monte Vista City Manager Forrest Neuerburg.
Engineering consultant SGM was hired to help draft a water efficiency plan for the city, which includes implementing water saving strategies such as water meter testing and maintenance, time-of-day outdoor watering restrictions, efficiency incentives, a system-wide water audit and even the xeriscaping of municipal properties. The city also plans on upgrading old appliances and fixtures in municipal buildings over time (toilets, showerheads, sprinkler heads, etc.).
The city, Neuerburg said, additionally plans on seeking grant monies to fund rebates for Monte Vista residents wanting to swap out old appliances and fixtures with newer water-efficient ones. Other cities with similar rebate plans include the city of Longmont, which offers residents a $100 rebate on their utility bills for upgrading to dual flush toilets and $50 for low flow toilets. Brighton offers $125 rebates on WaterSense washing machines and $100 on toilets.
While agriculture uses about 99 percent of water that’s pumped from the aquifer, towns like Monte Vista use their fair share. It’s worth noting that the city’s annual water demand has declined by about half since the installation of water meters in the early 2000s---but from 2012 to 2016, Monte Vistans averaged 135 to 145 gallons of water used per person per day. Add to that local businesses and municipalities and Monte Vista’s daily water usage tops 169 to 182 gallons per day, translating to some six million gallons of water being pumped from the aquifer each month in Monte Vista alone.
According to the EPA statistics, the average American used between 80 to 100 gallons of water a day at home. That means Monte Vista residents use more than the national average.
Conserving water isn’t as much trouble as people might think. “Something as simple as turning off the water while brushing your teeth or shaving will save a significant amount of water,” Neuerburg said. Running the dishwasher just once a week saves nearly 320 gallons of water annually. And repairing leaky faucets, running toilets and dysfunctional hose connections can save some 180 gallons a day.
“Xeriscaping is also one easy thing people can do,” Neuerberg said, “and the cool thing about it is that you can make your yard really pretty without bluegrass.” He also suggests natural organic products like Revive, which can help your lawn absorb water more efficiently, “You just spray your lawn down with it and it helps your lawn retain water.”
Resources to help with water-saving ideas include Colorado Native Plant Society, Colorado Water Wise, Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Smart Colorado, which offers some rebates for water-saving products on home-improvement projects.
The Monte Vista Water Efficiency plan can be viewed at cityofmontevista.com for public comment.