GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - To better prepare for all water-restrictive scenarios heading into spring, Mesa County's Drought Response Information Project (DRIP) is keeping strict tabs on already dangerously low water levels found throughout the region.
"We're developing a community plan to be our foundation for announcing Stage 2 drought, which is mandatory water restrictions, in case we get to that point," said Ute Water Conservancy spokesman Joe Burtard. "If we get a really warm spring, we will lose snowpack, which acts as storage for peak demand."
According to Burtard, DRIP has built off the response plan developed after the Grand Valley's 2002 drought by identifying triggers for Stage 1 and Stage 2 drought.
"There are different triggers for each domestic water provider," he said. "With any trigger, we'll immediately goes into Stage 2."
Burtard added: "As far as water restrictions go, it really depends on when and if those triggers happen. Those are measured by in-stream flows and reservoir levels. We'll be getting close as spring approaches on a couple triggers. The irrigators are in the same boat we are in."
Stage 2 drought would implement mandatory water restrictions this summer, held in place by higher rates (how much one pays for water).
And even though rates for Stage 2 drought haven't been set yet, Burtard confirmed that rates would become "significantly more aggressive."
"Each domestic water provider is different," he noted. "Drought rates continue to be explored and discussed by domestic water providers."
Other areas within the state have already implemented mandatory water restrictions, including communities on the Front Range, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.
The Denver Post reported March 28 that "Stage 2 drought restrictions were approved Wednesday by the Denver Water board in light of low snowpack and low reservoir levels."
Plus, the Town of Mountain Village (near Telluride) is enforcing a watering schedule starting April 1, as reported in the Telluride Daily Planet March 26.
"As a whole, the entire state is in the drought, and we are all dealing with it in ways that are appropriate for our water supply or lack of water supply, and our consumers," Burtard said.
He added that Ute Water snowpack levels are currently 73 percent of average, and 2012 was Ute's fourth worst drought on record since 1966.
"Currently, Ute Water's snowpack is at 90 percent of last winter," Burtard noted. "It was so cold, people thought we had snow and that it was a good winter. In reality, the snowpack and water is worse than last year. That means we are facing two severe droughts, back to back."
Last summer, when local providers asked folks to cut back on water use by choice, "people went into panic mode and used more," Burtard said.
As that happened throughout Mesa County, irrigation-water providers were forced to restrict water use in some cases.
That said, Burtard stressed the importance of people making better decisions and leading by example in 2013 to ward off Stage 2 drought.
"The opportunities to make the changes are now, especially to outdoor-watering habits," he said. "If you're going to make changes to landscape, do it in the early season."
Judy Kirkham-Beville, a local chef with Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes, said she has developed ways to conserve water and continue gardening after living through multiple droughts in Grand Junction over the years.
"Gray water goes to the garden, which is raised and built to conserve," Kirkham-Beville said. "Divert rainwater from gutters to the garden (it is illegal to collect water in a container)."
In lean water years, she also suggests putting a deep pan in the sink to catch water if you must run the tap. Plus, shorter showers and turning the faucet off while washing one's face and brushing teeth is helpful, too.
"Use ice to cool water down to drink, and never run water to get it colder from the tap," Kirkham-Beville added. "This year, we will be converting lawns to edible gardens, and we have graveled the parking on the street side of the house. We are in the planning, tilling stage of gardens, so we'll see what else we can come up with."
Grand Junction resident Tom Hamann additionally suggested xeriscaping one's lawn to save water.
"We xeriscaped our lawn and now we don't use water outside of the house," Hamann said. "Except for parks, schools and maybe golf courses, there shouldn't be grass growing in this valley. Look at pictures of the area when the Utes still lived here. No grass. It's not supposed to grow here."