GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The last big drought year in Colorado 11 years ago was a big wake up call for municipalities across the state in terms of looking at ways to control water use, including Glenwood Springs.
It was after the super dry summer of 2002 - the same year the Coal Seam Fire burned through West Glenwood destroying several homes - that the city developed an official drought management plan.
"That year was a big eye-opener for a lot of us," said Jerry Wade, manager of Glenwood Springs' Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant.
As a result, the city adopted a plan outlining various levels of both voluntary and mandatory water use restrictions, depending on the severity of drought during a given year.
The plan outlines the types of restrictions that are necessary for mild, moderate and severe droughts. The target is to reduce water usage between 10 percent and 50 percent, depending on the severity.
With the exception of public education efforts to encourage water conservation in general, and the city's own efforts to limit water use on parks and other public areas, the more restrictive measures have not been needed since the plan was adopted, Wade said.
Even when the current drought began last year, the city was able to make it through the summer months without enforcing water restrictions, he said.
But that could change this year, as the second straight year of below-normal snowpack coupled with low reservoir storage on the Western Slope, could very well lead to restrictions on municipal water use.
"We did pretty well last year with a proactive approach when it came to city water use," Wade said. "A lot of that was focused on the parks department, and making sure we weren't wasting water ourselves.
"We've always taken the approach that it's best to clean our own back yard first," he said.
The coming spring and summer months "definitely has the potential" to trigger outdoor watering restrictions and other conservation measures outlined in the plan, Wade said.
"We can't predict what's going to happen this early in the season," he said. "But we will be monitoring the stream flows and other indicators to help us make those kinds of decisions.
"At least we do have a plan in place that we can utilize if we need to," Wade said.
Under the city's management plan, "mild" drought conditions target a 10 percent reduction. In that case, it calls for mostly voluntary measures including a public education campaign about how to reduce water use.
"Moderate" drought conditions call for a 30 percent reduction in water use, including limiting outdoor water use to certain days or specified hours. City water department personnel or police officers would monitor outdoor water use and issue warnings whenever necessary.
Other restrictions could include limiting use of water for washing cars and requiring leak surveys for high volume users. The city would also publish and distribute a "water waste reduction" brochure.
If drought conditions are deemed to be "severe," the plan calls for a 50 percent reduction in city water use. In addition to the restrictions outlined for mild and moderate drought conditions, measures could also include:
• Emergency water rate increases to provide a financial incentive for cutting back on water use.
• A moratorium on new water and sewer taps.
• Eliminate the serving of water in restaurants, except on request.
• Requiring minimum flow plumbing fixtures in hotels and motels and city facilities, such as the community center.
• Requiring higher temperature settings on water-cooled air-conditioning systems.
• Even stricter outdoor water use restrictions, including a possible ban on outdoor water use, except for subsistence irrigation of trees and shrubs.
Wade said that some changes to the city's water delivery system have already been made to prevent water waste in the first place, before imposing restrictions.
A new water metering system in Glenwood Springs, for instance, alerts the city if a particular user all of sudden has an unusual increase in water usage.
"That can tell us if there might be a leaky toilet or a leak in their irrigation system," Wade said. "It's been a really good tool for us, so we can let people know if there might be a problem."