Conserve water now, Riverton residents told

May 18, 2012 By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Riverton residents are being asked to conserve water as the city of Riverton adopted a drought management plan at a Riverton City Council meeting Thursday.

The conservation measures are voluntary for the time being.

The emergency meeting was called to discuss the possible future drought conditions due to a historically low snowpack in the Wind River Basin.

Public services director Bill Urbigkit said the city is not quite in crisis mode, but plans need to be made now for water conservation if current water trends continue into the summer.

"It is the middle of May and we are already struggling," Urbigkit said. "We have had to do water conservation before, but it has been in the middle of July."

Green level

The drought water management plan has four different color stages in the event of drought conditions, depending on severity.

The green level indicates adequate water is available in the Wind River for delivery to the city's water treatment plant. Customers and city facilities are allowed to consume water as they see fit or needed.

Yellow level

Level yellow means water supplies are tenuous in the Wind River, and water restrictions are imminent. Everyone is encouraged to conserve water voluntarily, and irrigation users are encouraged to reduce consumption by a minimum of 10 percent. City facilities reduce water consumption for irrigation purposes by 15-20 percent.

Brown level

At the brown level, water restrictions are put in place on the Wind River. Daytime watering is banned, and irrigation ditches are placed in a rotation. Water consumption for irrigation purposes on city facilities is reduced to a total of 30 percent. A drought tier in the water rates doubling the consumption rate for any use in excess of 20,000 gallons per month is put into effect by vote of city council members.

Water rates from the bulk water station would be doubled, and access to water from fire hydrants will be banned.

Anyone caught stealing water would face theft of services prosecutions for accessing water from fire hydrants.

Black level

The most severe conditions, level black, means water restrictions are in place, and the measured water levels in the Wind River aquifer have dropped by more than 5 percent. Irrigation ditches are shut off and outside watering is banned.

'A difficult year'

Urbigkit said the obvious hope is the city doesn't come to the point of being in the black level but hopes everyone will understand the seriousness of putting a plan into action now before it is too late.

"This is going to be a difficult year," Urbigkit said. "Hopefully it will rain, but it is so hot and dry... people are watering a lot because their lawns need the water, but people need to cut back on their watering cycles."

Urbigkit said the city will lead by example and has stopped the amount of water use on city facilities.

"It isn't fair to ask everyone to cut back on their water usage when we have lush green parks all around the city that we are watering on a regular basis," Urbigkit said.

Councilwoman Diana Mahoney has heard from several farmers in the area about how their fields are drying out pretty fast.

"I think it is only fair for the city to conserve our water usage while our farmer friends are facing some real problems," Mahoney said.

Urbigkit said residents are still OK to get commercial car washes due to car washes utilizing high-pressure, low-volume systems that use less water than washing a vehicle at home with a garden hose.

"I think a lot of people think car washes are a bad thing (for water), but we would actually encourage everyone to cut down on washing their cars at home because it uses more water," Urbigkit said. "The car wash fundraisers using a garden hose by local organizations might have to be discouraged because those use a lot of water."

Water and wells

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen asked how much 20,000 gallons of water equated to.

Urbigkit said a typical family of four goes through about 6,000 gallons of water per month.

"We are talking about a lot of water with 20,000 gallons," Urbigkit said.

Councilman Richard Gard wanted to know if the city wells were completely shut off during the summer.

Urbigkit said they are not shut off completely because the airport is not provided water from the water treatment plant.

"We want to try to use the wells as little as possible, because if the river runs out of water and then we have no water in the wells then we are definitely out of water and that would be terrible," Urbigkit said.

Council members voted to approve the drought management plan by placing the city in the yellow category.

"We are thankfully not in an emergency situation at this point but we hope everyone will begin limiting their water usage," Urbigkit said. "We are going to have a tough road ahead and we need to start preparing for it now."

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