Sun Valley Fire Chief Jeff Carnes told a reporter the City
of Sun Valleys water shortage was so severe that he is "afraid of all the
countryside burning up and the homes in it."
Conditions in neighboring Ketchum, according to Water Superviser Steve
Hansen, are better. But he and City Administrator Jim Jaquet said in interviews they
recommend water users go to odd/even watering days now, on a voluntary basis as a matter
of "common sense and good practice."
Turner, of Bellevue, said that one of the citys two wells, the
"Chestnut" well, is not running because the pump is broken, not because of a
water level problem. But, as Turner said, "if we lose the other well,
"Chantrelle," it will not look good."
On July 25, Sun Valley city hall and the Sun Valley Water and Sewer
District sent out a press release asking "everyone to begin an odd-even water usage
plan for landscape irrigation purposes."
Also on July 25, Carnes released a statement warning residents that a
combination of no rainfall, drying hot winds, hot temperatures and water supply problems
has led to "a recipe for [a fire] disaster."
In an interview on Friday, Fire Chief Carnes said this year he saw in July
the dry conditions he usually sees after the first freeze in September and October. He was
referring to brush in open areas and the trees and shrubbery in landscaped areas.
In an interview last Thursday, Jack Brown, general manager of Sun
Valleys Water and Sewer District, told the Mountain Express that Sun Valley
was facing a couple of problems with its water system.
The first problem, he said, is peak demand when many people water their
lawns. This is the time, between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m., considered to be the most efficient
period to irrigate lawns, golf courses, soccer fields and other open areas because there
is no sun and wind to keep water from soaking into the soil.
Because irrigation demand is great, water goes out of the reservoir
storage tanks faster than pumps can refill them during peak demand. This, according to
Carnes, means firefighters could run out of water if they have a fire.
Carnes said that it is "not unusual to go through a million gallons
of water" to fight a 10 hour blaze. This would include wetting down the area around
the burning building.
Even if the fire department didnt wet down the surrounding area of a
burning building, he said, it would still take a large volume of water just to extinguish
the building. As an example, he said it would take about 700,000 gallons of water to
extinguish the Elkhorn Hotel if all of it were on fire.
At present, Brown said, Sun Valley has two of its reservoirs, the
"Sage Willow" tank and the "Skyline" tank, held in reserve. Together
they hold 300,000 gallons.
The Ketchum water system, on the other hand, has nearly 2 million gallons
in reserve for fire, according to Jaquet, the city administrator. The citys six
wells, according to water supervisor Hansen, have been keeping up with peak use.
Furthermore, Ketchum could help Sun Valley in case of an emergency, because their water
systems are joined by two lines, according to Hansen.
The second problem for the Sun Valley district is that the underground
water that Sun Valley draws from along the Big Wood River is apparently dropping.
Brown, the Sun Valley water district manager, told the Mountain Express
that one of the four pumps it has along the river, Well No. 11, is "sucking
air." What this means, he said, is that the water level is dipping below the bottom
of the well.
On Monday morning, Brown reported that the water level for Well No. 11 had
dropped three feet from its level before the weekend. Brown said the well should be
producing 2,000 gallons per minute (gpm), but it has been running at 538 gpm.
And it is not just the underground water level which is dropping.
According to the water master for district 37 and 37M in Shoshone, Lee
Peterson, the Big Woods surface water, measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), is
well below a normal years level. Norma Peterson, the secretary and treasurer of the
district, said 1999 can be considered a normal year.
Water flow for the Big Wood is measured by the water master at the Croy
Street Bridge in Hailey. On July 27, 2000, the flow was 216 cfs. In 1999 on the same day,
the cfs was 513.
Even though the Sun Valley Water and Sewer Board, the agency that governs
the citys water and sewer district, has said the city is suffering "extreme
drought conditions," water flow for the Big Wood is still better than it was in the
record bad year of 1994.
On July 27 of that year, the cfs was 89, according to the water
The two major irrigators in Sun Valley are the Sun Valley and the Elkhorn
golf courses, but only Elkhorn draws off the citys water system.
The Sun Valley course, owned by the Sun Valley Co., owns the 1881 water
rights to Trail Creek, which means it can "just about" dry up the creek,
according to water official Brown.
He said the Elkhorn course, however, is capable of emptying one of the
citys 250,000 gallon tanks like the Elkhorn Reservoir or the High Dollar Tank in two
But, he added, the golf course has voluntarily cut its usage 27 percent,
and in addition has gone to watering on an even/odd day schedule.
According to the Sun Valley Co. director of marketing and public
relations, Jack Sibbach, and the companys golf course grounds superviser, Kenny
Zimmerman, the Sun Valley golf course continues to water as it usually does in a normal
Carnes, the Sun Valleys fire chief, said he would like to tell Sun
Valley residents that "if they dont do what they can to help us [to conserve
water], we cant help them."
In Shoshone at the water masters office, Peterson looks for help in
He said its time for "everybody to start praying real hard for
rain and snow this winter, and lots of it."