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For the week of August 2 through 8, 2000

Hot, dry summer translates into water alert for three cities

Water officials search for water saving measures; even Elkhorn Golf Course cuts back


In Shoshone at the water master’s office, Peterson looks for help in another direction.

It’s time for "everybody to start praying real hard for rain and snow this winter, and lots of it."

Lee Peterson, Shoshone-based water master


By PETER BOLTZ
Express Staff Writer

Falling water levels have put three valley cities on alert this week.

  • In Sun Valley, "fire protection has been compromised," according to the chairman of the Sun Valley Water and Sewer District, Jim Loyd.

  • In Ketchum, city officials are asking residents to voluntarily conserve water.

  • In Bellevue, the city has no water reserves for firefighting, according to Rick Turner, the city’s water supervisor.

Sun Valley Fire Chief Jeff Carnes told a reporter the City of Sun Valley’s 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 city’s 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 Valley’s 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 didn’t 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 city’s 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 Wood’s surface water, measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), is well below a normal year’s 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 city’s 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 master’s records.

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The two major irrigators in Sun Valley are the Sun Valley and the Elkhorn golf courses, but only Elkhorn draws off the city’s 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 city’s 250,000 gallon tanks like the Elkhorn Reservoir or the High Dollar Tank in two hours.

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 company’s golf course grounds superviser, Kenny Zimmerman, the Sun Valley golf course continues to water as it usually does in a normal water year.

Carnes, the Sun Valley’s fire chief, said he would like to tell Sun Valley residents that "if they don’t do what they can to help us [to conserve water], we can’t help them."

In Shoshone at the water master’s office, Peterson looks for help in another direction.

He said it’s time for "everybody to start praying real hard for rain and snow this winter, and lots of it."

 

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