Cities invest in water conservation system
System available to residents, at a cost
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
In preparation for the dry summer ahead and in an effort
to conserve water in general, Ketchum and Sun Valley city leaders have
chipped in for a new water conservation tool.
"Anything we can do on the conservation scheme can
certainly help us all," Ketchum City Councilman Randy Hall said.
This winter, Sun Valley and Ketchum teamed up with Webb
Landscaping, investing $5,000 each, to help purchase a weather station
that will be part of a computerized irrigation regulation system. Ketchum
water managers are inventorying city properties, including parks, to
determine where the system would be most appropriately used, Hall said.
The system will be available to upper Wood River Valley
residents who own automatic sprinkler systems, at a fairly hefty price,
beginning sometime this month.
The system, called MAXICOM, brought record water savings
to several Western cities when it was implemented, according to
information distributed by MAXICOM’s manufacturer, Rain Bird.
Homeowners interested in participating must purchase a
control module from Webb that would be placed at the water user’s
property. The module would be connected via modem to a central computer at
Webb’s Ketchum office.
The weather station, when completed sometime this week,
will feed temperatures, precipitation and winds to the computer at Webb’s
"Basically, if it’s raining, it won’t water your
lawn," Hall said. "That will help us to be good users of our
Rain Bird account manager David Ferron said during an
informal Friday meeting at Webb’s office that the system monitors
weather, soil moisture, irrigation flows and system errors.
If an irrigation system develops a leak, if soils are
saturated, if it’s raining or if it’s windy, MAXICOM will
automatically turn irrigation off.
"It saves water because of the weather, and it saves
water because of its ability to detect breaks in the system," Ferron
said. "Some golf courses have saved over 50 percent [of their
previous water use], because they were not doing a very good job."
Ferron said most irrigators experience between 15 percent
and 50 percent reductions in their water use once tapped into the MAXICOM
Webb Landscaping owner Doug Webb pointed out that most of
his irrigation system customers have a tendency to overwater their
landscaping. MAXICOM will help avoid that common error.
For an indication of just how much water goes to feed
landscaping in the valley, consider that Ketchum residents as a whole
typically use about 1.5 million gallons of water each day during winter.
In the summer, that number jumps to over 6 million gallons a day, Ketchum
water superintendent Steve Hansen said.
Sun Valley’s summer water use approaches 8 million
gallons a day, Sun Valley Water and Sewer District manager Jack Brown
said. About 800,000 gallons of Sun Valley’s summer water are used to
water Elkhorn Resort’s golf course.
Even so, water managers agreed, the Wood River Valley uses
less than 2 percent of the Big Wood River water supply. The majority of
the water is consumed downstream to irrigate cash crops like potatoes,
sugar beats and alfalfa.
There’s no question that implementation of the MAXICOM
system locally is timely.
Just last week, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne declared Blaine
County and five other south-Idaho counties drought emergency areas.
This March and April, Galena Summit received 4.5 inches of
precipitation. The typical March and April bring 5.1 inches of
precipitation to the high mountains at the headwaters of the Big Wood and
But the majority of this year’s water crunch was created
by lack of substantial winter snows.
The Big Wood River basin’s snowpack, the Natural
Resources Conservation Service reported Monday, dropped from near 50
percent of average a month ago to 33 percent of average for May 7.
And that’s been the dry story for most of the winter and
"Really our fear is the availability of water. Right
now the aquifer is where we were at the end of May last year," said
Brown. "August is a real concern. We might have some trouble."
Last summer, Brown struggled with low water pressure,
particularly in the Elkhorn area of Sun Valley. Water demand outpaced the
city’s ability to recharge its reservoirs. Showers slowed to trickles in
areas, he said.
"The more people we get on board with this, we will
probably see a change in water demands," Hansen said.
If the system works this summer, Hansen added, several
more weather stations could be installed throughout the valley to better
"It’s going to take a summer or two, but I’m
anxious to see the numbers," he said.