Friday, July 8, 2011

Hailey water use still trending down

But June consumption up over last year

Express Staff Writer

Hailey officials are reporting that summer water use is down since meters were installed and irrigation restrictions were adopted. Express photo by Katherine Wutz

The city of Hailey relies on a spring in Indian Creek Ranches northeast of town for most of its winter water supply. During the summer months, four municipal wells get kicked into gear with electrical pumps to satisfy the need for irrigation water.

The city's water needs have traditionally increased four-fold during summer months, but that number has dropped since 2008, the year the city began using water meters and enforcing odd/even day watering restrictions.

In 2007, total water use in Hailey was 909 million gallons. About 571 million gallons originated from springs and 338 million was pumped from the wells.

In July of 2007, city residents consumed about 170 million gallons of water. After reading their water bills the next year, residents cut back on July consumption to an average of 74 million gallons for the next three years.

"It costs more to use more water. That's the way it works," said Hailey Public Works Director Tom Hellen.

Hellen said consumption for June of this year increased over last year, from 65 million gallons to about 78 million gallons. He attributed the increase to an unusually wet spring in 2010.

"It stayed wet all through June last year," Hellen said.

Hailey ordinance requires residents with even-numbered street addresses to water only on even-numbered days of the month. Odd-numbered addresses can water on odd days of the month. There is no watering on the 31st of any month.

Residents can only water from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. These night-time watering hours result in less evaporation and better soaking of the ground.

The city implemented a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy for water-use violations two years ago. After two warnings, a third violation results in a shut-off notice and a $100 penalty.

Hellen said police issue 200-300 water-use violations per summer, with only a few going to the third violation.

Hellen said the city faces some challenges in the future under "conjunctive management," which the city is expecting to be instituted within a few years by the Idaho Department of Water Resources. Conjunctive administration means managing groundwater and surface-water rights together, under the state's Comprehensive Aquifer Planning and Management Program.

Currently, water rights on surface water—in the Big Wood River and other above-ground streams—are administered and enforced by the state water master, who works for the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Groundwater—water below the surface pumped by wells—is not currently managed by the state, even though it can affect general water supplies.

Under conjunctive management, "consumptive uses" from wells could be curtailed in favor of older surface water rights.

"We don't expect this to happen any time soon," said Hellen, who advises residents to consider water consumption when making landscaping choices.

"Don't plant Kentucky bluegrass," he said. "Native and drought-tolerant [plant] species use much less water. Aspens also use a lot of water."

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