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For the week of May 9 through May 15, 2001

Cities invest in water conservation system

System available to residents, at a cost

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 office.

"Basically, if it’s raining, it won’t water your lawn," Hall said. "That will help us to be good users of our resources."

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 system.

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 Salmon rivers.

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 spring.

"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 represent "micro-climates."

"It’s going to take a summer or two, but I’m anxious to see the numbers," he said.


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