While the region was blessed with a wet winter and spring, the town of Bayfield is investing in a plan to guide the town in dry times.
“Even though we’re getting dumped on right now, it’s not going to happen every single year,” Mayor Matt Salka said.
The Bayfield Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to spend $30,000 Tuesday on a plan that Wright Water Engineers will develop, Town Manager Chris La May said. Funding for the plan is coming from a Colorado Water Conservation Board grant.
The plan will assess the town’s vulnerability to drought and the best ways to respond in a worst-case scenario, he said.
“(The town) needs to have a plan that has a longer life than the election cycle or the term of the city manager,” he said.
The exceptional drought conditions last year especially demonstrated the need for a drought plan, which is expected to be completed in the next eight to 10 months, La May said.
Bayfield relies on water from the Los Pinos Ditch, and by mid-summer, there were questions about whether there would be enough water in the ditch to fulfill the town’s water rights because the rights are subject to the state’s priority water system.
When water is scarce, more senior water users have a right to the water before the town receives it.
The town owns water rights in Vallecito that can be called on when there is not enough water available for the town to draw from the Los Pinos Ditch.
Last year, the town’s leadership was constantly debating whether it was time to purchase more expensive water rights in Vallecito Reservoir, Salka said.
The plan would help determine the criteria for investing in more expensive water rights in the future, he said.
Bayfield pays $15,663 annually to lease 90 acre feet of water in Vallecito Reservoir, La May said. However, 60 acre feet of the water is considered on standby. If the town uses the standby water, it would be converted into a different type of water right called “firm” and the cost of the water would increase permanently, La May said.
The town has also filed a case in water court to convert agricultural water rights in the Los Pinos Ditch to municipal and industrial water rights. If those rights can be converted, it would help meet the town’s needs, but those water rights would still be subject to the state’s priority system.
The drought plan could help town officials determine when to further restrict or ban residential outdoor watering, La May said.
Annual irrigation limits began May 15 in Bayfield, which limits residents to watering their yards every other day. Residents are also prohibited from watering during the day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The water restrictions are enforced through fines. Residents pay $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense.