Editors note: This is part three of a four-part series about the state of the Animas River today.
By Lynda Edwards
Herald Staff Writer
Durango’s 2011 Water Efficiency Management Plan said that to avert possible shortages, Durango must decide by 2015 whether to raise water rates and impose conservation measures.
The most shocking fact in the plan is that more than 20 percent of Durango’s water supply is unbilled and unaccounted for because of misplaced meters or unmetered buildings. The plan recommends infrastructure improvement like waterline replacements, meter replacements and new storage to curtail some loss.
Seven such projects were planned during the coming decade at a total cost of $14 million. The plan said the projects could be downsized if Durangoans reduce water demand.
Early in its 58 pages, the plan poses a major dilemma: It is hard for Durango residents to feel water conservation is urgent when the Animas and Florida rivers are rushing nearby. And it’s true the city’s current system could serve as many as 49,279 residents – more than double Durango’s current population.
But what the math cannot show is how quickly climate change, drought in nearby counties, a severe wildfire or some major contamination could stress that supply.
The plan urges Durango to consider expanding an existing ordinance that restricts some new developments from planting high-water-use trees and plants not grown for human consumption. It also requires low-water-use plants on certain slopes and water-efficient irrigation. The study asks Durangoans to consider expanding and enactingthese restrictions across the city.
The plan also suggests adopting a “green building” ordinance for all new development. The plan does not mention what the ordinance would say.
Sandra Henderson of Project BudBurst, a program that recruits local residents to help document climate change, said: “Doing nothing about environmental problems creates stress. Doing something is empowering. Durangoans can take their city’s future into their own hands.”
The Durango Botanical Society, with a garden behind the public library, is trying to demonstrate that low-water plants can still be beautiful. When it is done, it will be a teaching tool for Durangoans who love flowers but want to conserve water.
Durango landscaping consultant Eve Gilmore said: “Sure, some low water plants look like weeds. But I promise you, there are bright, colorful plants with blossoms that need very little water.”
Conservation also is being examined in agriculture with the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducting experiments in Fort Collins on four common Colorado crops: corn, sunflowers, pinto beans and wheat. Researchers want to know exactly how many drops of water per acre are needed for each crop. The goal is to determine the least amount of water farmers can use without compromising their yield.