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Throughout the history of the American West, water issues have shown their ability to both unite and divide communities. As an imbalance between water supplies and demands grows in the region, KUNC is committed to covering the stories that emerge.

Fort Collins Mandates Water Restrictions In Response To Drought, Wildfire, Reservoir Maintenance

Horsetooth Reservoir
Nick Cote for KUNC/LightHawk
Nick Cote/Aerial support provide
Horsetooth Reservoir, seen on Sept. 12, 2018, provides about half of the city of Fort Collins' drinking water supply, with the other half coming from the Poudre River. Aerial support provided by LightHawk.

The city of Fort Collins is mandating temporary outdoor water restrictions this fall for the first time since 2013, due to a combination of drought, wildfire runoff and routine reservoir maintenance.

Starting Oct. 1, lawn watering, residential car washing and ornamental fountains will not be allowed for the city’s water customers. Other types of outdoor water use will see restrictions, like car dealerships only being allowed to wash cars immediately before their sale, and trees and gardens only watered by hand or underground drip irrigation. Street sweepers, dust control operations, outdoor swimming pools and misting devices will also be curtailed. A full list of water restrictions is included in the order.

Normally Fort Collins pulls water from both Horsetooth Reservoir and the Poudre River. But the reservoir’s outlet into the city’s Soldier Canyon water treatment plant will soon be shut off for necessary maintenance work. At the same time, the river could receive runoff from the Cameron Peak fire’s burn area. That means all of Fort Collins’s 135,000 residential and business water users might have to rely on an emergency pump station with limited capacity.

Earlier this summer the city asked water customers to voluntarily restrict their use, but with the Cameron Peak Fire still burning, city manager Darin Atteberry chose to mandate the reductions. Atteberry signed the order banning certain kinds of outdoor water use on Sept. 11.

Fines for violators range from $50 to $1,000 for residential users, and $250 to $1,000 for businesses. Mariel Miller, the city’s interim water conservation manager, said the city will be responding to formal complaints, and instructing code compliance staff to monitor for violations.

“We hope to avoid issuing fines and citations by sharing information with customers who violate the restrictions and providing warnings first,” Miller said. “We want to work together with the community to reduce our use and protect our water system.”

Similar water restrictions were put in place in spring 2013, when heavy rains over the High Park Fire’s burn scar caused high levels of sediment to show up in the Poudre River. The city also curbed outdoor water use in response to severe drought in both 2002 and 2003.

The emergency pump station that would be used if the Poudre River experiences water quality issues is only able to handle the city’s typical winter demands, which are much lower than summer demands, when outdoor irrigation ramps up. The city’s winter use is about 13 to 15 million gallons per day, while summer use can approach 40 million gallons per day.

Some outdoor watering might still occur in parts of the city, even with the restrictions. Users that rely on raw and well water are not subject to the restrictions. Those include city parks, golf courses, cemeteries, the Gardens on Spring Creek, Colorado State University, schools and some homeowner associations, according to a city press release.

The restrictions begin on Oct. 1 and could be extended through Nov. 30, while the maintenance work on the Horsetooth Reservoir outlet is underway.

This story is part of a project covering water in the western U.S. and the Colorado River basin, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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