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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 Water Restrictions Working To Reduce Demands

Nick Cote for KUNC
Aerial support provided by LightHawk
Horsetooth Reservoir acts as one of the city of Fort Collins' main water sources.

Fort Collins residents are reducing their water use below a threshold needed to keep the city from experiencing a possible shortage.

Since October 1, when a set of mandatory restrictions on outdoor water use went into effect, residents and businesses have cut overall use by at least half. The city was using about 27 million gallons a day in late September. It was down to 13.5 million gallons by Friday.

City of Fort Collins
Fort Collins water use has dropped off since Oct. 1, when mandatory outdoor water restrictions went into effect. A dip in mid-September coincides with an early season snow storm.

An emergency order from city manager Darin Atteberry signed in mid-September made it illegal to irrigate residential lawns, wash cars in driveways, and run ornamental fountains for all of October, and much of November. Businesses, like car dealerships, also face restrictions on their water use.

City staff have issued 25 warnings for violations of the ordinance so far. No fines have been given, but the order lays out a range of fines from $50 to $1,000 for violations.

“Almost all of them were lawn watering without an exception permit,” said Mariel Miller, interim water conservation manager for the city. “We have not issued any citations or fines and anticipate continuing to address compliance issues with conversations and education.”

The restrictions are in response to the Horsetooth Outlet Project, which has made the city’s Soldier Canyon outlet from the reservoir inoperable for routine maintenance. The outlet sends water through the Soldier Canyon water treatment plant.

The city’s other main water source, the Poudre River, could face ashy runoff from the still active Cameron Peak Fire burning near its headwaters. If that happens the city’s entire water supply would be funneled through an emergency pump station with limited capacity. The pump can handle 15 million gallons per day.

More than 100 exemptions from the water restrictions have been approved for residents who recently installed new lawns and for athletic fields. Users of raw water to irrigate lawns are also exempt. Signs indicating those exemptions are now showing up at city parks, golf courses, and cemeteries. The Poudre School District and Colorado State University also use raw water to irrigate lawns.

“Our customers are doing an awesome job reducing their use and we’ll continue to monitor and celebrate these successes with the community,” Miller said.

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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