Twin Lakes Reservoir

Water restrictions are most likely coming to the Pikes Peak area – perhaps sooner than expected.

It’s no secret we’ve gone through a couple of dry winters recently, not to mention dry springs and summers. But for gardeners and homeowners in the Pikes Peak region, it’s the dry winters that most directly affect when we are under watering restrictions. The water that comes out of our hoses is supplied by Colorado Springs Utilities, for most of us. (And for those whose water comes from elsewhere, you are very likely to be under water restrictions when the rest of us are as well.) The majority of the water that comes through the Colorado Springs Utilities water supply system comes from snowmelt from the mountains along the continental divide. So dry winters affect how much snow melts and fills the reservoirs. Dry springs and summers also affect the evaporation of water in those reservoirs.

We’ve been given strong hints to expect water restrictions in 2013, unless something miraculous happens this winter. And not only that, to expect those watering restrictions to allow watering two days per week, not the three days we became accustomed to ten years ago. In addition to limiting the days homeowners can water, the restrictions usually come with the requirement for that watering to happen before 10:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m. – a wise strategy for watering in our area even without restrictions.

Just recently, there have been whispers that we might even see water restrictions coming this summer. Why? The effort to fight the Waldo Canyon fire used phenomenal amounts of water, to the tune of 15 million gallons per day. The water came from a variety of sources, from already treated drinking-quality water from the supply system to water taken from the reservoirs before treatment. This has depleted our already lower-than-usual supply by quite a bit. It’s tough to introduce water restrictions at any time, and even harder in the middle of a growing season. So it remains to be seen if the utilities’ board pursues them for 2012.

Regardless of when the restrictions start, it is a good time for all Pikes Peak area gardeners to take a look at their plantings and how they are watering.

Drip and soaker systems usually are not affected by watering restrictions, as these can be highly efficient ways of watering already. If you’re using these already, bravo! If not, might you be able to put your containers and veggies on drip or soaker?

Look at any higher water use plants, and especially look at the turf you have….or might be planning to have. Might it be a good time to look at reducing turf areas? Perhaps an area you thought you might want to cover with turf could be planted with lower water-use ground covers or even a lower water-use native variety such as blue grama or buffalograss. Or maybe you’d like to put in a patio or other hardscape in part of that area.

Have you visited the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden that the utility company maintains at 2855 Mesa Road? (Another smaller garden can be seen at Cottonwood Creek Park – 3920 Dublin Blvd.) They also run a terrific series of free classes every year as well. See the schedule here:

Mulch! Is your mulch looking a little thin? Or perhaps (gasp!) you have areas of bare ground around your plants? Beat the rush and get mulching now. In fact, it is even a good idea to mulch your vegetable planting areas over winter (straw makes a great veggie bed mulch) to keep your soil moist and friendly for all the organisms that live in the soil and help your vegetables thrive. If you take the plunge and get some good shredded or chipped wood mulch for your ornamental beds now, be sure to give the beds a good watering first before applying the mulch. You can find lots of good mulch information on this blog (just do a search on “mulch” in our search box) and in many of Colorado State University Extension’s publications (

The one supposed water saving technique we cannot consider is using rain barrels to collect water. Water collection is still illegal in Colorado if you are connected to utilities-supplied water (and if you are not, you need to apply for a permit to collect). The facts in our past post on rainbarrels (“Rain Barrels are Still Illegal in Colorado”) still apply.

Start getting into the water restriction mindset early, and you will be in better shape to deal with them when they come.

Contributed by Carey Harrington
Certified Colorado Gardener
Colorado Native Plant Master
Colorado Springs Utilities Xeriscape Demonstration Garden Volunteer