OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sure it’s no surprise to any of you that we are in the midst of a severe drought (especially not if you’ve been reading this blog!). You may be surprised to find out that we are actually in a worse situation than we were before the 2002 growing season, the first time we had watering restrictions. But here is the scoop; we’ve had two consecutive years of severe drought and two consecutive years of low snowpack. This has left us with 1.5 years of “demand storage” in our reservoirs as of Feb 28 (and by “us,” I mean those who buy their water from Colorado Springs Utilities). The utility company likes to keep at least two years in storage, and they’re sure that if we have another summer similar to last year’s in precipitation levels and heat AND another winter with low snowpack, we will dip below one year’s storage if we don’t take action now. Hence they’re looking for all of us to use 30% less water outdoors than last year. So we will be operating under the stipulations of one of the drought stages outlined in the Water Shortage Ordinance, including water restrictions.

For those who were unable to attend the very informative drought information session offered by Colorado Springs Utilities on March 15, here is a summary of what Colorado Springs Utilities water customers can expect when it comes to watering our landscapes this growing season.

Water Shortage Ordinance (WSO) – Colorado Springs City Council approved a revised WSO in mid-March. This is a document that defines four stages of drought severity (Stage 1 being the least severe and Stage 4 being the most) and the actions that are required by our community for each. Approving this just means they’ve approved all of the definitions but have not yet decided on which stage to implement.

WSO Stage Implementation Vote – On March 26, City Council will decided to implement WSO Stage 2B, which allows residential landscape watering with overhead sprinklers two times per week (which is what most communities along the Front Range have pledged to do). Another very important part of this stage is that water waste will be prohibited! This means no pooling of water or water flowing onto hard surfaces from sprinklers. Warnings and citations will be issued for this. And finally, this stage will alter the tiered water use billing structure a bit, with the highest tier starting at over 2000 cubic feet of use (it currently starts at 2500 cubic feet) and the rates for that tier may double.

Water Restrictions Under Stage 2B – With Stage 2B  declared, here is what you can expect for your sprinklers and sprinkler systems:
When Will Restrictions Start: April 1
Number of Days You Can Water Each Week: Two (Days will be determined by your address and will be very heavily communicated)
Times You Can Water: Before 10:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m. (the month of April being an exception – watering will be allowed all day on your watering days)

What the Water Restrictions Do NOT Affect – Now, note that the above restrictions do NOT apply to hand watering and drip irrigation of non-turf areas (with the exception of those inefficient microspray emitters that are sometimes marketed for drip irrigation systems). You may water non-turf areas whenever needed with a hose-end nozzle, watering can, soaker hoses, and regular drip irrigation lines. For most of us, this is how we’ve been watering our non-turf areas for quite awhile (and if you haven’t been, now is a GREAT time to start!).

YOU CAN STILL GARDEN! Watering turf is where the majority of our outdoor residential water use goes, and so the restrictions naturally focus there. But you can certainly still garden – add new plants, keep established plants happy, water vegetable gardens (drip irrigation is highly recommended!), etc.

Resources – Colorado Springs Utilities is providing a wealth of supports to assist us all, no matter what our gardening experience. Look for the new “Water Outlook and Drought” section of their web site (visit www.csu.org and you’ll see the link there). A full schedule of free classes starts March 31 (the schedule will be posted on the CSU web site this week). And if you are signed up for online account management, you can use the new “My Usage” feature at the web site to review graphs of your water use (go to www.csu.org and click on “Residential”). And rumor has it that more rebates for more efficient irrigation equipment are in the works.

As I’m sure you’re going to soon hear many, many times – we are all in this together! Take advantage of this drought and show your neighbors that they can still have an attractive landscape with regionally and climatically appropriate plantings, even during drought. Go forth and garden!

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