by Meg Soyars
Water usage became a major topic during August’s Town Council Meeting, winding through the evening’s discussion just as the Colorado River winds through Grand County. The topics ranged from the state of Kremmling’s water plant to recreational use of Wolford Reservoir to the county’s need for
a drought preparedness plan.
Updating Kremmling’s Water Infrastructure
At the beginning of the meeting, the Public Works Director, Jason Bock, presented on Kremmling’s water plant. “We are strictly running off toe drains from the reservoir, and the reservoir has stayed virtually full all summer,” Bock stated. He added that they are currently creating half a million gallons a day, and 80% of the town park’s irrigaton is on re-use water. “It really works well now that we have a different managing partner up on the reservoir [referring to Randy Taussig of the Grand River Ranch Homeowner’s Association]. They really understand the importance of keeping that water on the hill.” Bock added. “We’re in really good shape.”
Next, Town Manager Dan Stoltman presented a proposal the town is working on to improve their water infrastructure, using funds from the America Rescue Plan Act. The first item in the proposal is to create a water station at the Kremmling airport that would replace the hydrant. “The station will be fully automated and self-contained […] so that there is no more guesswork,” Stoltman said. This ensures no gallons will be lost when helicopters fill their buckets at the airport during ariel firefighting efforts.
The second item in the proposal is to do a complete water meter replacement in town so that the system will become fully automated. Currently, some meters are breaking or already broken, so a full restructuring of the system is much needed. “We would replace every meter in town, so there would be no more physical reads,” Stoltman said. Instead, the readings would be updated at the water plant in real time.
“Every 30 minutes, we would know if there was a leak or if pipes are starting to freeze, and we will have a much more accurate reading of the water that flows through those meters,” Stoltman said. The trustees must vote if they would like to move forward with these two water infrastructure improvements, or would rather
use funds for other projects.
Denver Water Board to manage Wolford Reservoir
The Denver Water Board Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) also gave a presentation. Alan Hassler, the Western Slope representative, explained that the CAC was formed to provide a conduit between Denver Water and the citizens that live outside the Denver area. Hassler stated that an issue most concerning to Grand County now is Denver Water’s drought response. He explained that Denver Water manages their city’s own water restrictions, but at the same time must recognize restrictions that the Western Slope faces. This way, Denver Water can work together with neighboring water entities to battle drought. He explained that Denver Water sometimes seems like the “900-pound elephant in the room [but] any chance we have to work with them is an advantage.” The CAC can help citizens on the Western Slope communicate their issues or concerns to the Denver Water Board.
Next, Hassler informed trustees of a change of hands of the management of Wolford Reservoir. For 25 years, the Colorado River District has handled the operations of Wolford Reservoir, allowing it to be used for summer and winter activities, such as boating, fishing, and snowmobiling. “One of the things Wolford has done for Grand County is create a major recreation area,” Hassler stated. But starting later this year, the management of Wolford will lie with the Denver Water Board.
“Frankly, the Denver Water Board has never been very friendly towards recreational surface contact use of its reservoirs,” he warned. “It’s part of Denver’s liability situation […] so just a heads up on that.” For example, Williams Fork Reservoir, controlled by Denver Water, does not allow snowmobiling. Hassler cautioned that the town might need to prepare for Denver Water to regulate the recreational use of Wolford once they begin controlling the reservoir.
Creating a Drought Preparedness Plan
Next, there was a presentation by Kirk Klancke, chairman of the Drought Preparedness Committee in Grand County. The committee is made up of members representing the county, towns, water districts, ranchers and agricultural interests, and environmental groups.
Unlike the swiftness of wildfire response, the county does not have a specific plan of action for dealing with drought. “Grand County
has never had consistency in the way they handle drought, so I got involved in this with the hopes of creating that consistency,” Klancke stated. Klancke is also president of the Colorado River Headwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited and has previously managed a water district.
With this experience, Klancke helped the committee formalize how it operates and create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to partner with other entities, such as the Kremmling Board of Trustees.
“There is no jurisdiction involved in this and we don’t tell anybody what to do,” Klancke said, to belie fears that the MOU may dictate how citizens use water. Rather, the MOU creates a group of stakeholders and presents a plan that the community is encouraged to follow to help mitigate the effects of drought.
Drought isn’t immediately visible to the human eye but is just as damaging as sudden natural disasters, such as wildfire. “Drought is what I call a slow-moving disaster; it’s not a hurricane that you can see coming. But it’s every bit as serious,” Klancke emphasized.
“We constantly monitor science to look at several different indicators to figure out what stage of drought we’re in,” Klancke continued. He explained that this spring, the county had 96% of normal snowpack, but it melted so quickly that the soil’s moisture content was only 50%. “We also had a good month of rain, but it doesn’t end the cycle we’re in,” he added.
Once the committee figures out the current stage of drought, they can write a plan for what the county’s reactions should be. Since June, the committee has declared the county in Stage 2 – Severe Drought. Guidelines for this type of drought are: 1) Limit outdoor watering to 1 day a week from 6pm-10am; 2) Sports fields/parks are encouraged to reduce water usage by 20%; 3) New landscape establishment is discouraged June-August; 4) Water providers may choose to use drought pricing.
The committee has made the plan flexible so each town can decide its own reaction since West Grand is in a worse state of drought than East Grand. They have also created an educational outreach branch so they can inform citizens directly.
“Having the entire county having a voice in this plan is really important […] and having as many stakeholders as we can to give their input,” Klancke emphasized. The Trout Unlimited Board and The Board of County Commissioners have already approved the MOU. Dan Stoltman was also open to accepting the MOU.
“From a town perspective, it would give us a guide […] and the fact that we don’t have to do anything with it, I don’t see any harm in signing it,” Stoltman stated. He went on to explain that having the Board of Trustees become stakeholders in the committee would not mean that the board has to force water restrictions on the public. “The enforcement has to come from the towns themselves when they decide,” Stoltman said.
The trustees decided they needed to conduct more research on the Drought Preparedness Committee’s MOU and moved to table the topic to another meeting. “I don’t see a harm in [the board] waiting; this year we are already out of the serious temperatures and this drought isn’t going anywhere,” Klancke joked.
After August’s meeting, the trustees will have a lot on the table, both with improving Kremmling’s water infrastructure, while also preparing for next year’s drought season. The next Town Council meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 15.