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Bayfield adopts plan to manage conservation during drought

Town outlines increased fines for periods of extreme drought
The town of Bayfield’s new drought plan will guide decisions around water in dry years. In recent years, the town has debated purchasing more expensive water rights in Vallecito Reservoir to help meet the town’s needs. The new document will help guide those decisions. (Durango Herald file)

Bayfield has adopted the town’s first official drought management plan, creating a system of conservation restrictions and fines that would take effect during drought periods.

The board of trustees unanimously approved the drought plan during a board meeting Tuesday. The plan defines drought conditions and designates the corresponding response. In the most extreme drought conditions, the response will include strict conservation measures and increased fines.

No residents commented about the plan during the meeting, but several called Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington to express concerns about the fines, she said.

“Residents are just like, ‘Are you serious about these fines?’ They’ve always been there, but we’ve never really enforced them,” Tarkington said. “We do mean business. If we get that concerned about our water situation, we will go there.”

The plan outlines three drought phases: sustainable conservation, serious drought and extreme drought based on local conditions and water use.

Under sustainable conservation, the town restricts when households can use irrigation water. The restrictions include fines of $50 for the first offense, and $100 or $500 for second and third offenses.

During serious drought, the town helps high water users decrease use, discourages water-intensive landscape changes and initiates public awareness efforts. The same fines apply.

During an extreme drought, like 2002, all outside irrigation is reduced and all daytime irrigation is prohibited. Fines jump to $100 for a first offense and $200 or $500 for second and third offenses.

“There are concerns. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in that extreme drought situation,” Tarkington said. “The big thing is, if we get there, we’re going to stand true to those penalties and fines.”

During six of the last 20 years, Southwest Colorado has found itself in a serious or extreme drought, according to criteria outlined by the plan.

Seven times over the last 20 years, Bayfield’s water allotment from the Los Pinos River has been restricted or cut off to ensure entities with more senior water rights could get their full allotment.

The town has water stored in Vallecito Reservoir, but increasing its use of the standby supply would lead to increased water bills for users.

The drought plan is meant to help town officials manage drought years like this one without increasing the water bill for residents, said Katie Sickles, town manager, in a previous interview.

Bayfield is experiencing extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which uses different criteria than the town’s drought plan. The town board has not declared drought conditions and is keeping an eye on the issue, Tarkington said.

“I thought (the plan) was very well-written,” Tarkington said. “I think it’s the first time that I truly understand the dire situation we could go into.”


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