Last October, city staff participated in two half-day workshops presented by Western Water Assessment, a research-based program of the University of Colorado that addresses the effect that changes in climate are having, particularly related to water.
The presentation focused on drought and possible impacts on the water supply. As a result , a Water Committee, composed of staff and city board members, has met regularly to develop a plan to address possible water shortages and to plan for the future. The Committee believes that by making small changes now, the city will be more resilient and better prepared for what may come, and, as required by the state, staff has also updated the city’s Water Conservation Plan and submitted it to the state.
One focus of committee discussions has been the importance of reaching out to the community to raise awareness and provide information so that each citizen understands the seriousness of our current situation and what we can each do to help. The first step is posting the executive summary of the brainstorming sessions led by Western Water Assessment, along with the full report on the city’s website. Both will be available soon at www.cityofcortez.com.
The city has also invited the climate specialist who met with us in October to address a pubic forum, and everyone is encouraged to attend. It will be held in City Council chambers on April 11 at 5:30 p.m. Circle the date on your calendars now, and plan to attend; invite your family and neighbors as well.
Recently I was sent an article about a water issue that residents in Paonia faced. Leaks in their water system, along with the drought, resulted in a shut-off of water to much of the town, followed by a boil order until the system could be flushed. Nothing drives home the importance of water until it is no longer conveniently available, and Paonia’s situation reinforced for me again how precious this resource is and the importance of conservation.
Conservation has been an area of focus for the committee as well. In the near future, the city will be releasing a schedule of xeriscaping workshops and demonstration beds throughout Cortez, to highlight grasses, shrubs and trees that are drought-tolerant. Xeriscaping does not mean no landscaping, but rather choosing plant materials that will provide shade and curb appeal while at the same time conserving water in our landscaping so that it will be available for other uses.
Conservation tips and information on city rebate programs to install water-wise fixtures will be provided. The city is also considering how it might offer water audits to residents along with an app that residents might use to track their water usage if they so desire.
There is no life without water, and quality of life can be greatly impacted by the amount of water at our disposal. The past year’s drought certainly drove this home, and while this winter has brought some relief, the picture may not be as rosy as one might think. Lake Mead is still dangerously low and although Lake Powell and McPhee Reservoir levels have improved, snow pack run-off may not be what might be expected because the severe drought of 2018 has left moisture-thirsty soil that could substantially reduce run-off.
Unlike other parts of the United States, the Southwest has always been an arid region, but even through the eyes of an untrained observer, I can see that Montezuma County is significantly drier than when I arrived at Mesa Verde National Park in 1975. We had significant amounts of snow back then, but over the years the winters have grown milder; the summers, hotter with less precipitation. Many of us – and I include myself – have taken the water that is so readily available at the turn of a faucet for granted. Being more self-aware of how much water we are using and how we are using it is the first step to becoming more responsible water consumers.
Many things are easy and don’t require sacrifice, just a change in habits. The less water we waste, the more will be available for other uses. We’re all in this together, so stay tuned to learn the many ways the city will be partner with citizens to make Cortez a more water-conscious community.
Karen Sheek is the mayor of Cortez, a position elected by Council members. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or during her office hours from 12:30-1:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.