What’s a supplier to do/working with what you have
Presentation to Colorado Water Professionals - 2003
IHWD Background information
The Indian Hills Water District is a small water provider located in the foothills southwest of Denver. The District has been in existence since the 1930’s. It began as summer only water system and converted to a year round system in the 1970’s. There are approximately 1000 homes in the area of which 360 are currently connected to the water distribution system. The remainder of the homes in the valley, as well as some of the homes on the water system, have their own private wells. Not all of these properties that own a tap are connected to the system and some are only connected for a part of the year. There are currently 9 taps available for sale to reach the maximum amount of taps currently allowed in our augmentation plan, which is 400.
There is not a community sanitation district, all homes have individual septic systems.
The District’s water sources consist of seven active wells that vary in depth from 9 feet to 300 feet. All but two of the water sources are located within the Indian Hills Valley and two others are located adjacent to Turkey Creek.
Water Storage is provided by above ground tanks that can hold as much as 400,000 gallons of finished water. About 250,000 of this storage has been added in the last 10 years. Prior to that, the District had to occasionally purchase and haul water during the driest periods of late summer.
The source of recharge water for Indian Hills is snowmelt and rainfall. Indian Hills has a small seasonal stream that runs through the valley. This stream begins to flow in early spring, and often stops flowing sometime in June or July. Turkey Creek, which runs along Highway 285 and past (not through) Indian Hills, will flow most of the year with the exception of the very dry years which includes the summer of 2002. There are a few small ponds in the valley that fill in spring and, in most cases, will dry up by the fall.
The District averages about 30,000 gallons of water use per day in the winter. In the summer, the average goes up to about 50,000 gallons and as high as 65,000 gallons on holidays and weekends when everyone is home. At 65,000 gallons per day, the District is about at the pumping capacity of our wells which is limited by the water production of the wells and not by the pumping equipment. This 65,000 gallons equates to be about 180 gallons per home per day. Based on replies to questionnaires we have sent out, there is an average of 3.2 people per home in Indian Hills. Roughly, that means that at our maximum, there is a little less than 60 gallons per person per day, which is not a lot of water.
Most of the longtime residents in the valley understand that we live in a semi-arid climate and the water supply is limited. Very little outside irrigation takes place in Indian Hills. Although there are some small gardens, very few have large lawns that require watering. Usually, one will see green lawns in the spring and early summer, but by July 4th, most lawns are drying out. Both those on the water system and those with their own wells do a very good job of practicing water conservation.
The community of Indian Hills was mentioned is a recent article in the September 14th 2002 Rocky Mountain News titled "Denver Area Guzzles Water". In the article, Jerd Smith wrote "But the blue ribbon for conservative water use has to go to the tiny community of Indian Hills. Here, residents use an astonishing low 12,722 gallons per person annually, about one-sixth the metro area average"
Where the District was and where it had to go
Prior to 1990’s, the District depended on property tax and water sales revenue to operate the water system. The income barely supported the expenses and did not leave any reserve funds for much needed improvements. Water charges, billed monthly, had a rate based on each 1,000 gallons used and, like many water suppliers, the rate decreased as the households use increased. The District was also selling water for considerably less than the cost of producing the water. As mentioned earlier, the supply of water was just barely able to keep up with demand, and, at times, could not even do that. At one point, in order to reduce consumption, the District instituted a penalty system for those using too much water.
In the early 1990’s, the Indian Hills Water District Board of Directors decided to make some significant changes. The Board wanted to accomplish several goals, the most important being to insure there was enough water for our customers. Obviously, the first thing to do was increase revenue in order to provide system improvements for additional sources of water and increased storage. It was also very important that the District somehow encourage conservation because of our limited water supply.
Here is what the District did that not only helped at the time, but also provided the resources needed to get the through the very dry period of 2002.
- In order to encourage conservation, an escalating water rate was put into place. A basic monthly fee was developed and included up to 3,000 gallons of water per household. This made it possible to collect a fair basic service fee from those that were using either very little or no water (e.g. summer cabins).
- Water rates were raised across the board to reflect the true cost of the water the District was providing. The final rate that emerged, however, allowed for those using less than 5,000 gallons to have a rate lower than the cost of water and those using more than 5,000 gallons to have rates that were more than the cost of producing the water. Again, this promoted conservation yet permitted people to use the water they wanted while generating increased revenue.
- The District also began publishing monthly newsletters explaining, among other things, the new rate increases and what the additional revenues would be used for. The Board felt that it needed to increase our customers understanding of how the District operated, the challenges and how they could help.
With the additional revenue the District was able to accomplish several things in the following years.
- More than double the amount of finished water storage. As stated earlier, in the past, the District had to occasionally haul water in the drier months of summer when use was high. The District’s ground water wells would produce less and less during the later months of summer and early fall. Therefore, on the hotter weekends, the wells could not keep up with the demand. By increasing storage, we could allow for the increased demand on the weekends and replenish our storage during the week.
- Replace a failing well field with a gallery type well (horizontal). This well field was in the Turkey Creek basin. This Turkey Creek water source was very important as it had two advantages. First, the source was a year round stream (most years) so the well production would not drop off as drastically in the summer and early fall. Second, this source also allowed for water, which was flowing in Turkey Creek and normally outside of the Indian Hills Valley, to be brought into the valley and provide another resource of recharge for those wells within the valley.
- Put into production another groundwater well that had not been developed prior to this due to costs associated with a legal battle and compliance with water quality standards.
All of this proved very successful. Although we now have about 10% more users than in 1992, we have not had to haul any water. In addition, what we feel is a result of our pricing structure as well as the constant education about water conservation, the District has seen a drop in the annual water usage as can been seen by the chart below.
Although the District’s water rates are quite high, the District's Board feels they have accomplished exactly what was intended. People who want to wash their car or water a lawn or garden can do so but at a cost. Those who are on a budget, can be conservative in their water use and pay a lower bill. Currently the average monthly water bill is $38.
There are no special rates for businesses even though there are 2 restaurants and 6 or so small retail and service businesses, and a post office. There is a Jefferson County elementary school that does have a special rate equal to the cost of producing the water.
And, as one might expect, not all our customers were happy with these rates. We will frequently get a call from a new resident who, although they were provided the water rates as part of a new customer orientation package, were shocked when they received their first bills. We have also heard concerns from a few larger families with 4 or more children or extended families and from one restaurant owner. In all of these cases, our office manager will take some time to explain the situation on the telephone or one of our operations staff will visit the home or business to conduct a no charge audit. In the case of the business owner, a constantly running toilet was found to be the culprit. After a brief discussion, it became obvious to the owner that the cost of a new toilet would be equal to the additional water charge he was incurring in a month and a half.
Education is an important part of the District’s plan and even more so during the drought. The monthly newsletter usually includes information on water quality and results of State mandated water testing. There is also information of water conservation, leak detection, water saving devices, xeriscaping and ideas to prevent water loss from freezing conditions.
A good example of one item the District discusses every year is preventing frozen pipes. Every winter during very cold temperatures, the media suggests that people let their water run to prevent freezing. Due to our limited water supply, the high cost of water, and problems this can cause with individual septic tanks, the District annually has a paragraph in the newsletter telling people not to let their faucets drip and offers a visit by our operations staff who can suggest other ways to prevent frozen pipes.
Early identification of leaks or other water loss problems is very critical. Monitoring water use on a weekly basis is encouraged and many do. The District also closely monitors daily use in order to provide early detection of abnormally high use or a possible leak. In addition, the office manager will often identify a home that has unusually high usage during the process of the monthly billing. She will call that home to alert them of the matter or send a District employee to investigate. More than once a broken pipe or faulty toilet was identified and repaired quickly to prevent the loss of significant amounts of water and ,quite possibly, a very high water bill.
2002 – The drought and what was done
Although we were not having any problems with producing water in the Spring of 2002, the District thought it was important to be pro-active and protect what we did have. The Board decided in May 2002 to limit outside use of water, which included no car washing and only hand watering of outdoor plants.
This information was communicated with outside signs adjacent to the main road, postings in the Post Office and Fire Station and a discussion in the monthly newsletter.
June rainfall was minimal at best and the production from our wells was decreasing much earlier than normal. The District decided to ban all outdoor watering and ask our customers to voluntarily limit water use to 50 gallons of water per day per person in the house. Our monthly newsletter discussed the water situation and asked each home to respond by mail or phone on the number of people in their house.
By July, it was obvious that even further restriction were required. We further reduced the individual water limit to 40 gallons per person per day and implemented a warning and or fine to those homes exceeding the limit. This required our office manager to compare the monthly use of each home to the number of people in the home. Although this was very much an honor system, there were a few homes where our operation people had to make monthly meter reads. (Normally, each home provides their monthly meter read along with their monthly payment.)
- The first violation for exceeding the limit was a written warning.
- The second violation was a $200 fine.
- The third violation was water service shut off.
Fortunately, we never had to shut anyone off and had only one person with a fine. Quite a few verbal warnings were given and our staff did a good job of working with most of these homes to help them understand the problem and stay within their limits.
A good example of some of the issues our staff found was one of our older residents who had a small yard and garden with an irrigation system. She had some maintenance work done on the system and asked the contractor from Denver how often she could water. She was told she could water every third day. This was OK in Denver but not in Indian Hills. This, of course, resulted in a large amount of water use which our office manager noticed on the next billing cycle. One of the staff made a house visit and explained the outside watering ban. Our neighbor understood and discontinued all watering. Within a few weeks, her lawn was as brown as the rest of those who live in this valley.
In July, as an added precaution, the District temporarily implemented a drought surcharge that increased significantly the water rates above 6,000 gallons to further limit water use. Although this only would effect about 5% of our customers, the District felt it had to try to limit water use in every way possible.
The District also spent a great deal of time looking for system leaks. Even the smallest leaks in pump houses or booster stations were repaired. Our staff looked and listened for leaks throughout the underground water main system. An outside contractor specializing in leak detection was hired and several excavations with a backhoe were done as well. As a result, the amount of water unaccounted for went from around 30% to as low as 10%. That was a saving of about 3500 gallons a day (enough water for approximately 23 households per day).
The District’s water restriction plan for 2002 was very effective as demonstrated by the following graph that shows Average daily system water use for the month of July.
By August, the District had every available well pumping to its capacity. And although the production was lower than normal, and water levels in the well were quite low, we were able to keep water supplied to our customers throughout the period. Other residents in the valley on private well were not as lucky. Several new private wells had to be drilled and some water hauling took place.
In conclusion, customer education, customer awareness, water pricing to encourage conservation, and constant monitoring of the District resources helped get through what could have been a time with much more significant problems.