Gone with the flow

Letter from Ray Schoch

Water – October 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine


There have been some unusually wet periods in the upper Arkansas Valley this summer, if I remember correctly, but I think folks in Central Colorado should not think old water issues have gone away.

On September 1st, a Friday, I noticed that three sprinkler heads for a small parcel of land (consisting mostly of a detention pond) down the hill from my condo development in Lakewood had been running constantly for at least a full day. I made note of it mentally. The next day, they were still running. The sprinklers were still running full-bore on Sunday, too. Finally, on Monday, the 4th, I contacted Lakewood City Hall via e-mail to their Engineering Department. They forwarded my e-mail to an overworked soul in the Community Resources Office, who contacted me via e-mail in response.

I told him what I thought was happening, and described the location and topography of the parcel of ground. He said he’d get back to me, and he did, the next day. In the meantime, the sprinklers continued to run.

When I heard from my contact at City Hall, he had determined that the property was not City-owned, or part of a City park, and that the problem was being caused by a stuck valve. Since the City didn’t own the property, they couldn’t legally fool around with the irrigation system, I was told, so the next step was to find and notify the owner or property manager. It only took a day to track down the owner of the property — some commercial entity — since the City apparently has those records, or can get the information from the Jefferson County Clerk’s office, but it took another day to find out who, or what management company, was supposedly managing the parcel. Once the name was known, the issue became finding a phone number, and then getting someone from the supposed management company to answer the phone.

Finally, this afternoon, after several e-mails back and forth, and what I’m sure were numerous phone calls behind the scenes — after all, I don’t work for the City of Lakewood, and don’t really know anyone at City Hall — some anonymous someone finally turned those sprinklers off.

They ran 24 hours a day for at least 14 days. My restricted-flow shower head only allows 1.75 gallons per minute to flow through it. I’m not a professional in the irrigation business, but I’m pretty certain these rather large sprinkler heads do not allow that much water to go through them, so my admitted guess regarding flow is a gallon a minute, which seems reasonably close. At one gallon per minute per sprinkler head, those three sprinklers utterly and completely wasted, according to my calculator, 60,480 gallons of treated water during their 14 days of faulty operation.

My water usage at my house in Loveland, with a xeriscaped yard I described in some detail for Colorado Central, averaged about 3,300 gallons a month. The “average” single-family home in Loveland typically used about 7,500 gallons a month. Even at the City of Loveland’s higher average figure, the three errant sprinkler heads in my new city of Lakewood wasted 8 months’ worth of treated water in 2 weeks. At the lower figure for my particular house in Loveland, when I still lived there, the Lakewood sprinklers wasted what amounts to about 18 months’ water usage.

Let me reiterate that it’s not the City of Lakewood wasting this water — it’s a commercial entity of some sort, which has hired an obviously-less-than-diligent property management company to take care of things like irrigation, grass-cutting, and other maintenance items.

It’s bad enough when self-centered homeowners insist on their right to overwater their bluegrass, and the rest of us be damned, but when commercial entities commit waste on a scale this large, and when there’s no mechanism in place to punish them for that egregious waste…. well…. No wonder people on the Western Slope get hysterical when the latest scheme to bring Western Slope water to Front Range cities is announced.

Ray Schoch