Aztec officials say river conditions are worse now than in 2002

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AZTEC — The city of Aztec is looking at ways to conserve water if drought conditions persist.

The City Commission approved publishing a notice about intent to change the city's water conservation plan during its Tuesday meeting.

The water conservation plan was created during 2002 due to drought conditions.

City staff members say the Animas River looks worse now than it did 16 years ago when the plan was created.

The plan includes four stages of conservation. The city implemented three of those four stages in 2002.

The water conservation plan has only been used once. The city implemented stage 1 in 2015 following the Gold King Mine spill.

The first stage of the plan has included fines in the past. Those fines likely will be removed from the first stage of the updated plan, according to the draft conservation plan. There will be fines for violations in the second, third and fourth stages. During the fourth stage, the city could also increase water rates. The draft of the changes to the conservation plan was available in the commission meeting agenda packet, and the changes were discussed during the meeting.

City finance director Kathy Lamb said Aztec customers tend to be good at conserving water and will conserve it when asked to do so.

“We’ve never gotten back up to where we were pre-2002 in terms of consumption,” she said.

Lamb said new infrastructure installed after 2002 also will  help this year. She highlighted a water line between Aztec and Bloomfield, the construction of Tiger Reservoir and changes to the diversion channel.

“None of that infrastructure existed in 2002,” Lamb said.

Lake Nighthorse, located outside of Durango, Colorado, also stores water that could be used by the city of Aztec if needed. The reservoir was still under construction in 2002.

Interim City Manager Steve Mueller said the San Juan Water Commission could ask for water to be released from Lake Nighthorse.

Utility director Ken George warned that the city likely would have to be in a stage four drought before officials would consider releasing water from the reservoir.

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The city of Aztec is in the process of revising its water conservation plan Wochit

Splash pad days could be reduced

Stage two of the water conservation plan calls for reducing the number of days that the splash pad at Minium Park is open. Under stage two, the pad would only be open four days a week.

If the city implements stage three, it would be open three days a week. During stage four, the splash pad would close.

Library director Kate Skinner attended the workshop to speak out against closing the splash park. She said daycare operations rely on it as a free field trip for children.

Commissioner Sherri Sipe was hesitant to reduce hours at the splash pad or close it because there are not a lot of things for children to do in Aztec.

“I think it’s real important to keep that open as long as we possibly can,” Sipe said.

But city attorney Larry Thrower said closing the splash park on certain days could send a signal to the city residents about how serious the conditions are.

“My opinion is that we want to be the leader,” Mueller said. “If we’re enacting the stages of the drought plan, we want to follow what’s in place.”

Information about the drought conditions can be found on the city’s website, aztecnm.gov.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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