March was dry, but reservoirs are high

What it takes to manage water supply in Colorado's fickle climate.

April 9, 2015 | By: TAP Staff

Riddle us this:

If Denver Water relies on snow to fill its reservoirs, and most of March — typically the snowiest month of the year — is one of the driest in Colorado’s history, how can Denver’s water supply remain in good shape?

Is the answer:

Smart planning? Efficient water use? Luck?

Actually, it is all of the above. It may seem counterintuitive given the low snowpack levels across Colorado, but as Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, explains, Mother Nature, smart planning and customer water use have all factored into Denver’s strong water supply despite the recent conditions.

We wanted to delve into this topic a little deeper, so we asked Bob to answer a few more questions about what it takes to manage water supplies in the face of Colorado’s ever-changing weather conditions.

Elements of a strong supply image

Even if you don’t watch the news, it is no secret that snowpack across the state is low. Is Denver Water’s system different?

Denver Water can only capture water from snow that is above our reservoirs. For us, that means the snow in the Upper Colorado River and Upper South Platte River basins. We’re fortunate that these areas above our system are some of the wetter areas in the state this year. The snowpack in these areas is below normal, but not by much.

It was just a couple of years ago that we were facing a severe drought. Why are our reservoirs in good shape right now?

In short, rain, snow, water use and planning all played a role.

In 2013, we were on the tail end of a severe drought. While the massive rainfall that occurred that September was devastating to a lot of the state, we were able to capture much of that water, which helped our reservoirs recover before heading into that winter.

We’ve been fortunate ever since, with above-average snowfall and timely precipitation through February 2015.

But it’s not just about the weather. Our reservoir levels are directly related to how much water our customers use. Last summer, customers used 14 percent less water compared with recent years. Seemingly small steps like shutting off sprinklers in the rain help keep water in our reservoirs.

Does this mean you aren’t worried about the dry conditions? 

In this state, anything can happen. We saw severe drought and epic flooding in just the past four years. Because the weather and climate in Colorado are so variable, we will never be in a position where we have enough water to waste.

Just because our supply is in good shape right now doesn’t mean what’s happening elsewhere in the state doesn’t matter. Dry conditions outside of our collection area can affect our water supply. We have to pay attention to what happens downstream of our facilities because if a downstream user has a senior (legal) right to the water, we may not be able to capture it in our reservoirs. We must stay vigilant to ensure our reservoirs are positioned to maximize the water we can store when it’s available.

So there you have it. In the end, there really is no riddle. While we can’t control the weather patterns or conditions, we can make sure that we all do our part to use water efficiently. Because every drop you save today will become a drop we need a different day.

For tips and tools to become more water-efficient in your home or business, visit denverwater.org/conservation. And, make sure to review the annual watering rules before irrigation season begins.

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