California water restrictions could hurt Denver, too

7 states draw water from the Colorado River. How each state manages this resource connects all of us.

April 23, 2015 | By: Steve Snyder
Denver Water's Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. Colorado is all too familiar with the kind of drought California is experiencing right now.
Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought – a stark reminder that Colorado is always susceptible to the kind of drought gripping California right now.

If you haven’t heard about the drought in California, just Google “California drought” and scroll through the images of cracked earth, snowless ski resorts and nearly empty lakes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called it the worst drought on record. Recently, California Gov. Jerry Brown called for mandatory water restrictions in the state.

But why should Denver Water customers care? Sure we’ve seen our share of droughts in recent years, but right now our water supply is in pretty good shape. And Denver Water has had rules in place for years to help customers use water efficiently, and they have responded. We are trying to make water efficiency a way of life here in Colorado.

Make no mistake, Colorado and California are deeply connected when it comes to water use. In fact, Colorado and California are two of seven western states that rely heavily on the Colorado River for their water supply. It’s all because of the Colorado River Compact. (We have created our own simple summary of the Colorado River compact here.)

So even though we’re not facing the same restrictions as California, the ongoing drought demands our attention — and our action.

“We were extremely fortunate that the areas in the Colorado River Basin that supply water to our system saw near-normal snowpack levels this year,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “But we can’t be complacent. Recent history has shown us we are highly susceptible to drought as well.

“Not only do we have to plan for our own water supply, but we have to work with other states in the Colorado River Basin to find solutions to the water supply problems we all share.”

Denver Water is working with California and other states to reduce demand on the Colorado River through a program called the Colorado River System Conservation Program. It’s yet another way Colorado and California are connected in their water use.

So the next time you read about water restrictions in California, falling lake levels in Utah or lawn removal incentives in Las Vegas, understand that those water issues affect Coloradans and Denver Water customers in some way. We truly are all connected.

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