Safely out of drought? California’s dreamin’

Denver Water shares lessons learned on extended drought — from one Colorado River Basin state to another.

May 2, 2017 | By: Steve Snyder

As California finally gets relief from its latest drought, we have three simple words for the Golden State: Not so fast. (Or, if we’re trying to be hip: Slow your roll.)

An extremely wet winter helped ease dry conditions in California.
An extremely wet winter helped ease dry conditions in California. But Denver Water’s experts advise staying vigilant, as the next drought could be around the corner.

We’re happy to see that an extremely wet winter has allowed California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare an end to the state’s drought emergency. But while water leaders are saying the right things about the need for continued conservation, not everyone in the state seems to be getting the message.

So please … Slow. Your. Roll.

We can say that because we’ve been there and done that. Since 2002, Denver Water has been wrestling with the drought monster on and off. Even when it looks like we’re in the clear, we’re really not.

“Dealing with drought is just a way of life for us,” said Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning at Denver Water. “Even when we experience a really wet year, we know the next drought is right around the corner, sometimes in the same year. We have to plan accordingly.”

With that in mind, here are a few lessons we’ve learned through our drought experiences that California might find useful:

  • Don’t be complacent. “Once a drought cycle starts, you can’t predict when it will end,” Fisher said. “Your preparation needs to begin at the first signs of drought. Even though Denver Water has significant storage reserves, we always have a plan, even for the earliest stages of a drought.”
  • Don’t get stuck in the past. “The California drought and the larger one in the Colorado River Basin are unlike any we’ve seen before,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager. “We can never assume a drought will ever be ‘normal.’ Don’t assume the past will reliably predict the future.”
  • Don’t wait for dry times. “Efficiency is a long-term pursuit and we can’t just turn it on in a drought,” Fisher said. “That’s why Denver Water always reminds our customers to be efficient in their water use.”

We feel compelled to share these lessons learned because we have skin in the game, too. Remember, Colorado and California are closely connected with their use of Colorado River water through the Colorado River Compact, so we have to work collaboratively to manage ongoing supply shortages on the river. And drought conditions will likely occur more often with continued climate change and population increases.

So please California, enjoy the relief Mother Nature provided, but don’t get carried away. Save a little water for a rainy day, so to speak — particularly if those days may become fewer and farther between.

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