Flirting with drought

How past and present strategic planning helps us weather the dry spells of today and protects water supplies for the future.

March 26, 2018 | By: Jay Adams

With Denver on track to have one of its driest winters ever and the mountains seeing below-normal snowfall, Denver Water managers are keeping a close eye on water supply, not only for this summer but also the future.

Ten Mile Creek enters Dillon Reservoir on March 24, 2018.
Ten Mile Creek enters Dillon Reservoir on a 40-degree day in Frisco, Colorado, on March 24, 2018.

“Unfortunately, we can’t make more water. That’s why we’re always cautious in our water management decisions and thinking one to three years out,” said Nathan Elder, interim water supply manager at Denver Water. “We constantly review when, where and how much water we’re bringing down from our mountain reservoirs.”

Thanks to foresight of the leaders who developed Denver’s water system, there is a network of 20 reservoirs spread across 4,000 square miles in eight counties that provide water managers of today with a diverse portfolio to collect and store water supplies.

“Having the flexibility to pull water from different reservoirs is helping us right now because we have areas in our water collection system where snowfall is below average,” Elder said.

The snowpack in Denver Water’s South Platte River collection area is only around 76 percent of normal, while the areas feeding Dillon Reservoir in Summit County are right on track for this time of year.

“With more snow in Summit County, we started bringing down water a month earlier than usual through the Roberts Tunnel from Dillon Reservoir,” Elder said. “The move helps us protect the water supply in Cheesman Reservoir, which is part of our drier South Platte system.”

This flexibility has helped put Denver Water in a pretty good spot heading into this runoff season.

“Our reservoir storage is actually higher than normal for this time of year, thanks in part to our customers’ efficient water use,” said Elder. “That said, the dry conditions across the entire state are concerning, which is why we’re closely monitoring runoff projections, precipitation, snowpack, stream flows, wind and soil moisture and long-range weather forecasts.”

Having multiple reservoirs also gives water managers opportunities to store water from wet years so it’s available during dry times.

For example, Antero and Eleven Mile Canyon reservoirs in Park County are used to store water for times of drought.

“We had to use all the water in Antero and half the water in Eleven Mile Canyon to get through the drought of 2002-2004,” Elder said. “It can take several years to refill a reservoir, which is one of the reasons why we’re always smart with our water supplies and asking customers to use water efficiently.”

Juggling water in multiple reservoirs is one piece of a complex puzzle that water managers work with on a daily basis, whether it’s a dry, normal or wet year.

“Every water management decision we make depends on more than snowpack and reservoir levels,” Elder said. “We have to incorporate a variety of factors, including water rights, environmental and recreational impacts, infrastructure maintenance and upgrade projects, and fluctuating water demand from our customers.”

“We live in a dry climate, so we know the next drought is always right around the corner,” said Greg Fisher, water demand planning manager at Denver Water. “If conditions warrant, we have a drought response plan ready to go which outlines water use rules and restrictions for our customers to help us manage our mountain water supplies.”

3 thoughts on “Flirting with drought”

  1. How many taps or customer’s does Denver currently have?? What is the average tap use on an annual basis??


    1. Hello James, thank you for reading and for your question. According to the 2016 Denver Water Annual Report, there were 312,412 taps. As far as the average tap use, The 2012-2016 average annual use per customer was just over 200,000 gallons. It should be noted this figure accounts for all customers we serve in our service area. There are a wide variety of customers in our service area that use water for many different purposes. Our customers include residential, commercial, industrial, government and irrigation accounts. Denver Water’s new efficiency plan identifies a benchmark of 40 gallons per person per day as an efficient indoor water use and 12 gallons per square foot of landscape annually. Learn what percentage of our single family residential customers are achieving this and more about the plan here: Efficiency is the new conservation

  2. Just keep building more apartments businesses and homes and I guarantee we will be rationing water big time . We have been rationed for decades on water for lawns but the government fools just keep building more and creating more demand.

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