Buckling up for what could be a hot, dry summer

Denver Water reservoirs expected to nearly fill, but higher summer water bills are on the horizon.

June 11, 2020 | By: Cathy Proctor
Now is a good time to make sure sprinkler systems are running efficiently. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Denver Water planners are buckling up for a long, hot summer and advising customers to keep a close eye on their water use.

Water use typically rises in summer throughout Denver Water’s service area, as customers fend off higher temperatures by watering their lawns, gardens and landscapes. The additional water use leads to higher monthly water bills, due to Denver Water’s three-tier billing structure that’s based on the idea that more you use, the more you pay.

“Water use continues to be higher than normal due to hot, dry weather. Since May 1, the weather has been hotter and drier than 88% of previous years,” said Ryan Shepler, one of Denver Water’s water use planners.

Also, people are at home more due to COVID-19 and spending that extra time tending to their landscapes.

This year, water use among all residential customers in May was 22% higher than normal. Among single-family residential customers, water use was 32% higher than normal in May.

“Now’s a good time, before we get into the high heat of July and August, for customers to really take a look at their water use and make sure they’re using water efficiently inside and outside,” Shepler said.

Denver Water’s summer watering rules, instituted in 2005, are in place until Oct. 1. The rules include not watering during the day, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and not watering more than three days per week. Find the full set of summer watering rules at the utility’s website.

Denver Water’s summer watering rules have been in place every summer since 2005. Image credit: Denver Water.

 

Denver Water also has a wide range of tips for reducing water use on its website, including rebates on appliances and sprinkler equipment that meet certain criteria for water efficiency.

Planners are keeping a wary eye on the utility’s water supply situation. Most of Denver’s water supply comes from high-country snow deposited throughout the winter and captured in reservoirs during the spring runoff.

Snowpack in the South Platte and Colorado river basins, above the points where Denver Water begins to capture snowmelt, both peaked in late April at more than 120% of normal.

“We had a great winter, with snowpack above average, but the high temperatures we saw in April and May meant the snow melted pretty quickly this season and the ground absorbed a lot of the snow’s moisture,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply.

This picture shows a stream flowing through the mountains.
The North Fork of the Snake River flowing through Keystone during the spring runoff. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

The amount of water in streams, initially expected to be above normal, nose-dived in some areas of Denver Water’s collection system.

In the South Platte River system, streamflows were expected to range from 104% to 116% of average but then dropped to 60% to 70% of average due to abnormally dry weather in May.

“At this point, the snowpack in Denver Water’s collection system, in both the Colorado and South Platte river basins, is melted out,” Elder said.

Denver Water’s reservoirs are still collecting the last of the melted snow as it tumbles down mountain streams. They’re expected to be nearly full in the next few weeks, Elder said.

“As of June 10, our reservoir storage was 92% full and rising,” Elder said. “Our worst-case scenario forecasts have reservoir storage peaking at 92% full, where we are now, but the most probable forecasts indicate that we’ll be 97% full.”

But planners are bracing for hot, dry weather to continue.

The U.S. Drought Monitor on June 11 classified 77% of Colorado as being in drought, with the northern tier of the state considered OK and drought levels deepening further to the south.

A map of Colorado showing bands of color, from red to yellow, covering the state.
The U.S. Drought Monitor map released June 11 classified 77% of Colorado as being in some stage of drought. Last year at this time none of Colorado was classified as being in drought. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

 

Customers can do their part to keep water levels in the reservoirs high, and avoid higher water bills, by conserving water where they can.

“Our customers consistently use less water than they did prior to the drought of 2002, even as the city’s population has grown,” said Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water.

“It’s important that we and our customers always be aware that we live in a dry climate and we need to use water wisely and efficiently. We never know when the next drought will begin.”

 

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