Archive for April, 2013

The new norm?

Normally, April showers bring May flowers, not April snow storms.

Normally, snowpack begins to melt by mid-April.

Normally, we expect our reservoirs to fill by the end of runoff season.

There is nothing normal, however, about the conditions Denver Water is measuring this year. With unexpected snowfall week after week this April, runoff from the mountain snowpack is starting a few weeks later this year. Because of this, we are no longer able to compare snowpack numbers to what they normally are this time of year.

Bring in the new norm. To make sure the benchmark we’re using to describe current snowpack conditions isn’t misleading, we must now look at the current snowpack numbers and compare them to the average peak levels. By this measure for the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs, the Colorado River watershed is at 84 percent of the average peak and the South Platte River watershed is at 78 percent of the average peak.

We are excited about the snow and hope it keeps coming. But it’s too early to say how full our reservoirs are going to be by the end of this runoff season. Even if we hit the normal peak for snowpack, the reservoir storage graph below highlights how far behind our reservoirs are after these last two years of drought conditions. Many of our reservoirs are so low they are unlikely to fill completely even if we hit the normal peak for snowpack this year.

The warm weekend was a kick-off to the runoff season this year. But, right on par with the new norm, more snow and cold weather is in the forecast later this week.

Last week’s blog post Out of hibernation explains why you can wait to water because of the recent snow and other tips to make sure you’re using the best practices when preparing your landscape for a summer with watering restrictions.

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Out of hibernation

Just like the black bears of Colorado, many people will be stepping outside this weekend with spring on their minds. And, after a month of snow, the green grass will quickly remind you that yard work is right around the corner.

If you plan to venture into the yard this weekend, first read the Tip of the Week from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado to make sure you’re using the best practices when preparing your landscape for a summer with watering restrictions.

Excerpts from the ALCC Tip of the Week, April 19, 2013:

  • You won’t need to water until well into May, depending on the amount of precipitation in your area and the weather. Check plants that get a lot of sun and don’t water until the soil starts to dry out. If a screwdriver inserts easily into the soil, don’t water yet.
  • Don’t water just because you canit’s OK to skip your watering day. Spring is when the grass roots need to be trained to grow deep in search of water — over-watering only makes the roots lazy and less drought-hardy.
  • Know what kinds of sprinkler heads you have on your system and set the timer to water accordingly.
  • With the weekend warm-up, this is a good time to get to know your sprinkler system better than ever. If you can only water twice a week, you need to make it count by knowing your water delivery system well.
  • In one minute of time, different kinds of sprinklers will put out different amounts of water. If you don’t know the difference between one that quickly puts down 2-3 gallons a minute and the one that emits only a half gallon, you will over water and waste water. Or, you will under-water and stress your plants.


Antero Reservoir will remain open

News release:

Thanks to a snowy April, Denver Water will no longer need to close Antero Reservoir in order to move the water and store it in Cheesman and Eleven Mile reservoirs during the ongoing drought.

“Managing water supplies through a drought is an ever-changing process,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “While we are still in drought and need our customers to save water, the recent snow has helped our supply situation. Keeping Antero open will be a benefit to Park County and those who love to fish there. If we drained the reservoir, it would take about three years to refill.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages the fishery and says effective immediately, the regular bag and possession limit — two trout per angler — at Antero will be reinstated.

Antero Reservoir will be open for recreational use from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Hand-launched vessels such as kayaks, canoes and belly-boats will be allowed, but no trailered or motorized boats will be permitted until details about aquatic nuisance species inspections can be determined.

The reservoir was last taken out of service to assist with water management during the drought that began in 2002.

Wildlife questions regarding fishing at Antero can be directed to Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 303-291-7227.

More snow, more numbers

As a majority of Colorado begins to see some much-needed relief from two years of hot and dry conditions, we all are talking about the many numbers associated with drought, with hope that the snow this spring will get us out of it. But, what numbers matter?

Here’s what the experts at Denver Water are looking at:

The big one is snowpack. We get our water from the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds. But, it isn’t as easy as pulling up the latest report from the National Water and Climate Center to see what the snowpack levels are for those watersheds. Why? Because we need the snowpack levels above our diversion points within these watersheds, not the entire watershed.

In the graphs below you’ll see that the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs in the Colorado River watershed is at 87 percent and the South Platte watershed is at 78 percent of average. So, while the complete watershed numbers are higher — Colorado River watershed is at 103 percent of average and the South Platte River watershed is at 90 percent of average — the areas within those watersheds that feed into our reservoirs are much lower.

Obviously, we are very excited to see these numbers increasing each week, but the snowpack levels that feed our reservoirs are still well below the normal peak.

What else are the experts tracking? Because of the past two dry winters, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July of 2011. So as we move out of April, we will look closely at our reservoir levels, the temperature, and the amount of rain or snow we get.

We will also monitor the conditions that determine how much of this snowpack will become water in our reservoirs because:

• Some will soak into the ground, depending on how dry it is and what plants need
• Some will evaporate
• Some may be passed downstream to senior water rights

As we continue to evaluate the conditions and crunch the numbers, we will continue to manage our water supply carefully. At this point, we are still in Stage 2 mandatory watering restrictions. The good news is you don’t even need to think about watering your landscape right now, because Mother Nature is taking care of that for all of us.

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Cheering for blue

There are many reasons to cheer for blue in Denver these days.

First, the ever-popular Blue Man Group returned to Denver this weekend. Second, the Denver Nuggets, sporting their white-and-blue uniforms won their 55th game of the season — a franchise record.

And today, Denver Water released its water watch report where we continue to root for the blue line that represents our current snowpack and reservoir conditions.

As of today, we would need 4 feet of snow in our mountain watersheds to get to a normal snowpack; however, even with a normal snowpack our reservoirs still would not completely fill this year. But, every little drop helps.

Droughts are unpredictable. We don’t know what is in store for us next winter, or even the winter after that. We’ll continue to manage our supply and demand in case these drought conditions carry over into the next few years. So, even if the next couple of weeks bring us to our average snowpack levels, we still expect to have the Stage 2 mandatory drought restrictions in place to save as much water as possible this summer.

As we embark upon the hot and dry summer months, help us cheer on the blue line by following the mandatory watering rules and Use Even Less.

Go blue!

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It’s spring … but think before you water

Kristen Fefes

Kristen Fefes

Guest Blogger: Kristen Fefes

Kristen Fefes is the executive director of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado and an executive team member of the Green Industries of Colorado, an umbrella association of green industry associations.

Like most people, come April I’m ready to think about my outdoor life. Away go the paintbrushes and the shelf paper; the winter home projects are done. Make way for spring yard work.

Because Denver Water announced mandatory Stage 2 drought restrictions, this year it’s more important than ever to get your landscape started on the right foot. We can’t waste a drop of water this spring and summer — our plants will need all they can get. Watering your landscape is more complex than just a day of the week, and drought makes it even more so. You need to watch what’s happening in your yard and pay attention to your plants, trees and turf.

A few suggestions for spring watering under mandatory watering restrictions:

Activate your system, but use it wisely. April is the typical time to turn on your sprinkler system, but just because it’s been activated doesn’t mean you have to use it. Spring rain and/or cooler temps (or snow, like we got yesterday!) might mean you only have to water once a week, or maybe just a south- or west-facing area, or maybe not at all. This applies if you’re watering via hose, too.

How to tell if your grass needs water? Use the screwdriver test. Stick a screwdriver or knife in the ground. If there’s enough moisture, the screwdriver will slide in. If you can’t penetrate, you need to water on your assigned day.

When you water plants, make sure to water deeply. One thorough soak is better than 2-3 quick spritze that do not soak deeply into the soil. Heavy clay soils may take additional effort to run several short cycles during one watering day to get water to soak in deeply. If water starts pooling or running off, you’ve watered too much at one time. A thorough soak helps the roots grow deeper and find moisture down in the soil, and deep-rooted plants will survive better than plants with shallow roots. Spring is the best time to get those plants trained and in shape for summer. Sorta like baseball.

Here’s another lawn watering tip until early June: after watering the grass, let the top one-half inch of the soil dry out before watering on your assigned day again. This is when the roots are growing deep, seeking water in the soil. By letting that top one-half inch dry out, you’re building a healthier, drought-tolerant lawn.

Get an audit. Sprinkler audits are simple, quick and inexpensive. Get a professional to help you detect pressure and spray problems, leaks and other issues. Then, get them fixed to give your plants a fighting chance once the heat of the summer hits.

If there ever were a year to upgrade your sprinkler system, this is it. A new irrigation clock, efficient nozzles and rain sensors are examples of terrific technology available on the market. Denver Water is just one of many water providers offering rebates for this technology. Now is the time to get busy and do the things that save water, so see what you can do to upgrade and retrofit your system to make it even more efficient.

If you’re planting, be sure to do it right. Use organic material to improve the soil, install mulch to hold in moisture, group like plants with similar water needs together and zone your irrigation correctly. Having beds and turf on the same sprinkler zones isn’t smart. Separate them and use drip whenever possible in beds and containers.

In April, hardy shrubs and trees can be planted, as well as early season veggies like lettuces, peas and kale. Perennials can be planted later in April and in May. Don’t plant annuals before about May 15 (the usual date of the last frost). Take advantage of cooler soil and daytime temperatures for Spring planting, this will help plants get established before the heat of summer sets in and plants see more stress.

Find more advice by signing up for ALCC’s weekly landscape tip.

It’s raining, it’s snowing, the drought is still going

We are always excited to see moisture in the forecast, but unfortunately it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve experienced two years in a row of above average temperatures and low snowpack. Because of this, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July 2011.

We would need about six feet of new snow in our mountain watersheds over the next 2-3 weeks to have a normal snowpack. The forecasted snowfall will certainly help our situation, but we don’t expect enough snow to get us out of the drought because of our low reservoir levels. In fact, we are so far behind that even with a normal snowpack, our reservoirs would still not completely fill this year.

It isn’t all bad news though. The upcoming forecast is great for local soil moisture and serves as a reminder that you don’t need to use your irrigation systems just yet.

You can see in the snowpack charts below that the snowpack levels in the South Platte watershed are hovering just above last year’s number at 57 percent of average. The Colorado River watershed is doing better than last year, but it is still at 70 percent of average. These are the two watersheds that Denver Water relies on for mountain snowmelt to feed our reservoirs. You can see from the supply reservoir graph below, our reservoirs are 14 percent lower than they should be for this time of year – and we don’t expect them to fill.


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Reservoir storage will be enhanced by relaxation of the Shoshone Hydro Plant water rights call

Joint news release from Denver Water, Colorado River District and Xcel Energy

Two back-to-back, drought-plagued winters in Western Colorado have triggered an agreement to “relax” a senior water rights call on the Colorado River at the Shoshone Hydro Plant to allow water providers to store more water this spring, a move that benefits Denver Water and the West Slope.

The Shoshone Hydro Plant is owned by Xcel Energy and is located in Glenwood Canyon. Its senior 1902 water right of 1,250 cubic feet a second (cfs), when called, is administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources against junior water storage rights upstream that include Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir.

The agreement “relaxes” the call to 704 cfs when river flows are low, or takes a Shoshone call totally off the river when flows are rising, which is the current situation. This practice gives the upstream juniors water rights holders the ability to store water once the spring runoff begins in earnest. Currently, the Colorado River is flowing through Glenwood Canyon at about 825 cfs. (The long-term historical average for this date is about 1,150 cfs.)

Two tripping points activate the agreement: when Denver Water forecasts its July 1 reservoir storage to be 80 percent of full or less, and when the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts spring runoff flows at Kremmling in Grand County will be less than or equal to 85 percent of average. Currently, the reservoir forecast is 74 percent full on July 1 and the Kremmling forecast is 60 percent of average.

Denver Water has already enacted its Stage 2 Drought Restrictions to limit outdoor water use and enact other conservation measures.

The winter of 2012 was the fourth worst on record in the Colorado River Basin and 2013 has been tracking just as poorly. The only improvement between the two winters occurred in March 2013 as storms continued to build snowpack. By this time in 2012, runoff was already under way.
The relaxation period is between March 14 and May 20, in deference to boating season on the river and irrigation needs in the basin.

As for the water that Denver Water gains by the relaxation, 15 percent of the net gain is saved for Xcel Energy power plant uses in the Denver Metro Area and 10 percent is delivered to West Slope entities yet to be determined by agreement between Denver Water and the Colorado River District.

“This is a statewide drought, and we all need to work together to manage water resources for the health and safety of our residents, our economic vitality and the environment,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Shoshone Outage Protocol are great examples of the partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope to do just that. Last year, even though the CRCA was not yet in effect, Denver Water released water to the river even though the Shoshone Power Plant was not operating and the call was not on. This year, under the Denver Water-Xcel Energy agreement, the Shoshone call will be relaxed.”

“Relaxing the Shoshone water right in this limited way benefits the West Slope as well,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “It might make the difference between having a full supply at Green Mountain Reservoir and not having a full supply. In a year like this every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later.”

The law(s) of the West

Water law in the water-scarce western United States is complicated. From prior appropriation to calls on the river, understanding the nuances and details about water rights is best left up to the legal experts.

But, that doesn’t mean basic questions can’t be answered. This drought has raised three questions regarding water law and Denver Water, and we have one simple answer: no.

1)      Does Denver Water sell or give water to California? No

2)      Does Denver Water sell or give water for fracking (hydrofracturing)? No

3)      Does Denver Water have rules prohibiting rain barrels? No (but the state does)

Water to Cali:

Denver Water does not sell water outside the state of Colorado.

No one else in Colorado sells water to California either because it is not permissible to sell Colorado’s water outside the state. The water in the Colorado River that flows from Colorado to California is required under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, an agreement among the seven states in the river basin about how to allocate water in the Colorado River. Each state was allocated a portion of the river’s flow, and those states that did not take all the water they were entitled to have their rights preserved forever.

The compact was affirmed by Congress and is a part of federal law. It can only be terminated by an act of Congress and with the unanimous consent of the compact states. The Colorado Division of Water Resources, Office of the State Engineer, administers all water rights in the state.

Water to frack:

Denver Water does not have any plans to sell water for hydrofracturing, or fracking. Moreover, our water rights don’t allow us to sell water in counties where fracking is currently taking place.

Water from rain:

Capturing rainwater is an ongoing issue in Colorado, and is generally not allowed because it diverts water that would otherwise go into the rivers and be available to users who have a legal right to use the water.

In 2009, the Colorado State Legislature passed a law that carves out exemptions from the general rule for people not served by a domestic water system. This exemption does not apply to Denver Water customers.

Even or odd?

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Look for the Drought Patrol this summer for questions and information about watering restrictions and water-wise practices.

There is a 50 percent chance of precipitation tonight, which is good news for dry landscapes on the first day of Denver Water’s mandatory drought restrictions.

Along with the rest of the state and region, Denver Water is hoping for a wet spring. The more it rains over the next few months, the longer customers can wait to turn on their irrigation systems. Unfortunately, because we rely on the spring runoff from mountain snowpack to fill our reservoirs, a wet spring will not save us from this drought.

Just because the restrictions are official today doesn’t mean you need to begin watering on your assigned days. While April is a good time to set up and examine irrigation systems, they don’t need to be used yet. Instead, postpone turning on sprinklers and automatic systems and hand-water sloped areas of the lawn or sections that are receiving full sunlight if they are dry. Remember that April is typically a cool month with some precipitation, so it may not be necessary to water lawns two days a week, which will help save water.

So, are you even or odd? Below is the watering schedule for single-family residential properties, based on property addresses.

  • Single-family residential properties with addresses ending in even numbers: Sunday, Thursday
  • Single-family residential properties with addresses ending in odd numbers: Saturday, Wednesday
  • All other properties (multi-family, HOAs, commercial, industrial, government): Tuesday, Friday

In addition, customers must follow these annual watering rules:

  • Do not water lawns between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Do not waste water by allowing it to pool in gutters, streets and alleys.
  • Do not waste water by letting it spray on concrete and asphalt.
  • Repair leaking sprinkler systems within 10 days.
  • Do not water while it is raining or during high winds.

For specific questions about watering rules, visit and click on the drought FAQ.

We’re starting to hear some good questions about the current drought and will begin to address those questions on our blog this week.

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