Archive for May, 2013

Our crystal ball

Denver Water should predict droughts more often. Their announcement last month triggered several blizzards, hail storms and rain – Tom Noel, aka Dr. Colorado, Denver Post opinion: Drought along the South Platte? Not this week

Oh, if only that were true!

While the most recent announcement of Stage 2 drought finally provoked some moisture in this state, we’ve been managing our water supply during this drought since July 2011, the last time our reservoirs were full.

Following the summer of 2011, we saw an extremely dry winter (snowpack reached 57 percent of peak in the Colorado River watershed and 60 percent of peak in the South Platte River watershed), prompting us to declare a Stage 1 drought during the spring of 2012. Unfortunately, we don’t control the weather, and the hot and dry conditions continued through the 2012-13 winter leading to lower reservoir levels than we had during the 2002 drought – with no hope in sight.

As we entered our second year of extreme drought, we responded with Stage 2 drought restrictions that began April 1. At that point, we needed more than 10 feet of snow in our watersheds just for snowpack numbers to reach their normal levels, a seemingly impossible feat. But unexpectedly, our watersheds saw snowstorm after snowstorm, and our snowpack levels ended up just below the average peak above our diversion points at about 90 percent of average. A great start for our road to recovery, if the cool and wet weather continues.

It is now runoff season, and we are finally seeing the reservoir storage reach the levels that they were at during the 2002 drought. But watching the precipitation levels, we are reminded that in Colorado the weather can shift at any moment, and we must continue to manage this precious resource in case the April weather was only a blip on the radar, and the drought conditions continue into 2014 and beyond.

It is too soon to look into our crystal ball and predict whether or not we are out of this two-year drought. But, we’ll continue to monitor the weather and our runoff to see how our reservoirs will end up this summer, and we will remain flexible if our water supply situation prompts a change in response.

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What a difference the spring makes

If you’ve been following our weekly posts, you’ve seen our snowpack and precipitation graphs jump upward after the April and May snowfall. This is great news for our water supply, which had been abysmal since July 2011.

As you probably know by now, the snowpack above the diversion points in Denver Water’s watersheds ended up below the average peak at 91 percent in the Colorado River watershed and 92 percent in the South Platte River watershed. We’ve also stressed the importance of May and June weather as it will impact how much mountain snow will make its way into our reservoirs as water. The wetter the better!

So what’s new? Today at its meeting, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners voted to delay drought pricing by one month. Why? Depending on how much water makes its way to our reservoirs, we may be in a position to change our drought response from Stage 2 to Stage 1, which would remove drought pricing entirely. But, we won’t make that decision until we have a better sense of our reservoir situation and summer conditions after runoff is over in late June or early July.

The temporary drought pricing was scheduled to appear on bills beginning in June to encourage customers to use even less water and help reduce revenue loss to maintain our treatment and distribution system. We’ve seen customers use even less water, thanks to their savvy water-saving habits and letting Mother Nature take care of watering this spring. And, we believe that by delaying the pricing, the benefit to customers outweighs the revenue we may lose in June. The last thing we want to do is put drought pricing in place, just to remove it if we change direction.

While it’s too soon to move to Stage 1 drought restrictions, we will continue to closely monitor conditions and remain flexible in our response.

Remaining ‘Nimbo’

The National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office highlights the various classifications and roots for clouds. And, one in particular stands out to us:

Nimbo-: rain, precipitation.

Now that snow runoff season is well underway, we will continue to see the snowpack charts decline and the reservoir levels increase. But, we are always monitoring conditions, and even with the great late season snow storms we’ll need conditions to continue working in our favor to help our lagging reservoirs recover.

Along with our reservoir contents chart, we’ve also included two new charts to replace the snowpack charts we’ve been displaying. These new charts show cumulative precipitation, measured above our diversion points, in both the South Platte River and Colorado River watersheds. These charts will continue to rise as the year goes on because every time it rains, it builds onto the previous recorded number.

We know that the soil is extremely dry in these areas and will soak up as much moisture as it needs. And, even though runoff will continue to flow into our reservoirs, we’ll need wetter than normal weather throughout June to help our water supply conditions get back to normal.

There are also many benefits to the rain in our service area. Every gallon of water saved by not watering the lawn is another gallon saved in our reservoirs.  Since the mandatory watering rules took place April 1, we’ve had enough snow or rain that there has been no need to water two days a week.

Although, the time will come when we are no longer under “Nimbo” and you’ll need to run your sprinklers. Before you do, read these blog posts for tips on the best practices to managing your lawn this summer: Your source for water-wise gardening inspiration, Watering an established lawn during a drought, Out of hibernation, It’s spring … but think before you water

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Your source for water-wise gardening inspiration


Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd

Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd

Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd is the Director of Marketing and PR at the Denver Botanic Gardens. With sustainability as a core value of the Gardens, Jennifer drives strategic programming, partnerships and communications initiatives aimed at furthering water-wise landscape practices. Prior to joining the Denver Botanic Gardens, Jennifer was a Brand Manager with Rain Bird, where she spearheaded the company’s Intelligent Use of Water initiatives.

Denver has a lot of pull as a city. Whether it’s the 300-plus days of sunshine a year, the easy access to the mountains or the wealth of cultural offerings, the city’s unique combination of attributes seems to have a magnetic effect.

Just last year, nearly 16,000 people moved to Denver, most of them coming from California, Texas, Arizona and Florida. As Denverites are pretty accepting people, we don’t really ask transplants to change much upon arrival — except, perhaps, the way they garden.

Denver’s semi-arid climate certainly won’t accommodate the tropical plants Floridians are accustomed to. But we’re not necessarily succulents-only, as many parts of Arizona are. So perhaps the steepest learning curve for new arrivals is figuring out what to plant and how to care for it.

This is where Denver Botanic Gardens can be of service. As an accredited museum, we have more than 32,000 plants in our living collections. While not all of these are suitable for a typical Denver back yard, our focus is on educating visitors on those plants that are. The Gardens specializes in showcasing the plants that thrive in our climate, especially those requiring relatively low amounts of water. Some examples: the Roads Water-Smart Garden and the Western Panoramas Garden at our York Street location. Several gardens — the Laura Smith Porter Plains Garden, Anna’s Overlook and Dryland Mesa — are not irrigated at all.

Our commitment to educating Denver — newcomers and natives alike — is stronger than ever, especially in light of Denver Water’s declaration of a Stage 2 drought. Just like other commercial and residential customers, we will reduce our water consumption this summer to comply with Denver Water’s restrictions. We are currently developing a plan to reduce our water use by 20 percent from previous years. This will entail reducing the frequency and run times for our automatic irrigation system, watering during cooler times (evening and overnight) and turning off our purely decorative water features, including the misters on the West Terrace and fountains in the Monet Pond.

Many of the water-savings strategies we employ here at Denver Botanic Gardens translate to a home garden. We use a weather-based central control system to ensure that our automatic irrigation system shuts off when it’s raining or windy, or that it doesn’t go on at all if the soil doesn’t need additional water. A variety of manufacturers sell affordable residential controllers that provide the same features for your home. In fact, Denver Water even offers rebates to their customers who purchase and install a so-called “smart” controller with a rain sensor.

Denver Botanic Gardens has completely overhauled our water management system since the last significant drought in 2002, which will go a long way toward helping us exceed our water-use-reduction goals. During this time, we’ve also witnessed the public embrace water-efficient gardening. At our annual Plant Sale (this year’s took place last Friday and Saturday), our Plant Select offerings have become our most popular category. These are plants that are especially well suited to thrive in our semi-arid climate.

We encourage you to visit the Gardens this summer for water-wise gardening inspiration. Between visits, you can learn more about our programs and partnerships to promote water conservation by visiting

Entrance at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Entrance at the Denver Botanic Gardens

The Water Smart garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens

The Water Smart garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Watering an established lawn during a drought

Don Schlup

Don Schlup

Guest Blogger: Don Schlup

Don Schlup is the owner of ScienTurfic Sod (, a sod producer for more than 40 years who recognizes how critical water management is in the production and maintenance of his crop. Don actively serves on the Citizens Advisory Committee of Denver Water.

There is more to watering your lawn than turning on your sprinkler system or your hose sprinkler and forgetting them. To be a responsible steward of this precious resource (water), each of us must determine what the plant requires and then apply only what is needed.

First, let’s look at the factors that cause the needs to vary in the lawn ecosystem. It could be soil type, temperature, wind or humidity. Each day is different! Adjustments must be made.

Whether by rain, a late snow or watering on respected days, it is important to make sure the subsoil (top 4 to 6 inches) is kept moist. This can be determined by inserting a 6-8 inch screwdriver into the ground. If it goes in easily, you have established your subsoil moisture.

Another simple method of determining whether the grass needs watering is to observe the dehydration signs given by the grass blades.

  • 1st Stage – Grass has a purplish tint.
  • 2nd Stage – Grass blades turn a steel grey and foot prints are left when walked upon.
  • 3rd Stage – Grass blades turn a straw color.

Within the respected watering schedules, it is important to use judgment to determine how long, how much and when you should water. Each environment is different. Exercise common sense.

Generally, early morning is a good time to water on your watering days. At this time, water pressure is at its peak and there is less wind. However, under the present water restrictions of two assigned days per week, supplemental water may be needed in the evening of your assigned days. One-half to three-quarters inches of water per watering day should be adequate to maintain your lawn. If your ground has been properly prepared and the roots are well-established, the lawn will look good and survive under the drought restrictions.

To determine how much water is being applied, place several straight-sided cans scattered around the yard within the sprinkler spray for a set period of time. Measure the depth in each can and note the time taken. This will assist you in determining how long to water (How to video).

Good water management requires good observations and the willingness to make immediate adjustments founded on good judgment. Each of us has the responsibility to manage this precious resource (water) properly. Water your lawns based on your needs. Grass won’t waste water, but people will!

Magic 8 Ball says …

After two years of drought conditions, followed by a fury of late-season snowstorms, sometimes the best tool for predicting Colorado weather is a Magic 8 Ball.

Because the weather over the next few months will determine how our water supply ends up, we got out our Magic 8 Ball for a few questions.

Magic 8 Ball, was April the start of a new trend?

Ask again later – As we all know, in Colorado the weather can change drastically at any time. After two years of drought conditions that diminished our reservoir storage to levels lower than they were when the 2002 drought began, it is too early to say if the wet April weather was an anomaly, or the beginning of a new trend. In contrast, in May 2002, we received 59 percent less precipitation than normal, so we know that extreme dry spells can occur this time of year. We also know droughts typically last for many years, so we need to manage our water supply carefully in case dry conditions last into 2014 and beyond.

Magic 8 Ball, will the late season snow help our water supply conditions?

Outlook good – The late season barrage of weekly snowstorms increased the snowpack in the South Platte and Colorado river basins significantly. The snowpack above Denver Water’s diversion points in the South Platte River watershed reached 92 percent of the average peak, and the Colorado River watershed reached 91 percent of the average peak. While not all of this snow will make its way into our reservoirs as water, we are excited to see the snowpack levels at a more normal level.

Magic 8 Ball, did we get enough snow to fill our reservoirs this summer?

Cannot predict now – The snow will exit the mountains in the same unpredictable manner that it arrived. While we continue to monitor how much of snow soaks into the ground, evaporates or makes its way into our reservoirs, we will also need to closely monitor the weather over the next couple of months before we know just how much this late season snow will help our water supply.

Magic 8 Ball, are we still on drought restrictions?

Yes – Stage 2 drought restrictions are still in effect. We will remain flexible, but we must also remain responsible by making sure we have all of the information before making any changes. It would be too difficult on our customers to change restrictions every time the weather fluctuates in Colorado. We must look at the bigger picture and analyze all of the data first. In the meantime, we can take advantage of the ever-changing weather by holding off on watering when it rains, whenever that may be.

Last question. Magic 8 Ball, will conditions remain wet enough over the next couple of months to help our reservoir storage recover?

We sure hope “all signs point to yes.”


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On your marks, get set, go

This year’s runoff season marathon has officially started.

April 25, 2013, marks the date that snowpack reached its peak in Denver Water’s watersheds. That means snowpack levels are beginning to decrease and reservoir levels will begin to increase (see graphs below).

As we head into summer and temperatures begin to rise, snowpack above Denver Water’s diversion points will melt. Some of this snow will make its way all the way down to the streams and rivers that feed our reservoirs.

Unfortunately, not all of the snow will make it to the finish line. Some will be soaked up by the dry soil and plants. And, the summer weather will determine how much snow will be lost to sublimation.

Luckily, the April snowstorms brought much more snowpack right before runoff season began.

We’ll be following the runoff with extreme attentiveness over the next couple months. We hope this snowmelt will bring us closer to a more normal water supply this year.

In the meantime, continue to cheer for cool weather and lots of precipitation so that as much snowmelt as possible makes its way past the finish line and into our reservoirs.

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Pictures speak louder than words

Snowstorm after snowstorm make it difficult to believe how we can still be in drought conditions. We’ve been providing a lot of numbers —percentages, averages and snowpack and reservoir levels — to paint a picture of the current water supply situation. But pictures speak louder than words, so we thought we’d let the pictures do the talking.

Here are some recent photos taken at three of Denver Water’s reservoirs, to show just how low the water levels are after two years of hot and dry conditions. The ground you see in the photos typically would be covered with water.

Cheesman Reservoir

Current level: 63 percent full

April 19,2013

April 19,2013

April 19, 2013

April 19, 2013

Dillon Reservoir

Current level: 63 percent full

April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013

Gross Reservoir

Current level: 47 percent full

April 28, 2013

April 28, 2013

April 25, 2013

April 25, 2013

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