Archive for June, 2013

Denver Water modifies watering restrictions

Photo of Frisco Marina from June 17, 2013. Photo courtesy of Jenney Coberly.

Photo of Frisco Marina from June 17, 2013. Photo courtesy of Jenney Coberly.

Photo of Frisco Marina from May 22, 2013. Photo courtesy of Jenney Coberly.

Photo of Frisco Marina from May 22, 2013. Photo courtesy of Jenney Coberly.

News release

DENVER — June 26, 2013 — Denver Water’s supply situation has greatly improved since Stage 2 drought restrictions were put in place April 1, thanks to an unexpectedly wet spring and citizens’ reduced water use. As a result, at its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring a Stage 1 drought — which removes the two-day-per-week assigned watering schedule — effective immediately. Customers may water no more than three days per week and must follow Denver Water’s annual watering rules.

“Our customers have responded very well to the call to use even less water, and we can finally be confident that enough water from the late-season snows has reached our reservoirs to bring them to reasonable levels,” said Greg Austin, president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners. “While the drought is not over, conditions have improved enough that customers may water a third day, if their lawns need it. We all still need to do our part to protect against the possibility of another dry winter, and we ask everyone to continue to use even less.”

On March 27, 2013, the board declared a Stage 2 drought, based on 60 percent snowpack, extremely dry conditions and lower-than-normal reservoirs. Late-season weather improved conditions significantly, and the snowpack in both of Denver Water’s watersheds ended up above 90 percent of the average peak. More important, much of the snow made its way into Denver Water’s reservoirs, which are currently 92 percent full on average. Runoff is ending, and Denver Water doesn’t expect reservoirs to fill much more. The utility’s reservoirs were about 91 percent full this time last year.

Graph of Denver Water's supply reservoir contents compared to 2012, 2002 and the historical median.

Graph of Denver Water’s supply reservoir contents compared to 2012, 2002 and the historical median.

In May 2013, the board delayed implementation of drought pricing due to the improved conditions. The Stage 1 drought declaration removes drought pricing entirely. The last time the utility declared a Stage 1 drought was in 2012.

In response to the Stage 1 drought declaration, Denver Water is asking its customers to reduce outdoor watering and follow the standard annual watering rules:

  • Water no more than three days per week (there are no assigned days).
  • 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.

To help save water, Denver Water asks customers to pay close attention to the weather and their landscapes, and only water when necessary. Other tips:

  • Use a day of rain to skip watering.
  • Only water the areas of your yard that are dry. For example, if shady areas look fine, only water the dry areas that get the most sun exposure.
  • Water two minutes less.

“Reservoir storage is only one indicator of drought, and our reservoir levels can drop quickly when we don’t get much rain and snow,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “If this summer continues to be hot and dry, we will be vulnerable if there is low snowpack in 2014. To manage our water supply, we must consider the long-term outlook. Stage 1 drought restrictions will help maintain our reserves in case we are experiencing a series of dry years.”

The utility’s drought patrol team will still monitor Denver Water’s service area to educate customers about the watering rules.

“The purpose of our drought patrol is as much about educating customers as it is about enforcing Denver Water’s rules,” said Lochhead. “The most frequent violation we see is customers watering in the middle of the day, which is wasteful because the water just evaporates. We ask everyone to be mindful of when they are watering.”

Citizens who see water waste or broken sprinklers in Denver’s parks should call 3-1-1. To report water waste elsewhere, call Denver Water at 303-893-2444.

Find watering tips and more drought information at

Denver Water proudly serves high-quality water and promotes its efficient use to 1.3 million people in the city of Denver and many surrounding suburbs. Established in 1918, the utility is a public agency funded by water rates, new tap fees and the sale of hydropower, not taxes. It is Colorado’s oldest and largest water utility.

4. Use Even Less dishwasher

More from the landscape pros

As the summer heats up, more people are asking how to care for their landscapes, especially with watering restrictions in place. This week, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado posted these tips and videos, Save water and love your landscape, highlighting xeriscape practices and how to manage sprinkler systems to save water.


Landscapes can survive using less water. Let us help you train landscape plants to use less water and still be healthy. Having a beautiful landscape while saving water can be done if you learn how to water efficiently. Plants and our yards enhance our quality of life.

  • Denver Water has a chart to use as a guideline for watering, but experiment with your lawn. Try watering your lawn in cycles — five minutes on, five minutes off — to allow water to penetrate the soil and create a healthier lawn with less water. And try taking two minutes off the watering times for each zone. If that works and your lawn stays green, take off another two minutes.

    Denver Water xeriscape demonstration garden

    Denver Water xeriscape demonstration garden

Xeriscape is not a garden style, it’s a system. Xeriscape isn’t a specialty garden or a type of plant, rather a system of important principles that all work together to conserve water in the landscape.

  • Denver Water coined the word in 1981 to help make low-water-use landscaping an easily recognized concept. Xeriscape is a combination of the word “landscape” and the Greek word “xeros,” which means dry. The xeriscape concept is based on seven principles.

Technology, technology, technology. Nowhere in landscape is technology making more of a difference than in irrigation. The development of “smart” controllers that base water on the needs of the plants and soil, and new sprinkler nozzles and equipment can make landscape watering more efficient than ever.

  • Denver Water customers can qualify for rebates by replacing inefficient fixtures, devices and appliances with more efficient qualifying models. This includes weather-based smart controllers with rain sensors. See information and qualifying model list.

We will continue to post information from the experts on this hot topic as the summer progresses and conditions change. But remember, whether you are using water inside or outside this summer, we need everybody to do their part and use even less.

Using even less


Big summertime events generally have a variety of official sponsors. The official snack chip of  Major League Baseball. The official sports drink of Major League Soccer. And this year’s big event: A dry year and plea to customers to use even less water.

Enter our quirky advertising campaign, aimed at helping customers think about conservation. You’ll see billboards and bus tails that say: “Wipes. The official shower of summer 2013.” Or, “Dry. The official T-shirt contest of summer 2013.”

We started the year in a desperate drought, and customers have answered our call to use even less water than normal.  This week, Denver Water’s commissioners will review information from the Water Watch report along with weather forecasts and customer demand stats to determine the appropriate drought stage for the rest of the summer.

But, as we embark upon another string of 90-degree days, one thing will remain this summer, no matter what stage of drought we are in: our official 2013 campaign message to “use even less.”



Plants that take the heat – tips from the experts

With record-breaking temperatures last week, we thought we’d see what the landscape experts had to say about the best plants for Colorado’s climate. Thanks to Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado for these ideas.

Flowers ALCC
Have you noticed that the heat wave this week has peonies drooping and other thirsty plant varieties wilting around the edges?

 This is a reminder that our high-altitude yards are in a semi-arid region. This is where the extremes of weather ravage the plants and water is precious. It’s tough growing!

Thankfully, we have experts like Panayoti Kelaidis, chief curator at Denver Botanic Gardens, the team of CSU horticulturists and pros in the green industry who work hard to develop plants that actually LIKE to grow here. We’re grateful to you for bringing us Plant Selects!

Another cool thing about Plant Select plants is that many of them either attract or repel wildlife. In urban environments with so much space taken by buildings, pavement and lawns, there are few nectar resources for hummingbirds and butterflies — or pollen sources for bees. Attracting pollinators is especially important to grow edibles.

And if that other Colorado gardening hazard — deer — is ruining your yard, Plant Select has help there, too. Many of the plants that are low-water, heat lovers and attract pollinators, are not appetizing to deer. All of these factors make the following plants very sustainable choices for Colorado yards.

Wild Thing.

Wild Thing.

Wild Thing & Furman’s Red sage — altitude limit: 5,500 ft.

Little to no water is needed for these plants once established and they thrive in the heat. Aromatic leaves make them undesirable to deer. Flowers of intense magenta/red/hot pink bloom from mid-summer until frost.

Plants that grow to 6,000 ft.

  • Platinum Sage — Lower-growing plant. Silvery foliage adds interesting color all season — and it has intense blue flowers in the early summer.
  • Hyssop: Coronado Red & Coronado Orange — They thrive in summer heat and have abundant flowers that bloom mid/late summer. They are a good choice for late-season color after the earlier perennials like Platinum Sage have stopped blooming. Grows up to 24 inches tall to 18 inches wide.
  • Turquoise Tails Sedum — a ground cover for the front of the garden or rock garden. Needs NO WATER once established. Has creamy yellow flowers early in summer; attracts bees and is irtually deer resistant.

Plants that grow to 7,000 ft. 

Shadow Mountain.

Shadow Mountain.

Pike’s Peak Purple and Shadow Mountain Penstemon — Flowers in purple and lavender have a long bloom time. They are very low maintenance. Cut them to the ground in the spring and they come back.

Every perennial on this list not only takes the heat, but attracts pollinators, deters deer and needs little water once established.

Water, water — everywhere?

If you’ve followed this blog over the past couple of months, you know about Denver Water’s drought conditions and response. Denver Water’s supply outlook is much improved. The peak runoff is over; we do expect to see reservoir levels continue to rise, but at a much slower rate. For more details, visit our Water Watch Report.

But where does the rest of the state stand when it comes to drought conditions? We asked Taryn Finnessey, co-chair of the Water Availability Task Force and a drought specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to fill us in.

Taryn Finnessey

Taryn Finnessey

Guest Blogger: Taryn Finnessey

Coming out of the wet spring in the metro area, it may be tempting to think that the drought is over for Colorado. But, in just one year the state as a whole saw a precipitous drop in storage levels from 112 percent of average statewide to just 74 percent — reminding us just how quickly storage levels can drop.

In recent weeks, Colorado’s northern mountains, Front Range and metro area have seen measureable precipitation that has helped drought conditions. The Denver metro area has seen precipitation close to normal for this time period. Further north, around Fort Collins, and the central and northern mountains have seen even larger gains.

However, much of southern Colorado has not been as fortunate, and unlike the northern half of the state, southern Colorado has been dealing with extreme drought conditions for three years and below-normal conditions for four years.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Hanagan, USDA Farm Service Agency, June 4, 2013

Holbrook, Colo. Photo courtesy of Chuck Hanagan, USDA Farm Service Agency, June 4, 2013

The Arkansas River basin, home to Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the delicious Rocky Ford cantaloupe has been hit the hardest with 40 of the last 49 months below average for precipitation — a total deficit of 22 inches. Over the last 13 months, Lamar has received a mere 5.81 inches of precipitation, and only about an inch since the beginning of the calendar year. The lack of precipitation, thousands of acres of failed crops (land where it is too dry to plant) and the warm summer temperatures have created the perfect conditions for dust storms that have battered the region.

The Rio Grande has also suffered since 2011, and spring streamflows this year have been well below normal. Many farmers and ranchers in the region said that they have never fully recovered from the 2002 drought. Reservoir storage is well below average at 54 percent, and streamflow forecasts are lower than 50 percent.

Over the last two years drought conditions in southwestern Colorado have been a mixed bag. The area has been fortunate enough to get some sizable winter snowstorms, but the hot summers have led to reports of drought impacts (including fires) affecting nearly all sectors. The Four Corners area remains dry, and the U.S. Drought Monitor has increased the severity of its drought classification from “severe” to “extreme.”

Photo courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service,  June 3, 2013

Manzanola, Colo. Photo courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service, June 3, 2013

Even though each area has a unique situation, drought conditions persist across the entire state, and many municipalities have implemented water restrictions. To help customers determine what restrictions exist in their neighborhoods, the state has developed a Web portal at

Being conservative today will help ensure that there are adequate supplies in the years to come, even if the drought does persist. And, unfortunately for much of Colorado, that is exactly what forecasters are saying is likely to happen.


Denver water consumers a model of conservation

This week, the American Water Works Association’s 132nd Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE13) is at the Colorado Convention Center. This is the world’s premier water conference, bringing in more than 11,000 water experts from across the globe.

David LaFrance, executive director of the Denver-based American Water Works Association wrote an opinion piece for the Denver Post this week, highlighting the importance of water in Denver, from the people behind the system to the customers who have become a “national model of how to” for water conservation.

Here in Colorado, where we have faced severe drought twice in a single decade, we well understand the importance of protecting and conserving our precious water resources. In fact, Denver water consumers have become a national model of how to – as the Denver Water campaign says — “Use Only What You Need.”

But here’s something we don’t always consider: Every drop of water that reaches our homes and businesses first passes through an army of well-trained hydrologists, water quality engineers, scientists, treatment plant operators, distribution system workers and other professionals who are committed to keeping water safe and sustainable. Together, they are the first stewards of not only our water supplies, but also a magnificent system of treatment plants and storage tanks, pipes and valves, pumps and hydrants that keep our water safe and reliable every hour of every day.

These people behind the water are usually invisible to us, just like the tens of thousands of miles of pipes beneath our streets. But this week, Denver is hosting more than 11,000 water experts from across the globe for the American Water Works Association’s 132nd Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE13) at the Colorado Convention Center. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will be among the nearly 900 expert presenters, and the exposition hall will showcase water technology from more than 500 companies – many based right here in Colorado.

There’s no better place for the world’s premier water conference than Denver, because the Mile High City is something of a nerve center for the North American water community. AWWA, the largest and oldest water association in the world with more than 50,000 members, is headquartered in southwest Denver, sharing space with the Water Research Foundation, a global leader in drinking water research. The AWWA building sits on a parcel of land adjacent to Denver Water’s Marston Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to much of the metropolitan area. Water for People, which solves water, sanitation, and hygiene problems in the developing world, is just south of Interstate 25 near downtown Denver.

Read the full article in the Denver Post opinion section: Denver water consumers a model of conservation

The trees can talk

As you probably know, it’s runoff season. During this time, we track many conditions, including temperature, moisture, evaporation rates, streamflow and reservoir levels and much more to help us gauge our water supply situation. Why? Because all of these data points help us understand the entire supply picture. And, for full context, we compare the numbers to historic averages and against other years with similar conditions.

But, records only go back 100 years. So, how do we know when our watersheds were dry in the 1800s, 1700s or even the early 1600s? Well, we let the trees do the talking.

Tree rings capture drought record – By Ann Baker, Communications and Marketing

Reconstructing 400 years’ worth of streamflow data require a simple tool: tree rings.

Photo courtesy of the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment. A tree-ring scientist cores a roughly 300-year-old ponderosa pine growing above the South Platte River west of Lake George in this 2004 photo.

Photo courtesy of the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment: A tree-ring scientist cores a roughly 300-year-old ponderosa pine growing above the South Platte River west of Lake George in this 2004 photo.

For the past 10 years, Denver Water has worked with experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the University of Colorado to develop a model that details when our watersheds have been dry, wet and average since the early 1600s.

To do that, scientists study trees. During dry years, trees don’t grow much, and a narrow ring forms tight to the one that emerged the year before. During wet years, when trees go through a growth spurt, trunks develop a wide growth ring.

Ponderosa pine, pinyon pine and Douglas fir trees are more sensitive to moisture than other trees, making them a reliable record of past climate cycles. Scientists at the university take core samples from those trees (samples from the South Platte River watershed date back 400 years; samples from the Colorado River watershed date to the 1400s).

Then planners compare tree ring data with 100 years’ worth of recorded streamflow gage measurements.

When those two data sets are paired together in a graph, the points match almost spot-on – meaning the tree ring data correlate to past streamflow. And, because tree ring information extends back hundreds of years – much longer than Denver Water’s observed records – it helps planners analyze what would happen to our water supply if any of the pre-1900 droughts reoccurred.

“This tells us what has happened in the past, but it doesn’t tell us what might happen in the future with climate change,” said Steve Schmitzer, manager of Water Resource Analysis. “It helps document variability, though. With anything in science, the more good data you have, the better.”

When was the worst drought?

Denver Water’s documented records show that the worst drought in our watersheds occurred in the mid-1950s, with a close second in the early 2000s. But tree rings point to a different period – the late-1840s.

That’s a fact Denver Water has been able to confirm with a fair amount of certainty by studying government records from the 1840s.  At that time, the government sent a host of expeditions led by Army engineers across the Great Plains. Military expeditions are often a reliable source because of their meticulous record-keeping, Schmitzer said. Their records of wet years and dry years correlated to the tree ring data scientists tracked for Denver Water.

Check out our Water Watch report for up-to-date conditions, including supply reservoir contents, daily customer use and inflow, precipitation and snowpack levels.

Opinion: Colorado River Cooperative Agreement – is it working?

The Grand County Commissioners, James Newberry, Merrit Linke and Gary Bumgarner submitted an opinion piece to Sky-Hi Daily News on June 4, 2013, providing an update on the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, and how Denver Water and the county are already working together to address flows in the Fraser River during the current drought.

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement has not yet been signed by all parties, awaiting federal agency sign-off on allied agreements. Final signatures and full execution is expected this summer. However, even though the Cooperative Agreement has not been fully executed and the Moffat Project is not yet permitted, let alone built, Denver Water voluntarily implemented fundamental and critical components of the agreement last year and again this spring providing more water for county streams than would have been present without the agreement.

Denver Water contacted Grand County officials to determine how to maximize benefit to Grand County of bypassed water. In short, instead of the historical practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water is bypassing water for the benefit of the environment and Grand County water users. This benefit amounted to about 1,500 acre-feet of water that Denver Water gave back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver in 2012. According to the municipal water and wastewater providers in the Fraser Valley, this additional water made a huge benefit last year to stream flow and stream temperatures, as well as operations of water and wastewater facilities.

Again this year, Denver Water instituted drought restrictions in April, which meant they had the right to reduce the flows in the Fraser River. Despite grave concerns about their water supply — overall reservoir storage was below 2002 levels and early projections showed reservoirs may not fill this season — Denver Water contacted us to discuss the bypass flows and the best way to work with Grand County to maximize water available for the county in 2013.

This example of cooperation and communication is what was envisioned when Grand County entered into the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement with Denver Water. The relationship forged through this agreement is bearing fruit for Grand County even though the agreement is not officially in place.

As your Commissioners, we remain committed to making sure the best interests of the county, the river and our environment are served.

Read the full article in the Sky-Hi Daily News: Opinion: Colorado River Cooperative Agreement – is it working?

Couldn’t have said it better

As we continue to monitor the weather and runoff conditions throughout June to determine how much of the snow will make its way into our reservoirs as water, we thought we would take a moment to see what everyone else has been saying. Here are some highlights:

In short, the summer season is shaping up to be one of confusing nuances and mixed messages. —Caddie Nath, Summit Daily News, May 31, 2013: Drought Watch: The long road to normal for Summit County, Colorado & the West

We couldn’t agree more. With different municipalities reporting different numbers and restrictions, it can be confusing. Some have asked if Denver Water will make changes. As we’ve reported in previous blog posts, we are waiting until we know more about where our supply will end up before making changes to our drought response. If we changed restrictions every time the weather changed in Colorado, messages would change monthly, if not daily or weekly.  

Each water provider must respond to its own unique conditions, including water source, customers served and water rights. Because so many local communities have implemented drought response measures this summer, the state of Colorado set up a drought response portal. Visit to search water restrictions by city, county or zip code.

It’s a waiting game right now; everyone is planning for that dry weather and just hoping that this moisture keeps going like it has been for the last few months. —Matt Renoux, 9News, May 14, 2013: Dillon Reservoir expected to stay low despite recent snow (click on video for story)

Just like no one predicted our snowy April, forecasts and predictions are rarely 100 percent accurate. Given the changing conditions and the need to safeguard our water supply for 2014 and beyond, water utilities must be cautious when managing a water supply.

Since this interview, we’ve seen more moisture that will only help our situation. However, Dillon Reservoir – our largest storage facility holding nearly 40 percent of Denver’s water – is still significantly lower than it typically would be this time of year. Currently, the reservoir is 77 percent full, compared to the historic median for this time of year, which is 94 percent. 

Northern Colorado has been bone dry since the summer of 2011, and it takes more than a few weeks of wet weather to make up for that. —Bobby Magill, Coloradoan, May 10, 2013: Why is Northern Colorado still ‘abnormally dry’ despite all of the soggy weather?

And so have we! Because our reservoirs have not been full since July 2011, we’ve had a long way to go to make a full recovery. We know the late-season snow will help, but we won’t know to what extent until we actually see the water in our reservoirs. We’ll re-evaluate conditions once we have a better picture of what the summer weather, reservoir levels, customer usage and long-term weather forecasts are at the end of June.

Despite recent gains in snowpack, streamflow forecasts remain below normal across the state, in part due to dry soil conditions. If these forecasts prove to be true, it will affect how much reservoirs are able to fill. —Water Availability Task Force: May 2013 Drought Update

Took the words right out of our mouth. We have been monitoring many conditions that play a role in determining how much snow will become water in our reservoirs. More snow, more numbersbreaks this down.

While each water provider may have a unique drought response, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state is still in some stage of drought. We are all in this together, and we all need to work in unison to recover from two years of drought, while preparing for continued dry conditions into 2014 and beyond.

Here are this week’s reservoir storage and watershed precipitation charts – unique to Denver Water:


ColPrecip_June3 (2) SPlattePrecip_June3 (2)ResContent_June3 (2)

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