Posts Tagged ‘Colorado River Basin’

Early season turnaround bodes well for water supply

Despite a parched start to winter, snowpack levels are on track thanks to a snowy December and early 2017 storms.

Denver Water's Winter Park crew works around the clock to ensure facilities are accessible during snowstorms.

Denver Water’s Winter Park crew works around the clock to ensure facilities are accessible during snowstorms.

By Travis Thompson

Like carpenters, water supply managers use an assortment of tools to get the job done. But instead of tape measures and hammers, their tool boxes are filled with charts and graphs, computer models and good old-fashioned experience.

With 80 percent of Denver’s water supply coming from snowmelt, no tool is used more during the winter months than the charts showing snowpack levels in the mountains above Denver Water’s facilities.

And this year is proving to be one of the more interesting in recent memory.

With more than half of the snow season still ahead, water managers have already seen near historic lows and highs to kick off the winter.

“Our team was starting to sweat a little bit this fall — literally and figuratively — with the unseasonably warm and dry weather,” said Dave Bennett, water supply manager for Denver Water.

In late November, snowpack levels in areas feeding the streams and rivers that flow into Denver’s mountain reservoirs were only 10 percent to 20 percent of normal.

Denver Water’s reservoirs were still above average because of the good water years carried over from 2014 and 2015, as well as efficient water use in the Denver metro area.

But the dry start to winter had Denver Water planners on edge.

“I knew that a couple of good storms would have us back to normal,” said Bennett. “It was too early to panic — well, that’s what I kept telling myself at least.”

Thankfully, he was right.

On Jan. 5, water supply manager Dave Bennett talked to 9News reporter Colleen Ferreira about the improved snowpack levels in Denver Water's collection area.

On Jan. 5, water supply manager Dave Bennett talked to 9News reporter Colleen Ferreira about the improved snowpack levels in Denver Water’s collection area.

In December, Denver Water’s Colorado River basin collection area received almost double the amount of accumulation than normal, with approximately 60 inches, making it the sixth snowiest December for this area over the past four decades.

Similarly, the South Platte River basin collection area that feeds Denver’s reservoirs received approximately 40 inches of snow compared to the normal 20 inches, making it the fifth snowiest December in this location over the same 40-year time period.

Couple that with the early 2017 snowstorms, and snowpack levels are now 137 percent and 128 percent of normal in the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds — and, it’s still snowing!

It was such a significant turn of events that Bennett was featured on 9News, talking about the importance of the recent snow, not only for water supply but also for Colorado’s greatest asset: outdoor recreation.

“I’ve never seen an early season turnaround like it,” said Bennett. “But we still have a long way to go. A lot can happen between now and spring — the months we rely on the most for snowpack are still ahead of us.”


Passion for the river

When it comes to the Colorado River and Denver Water, it’s all connected

By Travis Thompson

Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

This rings true for Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. Even though he has touched every section of the 1,450-mile Colorado River, it’s never from the same perspective. As a river master and scholar, Jim spends much of his free time rafting the rapids and sleeping next to the banks. As a lawyer and water manager, his 30-year career has been dedicated to water in the West, centered upon myriad issues along the mighty Colorado River.

Because the river flows west from the Rocky Mountains, its course doesn’t touch the city of Denver. But with half of Denver Water’s supply coming from the Colorado River Basin, Jim’s connection to the river remains steadfast.

When Jim speaks about his passion for the river, it’s easy to see how it’s all connected:


The intersection of professional dedication and personal passion for water persists throughout Denver Water. Like for Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate scientist:


And Dave Bennett, water resource manager at Denver Water:

Ending a Rocky Mountain ‘Family Feud’

New environmental alliance aims to let no voice go unheard in protecting the Grand County waterways.

By Jimmy Luthye

Not so long ago, it looked like the water feud between the Front Range and the West Slope might carry on forever — a Rocky Mountain version of the Hatfields vs. McCoys, or the Montagues vs. Capulets.

Williams Fork Reservoir in Grand County.

“The traditional approach was for the West Slope and the East Slope to just fight with each other,” Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead recently told Lance Maggart of Grand County’s Ski-High News. “We would litigate and argue. But there is no benefit to the environment from us just arguing.”

Now, as 2016 kicks off, the conflict appears to be receding, though the issues remain. Water is simply too precious a resource for there not to be concerns over where it all goes, and to whom.

But something has changed. Confrontation is getting shoved aside by collaboration.

In 2013, after more than five years of negotiations, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was formally signed by 18 entities, including Denver Water, Grand County, Summit County and the Colorado River District.

As part of the CRCA, Denver Water, Grand County and other West Slope parties joined together to create the Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort (or Learning By Doing, for short), “to maintain, and where reasonably possible, restore or enhance” the aquatic environment of Grand County.

The members of the Learning by Doing management committee underscore their commitment to collaboration. The committee consists of the following groups:

“Learning By Doing is really a complete paradigm shift,” Lochhead told Maggart.

Paula Daukas, Denver Water’s manager of environmental planning, added that the alliance provides “added flexibility when future environmental needs arise on the Fraser, Williams Fork and Colorado river basins. This new collaborative approach will make sure no voices go unheard when important decisions about the rivers are needed.”


CDOT crews remove sediment from the recently reconstructed Fraser River diversion pond in Grand County.

Denver Water jumped in early by providing $50,000 to a Fraser River diversion pond project in 2011 and another $50,000 to the Grand County’s Fraser Flats Habitat Project, scheduled for this fall.

The group technically becomes official once Denver Water receives the required permits to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, with the greatest benefits coming with the conclusion of the five-year expansion project.

“It’s really a capacity issue,” Daukas said. “Once we have the added flexibility of a larger Gross Reservoir, we will be able to move more water from different areas as needed, depending on the specific needs of the environment at that time.”

Those are the decisions Learning By Doing will make as a group, with Grand County’s best interests at heart. And that’s really the point.

“Grand County is special to residents and visitors alike because of its incredible outdoor quality of life, including its rivers and streams and world-class trout fishing,” said Mely Whiting, Trout Unlimited legal counsel, in the Maggart article. “If we want to preserve that quality of life we have to be good stewards of our rivers. Learning By Doing provides a way to work together toward that community goal.”

Learning By Doing recently launched a new website and created a video, which you can check out below.


Snowpack: Here today, gone tomorrow?

A recent study finds that climate change means less water from melting snow. So what are we doing about it?

By Kim Unger

snowpack measure winter park

Denver Water employees stationed in Winter Park take measurements of snowpack in 2014.

Denver Water’s extensive reservoir system helps us monitor water supplies, even as a new climate change study warns of a shrinking snowpack.

A recent study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University found that the snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere has a 67 percent risk of declining — greatly reducing the amount of drinking water available from that source.

The study focused on river basins that rely on snowpack and are not adequately replenished by rainwater. The study identified the Colorado River basin among those at high risk for greatly reduced snowpack in the future, when demand for water will outpace availability. The river provides water to seven states, including Colorado.

As worrisome as that sounds, the study doesn’t provide a complete picture of how climate change may affect Denver’s water supplies, said Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate adaptation program manager.

She isn’t raising any alarm bells.

“This study is a big picture look at how sensitive systems are to different conditions,” Kaatz said. “It’s not a deep examination into the full range of possible climate changes Colorado could experience in the future.” Nor does it dive into how water managers in Colorado are contending with those potential changes.

“We have to consider all of the local variables in our planning,” she said.

Those variables include population growth, how efficiently customers use water, environmental and ecosystem needs, and local climate and weather patterns.

Denver Water’s supply is mostly from snowpack. The snowpack — the total amount of ice and snow on the ground — fluctuates from year to year. In warm, dry years, it can be gone by mid-summer; in wet years it can last through the next winter season.

“Our region experiences huge fluctuations — or variability — in weather and climate conditions,” Kaatz said. “Fluctuations, especially in precipitation, mean that the rivers and streams that supply our water are also highly variable. This is why reservoirs are so important in Colorado. Colorado’s high peaks protect the snow for months out of the year, and our strong reservoir system protects our water supply against seasonal and annual variability.”

Making sure water is available when customers need it requires careful management of how water flows in and out of reservoirs. Kaatz explained, that when the snowpack melts, we capture what we need and store it for future use. In years of drought, reservoir levels go down, and customers need to be even more conscious of water use.

Denver Water works with the scientific community to stay up-to-date on the latest models and trends because we live in such a variable climate.

“As the climate continues to warm, we do anticipate that snowpack will not live as long into the summer and fall months, especially in warm, dry summer and fall seasons, and that variability will increase,” Kaatz said. “At Denver Water, we plan for the long-term and look at the many different challenges we could be up against in the future, including climate change.”

While the study gives a potential glimpse into our water future, the full story is really told in how well Coloradans have embraced water conservation. Per capita water use among Denver Water customers hit a 50-year low in May, a savings of 2 billion gallons compared to recent years.

The most important water issues of 2014 – a Denver Water perspective

In February 2014, Jim Lochhead (left) stood with James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board director, and Karen Stiegelmeier, Summit County Commissioner, to celebrate the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

In February 2014, Jim Lochhead (left) stood with James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board director, and Karn Stiegelmeier, Summit County Commissioner, to celebrate the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

The most important water issues of 2014 – a Denver Water perspective

Denver Water’s Jim Lochhead weighs in on a recent article chronicling key water issues of importance

By Steve Snyder

Water is our business, so we pay careful attention to any water-related stories that are published. Recently, the Huffington Post posted “The 10 Most Important Water Stories in 2014,” listing the issues people should pay attention to surrounding this most critical natural resource. It comes as no surprise that many of the national and international issues identified in the story are also top of mind in our day-to-day operations at Denver Water.

With that in mind, we asked Denver Water CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead to talk about what he thought were some key takeaways regarding water issues in 2014 from a Denver Water perspective.

“In my mind, two words summarize where our focus was in 2014 and will be moving forward,” Lochhead said. “Those words are collaboration and adaptation.”

“From a collaboration standpoint, we can’t approach our water issues with an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” he said. “Whether we are looking at challenges within our own state or those occurring across the Colorado River Basin or beyond, our solutions should not be guided by the same politics and parochialism that have marked past decades. We must work together to find sustainable solutions that work for all parties involved.”

Lochhead cited the Colorado River System Conservation Program, the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership (WISE), the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, and the State Water Plan as examples of collaborative efforts Denver Water was involved in last year, working with multiple, diverse stakeholders to find solutions for water challenges.

And what about 2015?

“Adaptation will be critical to us moving forward,” Lochhead continued. “The past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future, so we have to be adaptable and flexible in our long-term visioning. Whether it’s dealing with the impacts of climate change, working with the flexibility we have in transferring ownership of water resources, or planning for future growth and development, we have to adapt to the conditions in which we are working.”

Read the complete story on HuffPost Green.

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