Posts Tagged ‘Snow’

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.”


Why we love juicy flakes (and you should, too!)

Not all snowflakes are created equal; some have more love to give.

By Jay Adams and Kim Unger

When the snowflakes begin to fall, we’re guessing the last thing on your mind is moisture content. Isn’t all snow created equal? Turns out, there is a big difference between the type of snowflake and how much moisture it will produce — which makes a difference in filling our mountain reservoirs. Check out our infographic to see why juicy flakes are best.



Does your water bill seem high? You’re not alone.

 There’s a lot of chatter out there about ‘unusually high’ water bills. We found out why.

By Travis Thompson

Water bills seem to be the talk of the town.

Neighbors are complaining about higher-than-normal water bills in community forums like Nextdoor and Facebook. There have even been news stories on the topic, including one from 9News last week featuring one of our customers.

Many people along the Front Range are asking, “Why is my bill so high?”

It’s a fair question. And since we’re your water department, it’s on us to give you a fair answer. Here’s what we learned:

Stacy - through Sep 2015

Real customer’s water use through September.

Water bills were significantly higher this September compared to last September. Why?

Short answer: The weather.

Your water bill includes a chart detailing your water use, month-by-month, for the past year. Look at September 2014; it was an abnormally low water-use month. In fact, September 2014 saw the second-lowest total treated water volume since 1976 for that month. (September 2013, with its historic rain, ranked first.)

But 2015 was different. We had record rainfall in the spring, and customers used a lot less water than normal. In fact, single family residential water use was down 51 percent in June and 36 percent in July from our 2008-2013 baseline averages. See our story, “Water, water everywhere.”

In August, water use remained slightly below average. Then September and October arrived, and were much warmer than normal — September was even the warmest on record. Because of this, single family residential customer water use rose 6 percent and 23 percent from the average for those months.

And if you actually compare this September with September 2014, single family residential water use was 44 percent higher.

Higher water use, higher water bill.

But some customers apparently aren’t buying the weather explanation. On social media, some said they thought their water meters weren’t working. So we checked on that, too.

We read the meters all the time, and we’ll actually stop by your home and examine your meter if you think there’s an issue. Our testing and routine maintenance on our meters shows that less than 1 percent of them fail.

Even if there are issues with the automatic reader on your meter, like a dead battery or faulty wiring, the meter will continue to read consumption, and we can use that to get the correct reading.

In September, 160 customers reported higher-than-normal water bills. Here’s what our investigation turned up:

  • We found a water leak in 65 of these homes. Leaks will drive up your bill. Of those, we found 29 toilet leaks and 26 leaks in the irrigation system.
  • Another 31 customers were simply running their sprinkler systems too long. We urged them to use this tool to create a zone-by-zone schedule and dial-in their irrigation requirements.
  • Many of the homes had old, inefficient fixtures, and we helped customers make simple, water-saving upgrades. You’d be surprised what you save by replacing toilet flappers, showerheads and faucet aerators, not to mention Denver Water’s rebate program for upgrading to qualifying WaterSense-labeled toilets.

In many cases, we discovered multiple factors for higher bills, but all of them were easy fixes to get the customer back on the right track. If you think your bill is too high, you can conduct your own self-audit.

Stacy - through Oct 2015

Same customer’s water use through October.

 OK, so when will it get better?

Water bills will soon return to normal, but we’re not out of the woods quite yet.

This month, you’ll be receiving your water bills reflecting October use. Because October was warm, many customers didn’t winterize their irrigation systems when they typically would, thus extending the watering season. So for many customers, those October bills will also reflect a higher water use than the year before.

Fortunately, the snow is here and watering season is over, which will create a more stable bill reflecting only indoor water use.

One last thought

While some of the conversations we saw on social media weren’t exactly positive about Denver Water, we’re actually happy to see that customers are looking at their bills and paying close attention to their water use.

After all, understanding your own water use is a great way to help you realize how efficiently you are using our most precious resource — or what you can do better.

Interested in learning more about your own water history? Register through Denver Water Online and view up to two years of your water use.

Just make sure to factor in the weather.




March was dry, but reservoirs are high

March was dry, but reservoirs are high

What it takes to manage water supply in Colorado’s fickle climate

By Stacy Chesney

Riddle me this:

If Denver Water relies on snow to fill its reservoirs, and most of March — typically the snowiest month of the year — is one of the driest in Colorado’s history, how can Denver’s water supply remain in good shape?

Is the answer:

Smart planning? Efficient water use? Luck?

Actually, it is all of the above. It may seem counterintuitive given the low snowpack levels across Colorado, but as Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, explains, Mother Nature, smart planning and customer water use have all factored into Denver’s strong water supply despite the recent conditions.

We wanted to delve into this topic a little deeper, so we asked Bob to answer a few more questions about what it takes to manage water supplies in the face of Colorado’s ever-changing weather conditions.

Elements of a strong supply image

Even if you don’t watch the news, it is no secret that snowpack across the state is low. Is Denver Water’s system different?

Denver Water can only capture water from snow that is above our reservoirs. For us, that means the snow in the Upper Colorado River and Upper South Platte River basins. We’re fortunate that these areas above our system are some of the wetter areas in the state this year. The snowpack in these areas is below normal, but not by much.


It was just a couple of years ago that we were facing a severe drought. Why are our reservoirs in good shape right now?

In short, rain, snow, water use and planning all played a role.

In 2013, we were on the tail end of a severe drought. While the massive rainfall that occurred that September was devastating to a lot of the state, we were able to capture much of that water, which helped our reservoirs recover before heading into that winter.

We’ve been fortunate ever since, with above-average snowfall and timely precipitation through February 2015.

But it’s not just about the weather. Our reservoir levels are directly related to how much water our customers use. Last summer, customers used 14 percent less water compared with recent years. Seemingly small steps like shutting off sprinklers in the rain help keep water in our reservoirs.


Does this mean you aren’t worried about the dry conditions? 

In this state, anything can happen. We saw severe drought and epic flooding in just the past four years. Because the weather and climate in Colorado are so variable, we will never be in a position where we have enough water to waste.

Just because our supply is in good shape right now doesn’t mean what’s happening elsewhere in the state doesn’t matter. Dry conditions outside of our collection area can affect our water supply. We have to pay attention to what happens downstream of our facilities because if a downstream user has a senior (legal) right to the water, we may not be able to capture it in our reservoirs. We must stay vigilant to ensure our reservoirs are positioned to maximize the water we can store when it’s available.


So there you have it. In the end, there really is no riddle. While we can’t control the weather patterns or conditions, we can make sure that we all do our part to use water efficiently. Because every drop you save today will become a drop we need a different day.

For tips and tools to become more water-efficient in your home or business, visit And, make sure to review the annual watering rules before irrigation season begins.

Classroom on the mountain: Snow school brings new meaning to higher education

As part of the snow school, instructors and students dig trenches in the snow and slice it up like a seven-layer cake. Each layer tells a different story about the snowpack.

As part of the snow school, instructors and students dig trenches in the snow and slice it up like a seven-layer cake. Each layer tells a different story about the snowpack.

Classroom on the mountain: Snow school brings new meaning to higher education

Where there’s snow, there’s water. Here’s how Denver Water’s engineers dig into Colorado’s most precious resource.

By Jay Adams

High in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, nestled among the pine trees of the Uncompahgre National Forest, is a classroom like no other. There are no desks, no chalkboards and no textbooks.

This is snow school, with a curriculum devoted entirely to studying the properties of Colorado’s most precious resource.

Nathan Elder, a water resource engineer, lives and breathes snow. He tracks how much of it falls, where it falls and when it melts. In the world of managing Denver Water’s water supply, snow is everything.

So it was only fitting that Elder headed back to school in February for some higher education. Hosted by the Colorado Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies near the town of Silverton, the course is geared toward water resource managers and avalanche safety experts.

Elder was happy to take a break from his day job at Denver Water to dig into the piles of snow and information offered in this alpine environment.

“It was great to get a firsthand look at the snow, Elder says. “And seeing the boots-on-the-ground science was really rewarding.”

That part about the boots is no metaphor in this giant San Juan classroom. Elder and his fellow snow school students ventured out on snowshoes to learn the power of the sun on snow and the impact of dust.

Nathan Elder, water resource engineer, stands next to a SNOTEL measuring site near Silverton, where he attended snow school.

Nathan Elder, water resource engineer, stands next to a SNOTEL measuring site near Silverton, where he attended snow school.

“Solar energy has a greater impact on melting than does temperature,” he said. “We saw firsthand the difference between snowmelt on south-facing slopes compared to north-facing slopes.”

Dust on snow determines the “albedo,” a measurement of how much the snow absorbs or reflects the energy from the sun. “If there’s a lot of dust, the snow absorbs more energy and melts faster,” Elder says.

To most people, snow is something to be shoveled or skied. But for Elder, snow is the critical piece of creating water supply operating plans.

The course starts with the true beginning of a snowflake by examining meteorological phenomenon such as El Nino, a warm weather phase from Pacific Ocean currents, and La Nina, the cool weather phase. Both produce temperature change and rainfall.

“We studied the jet stream to learn where the moisture comes from that makes Colorado’s snow,” Elder said.

As part of the class, instructors and students dig trenches in the snow and slice it up like a seven-layer cake. Each layer tells a different story about the snowpack.

“When you look at the layers, you can tell if the snow came from a wet storm or a dry storm,” Elder said. “It gives us a better idea of how the snow is going to melt.”

And that’s critical information for water managers because it helps determine the timing of the runoff — the amount of water that flows into Denver Water’s reservoirs — and when the runoff will peak.

For Elder’s water supply team, the more information they have about the expected runoff, the better they can make good decisions about how much water to release from reservoirs, and when.

The students also checked out the automated snow-monitoring sites — called SNOTEL —managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Seeing the SNOTEL sites firsthand helps me better understand the data they provide and help manage the runoff better,” Elder says.

Going back to class is what experts do, constantly looking to add to their knowledge base.

Elder’s take on snow school? “It was pretty cool, and well worth the trip.”

Do you know your snowpack?

Do you know your snowpack?

9 facts about Colorado snowpack: what it is, why it’s important and how we tell how much of it we have.

By Steve Snyder

You may have seen this map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of Colorado. It shows how much snowpack we have in Colorado this year compared to normal. But what is normal? For that matter, what is snowpack, and what does it have to do with our water supply? Our Denver Water experts answer these questions and more in the slideshow below:

Note: The following slideshow may not work depending on the type and configuration of your Web browser. If that’s the case, click here to view it.

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.

ColSnow_May6  SPlatteSnow_May6ResContents_May6

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