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March 29, 2013
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Front Range diverters brace for drought

Denver water is prescribing Stage 2 drought watering restrictions for all its customers.

"The last time we declared a Stage 2 drought was in 2002," said Greg Austin, president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners, in statements. "We are facing a more serious drought than we faced then."

The Colorado River Basin, a major source for Denver Water, shows 73 percent of average snowpack, and the South Platte Basin, from which Denver Water also draws, shows 59 percent of average.

"Because of the dry conditions, our reservoirs haven't been full since July 2011," said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. "We need about seven additional feet of snow in the mountains by late April to get us close to where we should be."

Denver Water is looking to conserve 50,000 acre-feet of water, or 16 billion gallons, which amounts to about 20 percent of normal usage, by next spring, according to Lochhead.

Denver's drought plan has four stages; its Stage 2 mandatory restrictions start April 1. Customers are limited to watering two days per week on a schedule according to even and odd address numbers.

Lawn watering is also restricted between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and water waste in gutters streets and alleys is prohibited.

Along with restrictions, Denver Water says it is deploying a "drought patrol" to enforce the rules.

"The purpose of the drought patrol is as much about educating customers as it is about enforcing Denver Water's Rules," Lochhead said in prepared statements.

The utility's Stage 2 drought fines amount to $250 for single-family residential customer on a second violation, and a $500 fine for a third violation.

Above essential use, calculated to be 6,000 gallons for an average single-family home, the water utility is charging beyond normal rates. Drought prices for single family residents range from 30 cents per gallon to $1.20 per gallon.

Other cities, utilities

Some cities have followed suit already, such as Fort Collins Utility announcing its water restrictions with an April 1 start date. The city, one of the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District's biggest metro customers that relies on Colorado-Big Thompson Project water, restricts lawn watering to two days per week, but according to its website, "lawn watering exceptions may be granted through permits ... for new seed and sod, properties over 4 acres, medical hardships and religious objections."

As of this week, the city of Boulder, another major Northern customer, had not yet implemented restrictions, according to Mike Banuelos, spokesperson for Boulder Public Works. Boulder may not consider restrictions until May 1 when the snowiest months are over.

"Boulder really does have a different water portfolio than other cities in the metro area," Banuelos said, meaning a mixture of water rights and Northern reservoir water, "our situation isn't as dire as other cities."

Since the City of Boulder has an active conservation program in place already, "our community is pretty attuned to that," Banuelos said.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Conservation Board has launched a new one-stop-shop website - www.COH2O.co - for water customers throughout Colorado. The new website allows visitors to quickly link to a water utility and learn about local water restrictions, streamlining access to that information.

According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Thorton, Colorado Springs and Aurora have also announced outdoor watering restrictions along with Denver and Fort Collins.

As a water wholesaler, Northern, unlike Denver water utility, cannot mandate watering restrictions for Front Range metro customers, according to Northern spokesperson Brian Werner. Northern supplies water to 33 cities and towns on the Front Range.

Werner said Northern does, however, work with cities on their own individual restrictions.

"We wish we were in a better situation water-wise right now," Werner said. "We think it's prudent the majority of our communities look at water restrictions right now."

Because agreements are not finalized between Northern and West Slope water stakeholders, "nothing in the agreements relates to the current drought year," Werner said.

Denver Water Media Coordinator Travis Thompson said Denver also has "limited ability" to apply flexible operations "learning by doing" outlined in the Cooperative Agreement because the Moffat Firming Project is not yet permitted.

"Because the project is not in place, our ability to address the impacts of drought are limited," he said, "and the stream flows are expected to be less in June and July than normal."

Drought conditions are expected to be similar to that of 2002.

- Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603


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The Sky-Hi News Updated Mar 29, 2013 04:17PM Published Mar 29, 2013 04:02PM Copyright 2013 The Sky-Hi News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.