Gazing into a crystal ball for predictions on the future isn’t easy, especially when you’re talking about Mother Nature. Vagaries in the weather have left Colorado high and dry for the past year and forecasts of no relief have spurred Denver Water into planning for spring watering restrictions. But for residents north of Denver, things aren’t quite as dire. Not yet, anyway.
“It’s a case of we don’t know what we don’t know,” says Russ Sands, City of Boulder’s Water Conservation Program Manager, “it’s way too early to say if we’ll have restrictions. If we have a few good storms we won’t have to; everything is so dependent on late winter early spring.”
Coming off of a record hot season, Sands says decisions Boulder made in 2012 to ramp up treatment plants and storage kept the city in good shape to meet needs heading into 2013. “But it’s a good reminder for people to be conscious of water use; we need people to pay attention to making sure irrigation is efficient. Pay attention to the lawn and tackle irrigation issues.”
Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District isn’t ready to push the panic button either, says Brian Werner, Public Information Officer for the supplier of water to 33 cities and towns and 640,000 acres of farmland in northeast Colorado. “We’re always cautioning people to wait until March and April, because those are our wettest months.”
Werner acknowledges concerns, especially after last year’s low rainfall and this winter’s piffle of snow. After all, memories of the 2002 drought cast a shadow over the hearts of gardeners. “2012 was the second worst runoff year for us; you don’t want to put another year like that on top of it. But it’s followed three of the wettest years – 2009, 2010, and 2011. This is why we have water storage in this state.”
Yet storage is 25-percent below average in the District’s reservoirs, making the District cautious in its planning. “We have some big months (of moisture) ahead of us; Mother Nature’s given us that before. But with the way things are now, we’re casting a wary eye to the sky.”
As one of the older cities in the region, Longmont has managed its water portfolio to ride out weather downturns like the current dry spell. Between their reservoirs and shares in the Colorado Big Thompson project, they currently have plenty of water to meet needs for 2013.
“We track our water over a two year period and manage it conservatively, in case of dry year scenarios,” said Ken Huson, Water Resources Administrator with the city. “We project having 144-percent of need for 2013 and 136-percent for 2014. Our drought trigger is 135-percent or less so right now we’re not projecting going into mandatory water restrictions.”
Huson credits the long range vision of Longmont leaders in planning for water, plus aggressive water rights accrual programs and excellent storage capacity. As the city grows so does it’s water portfolio. “We get water rights through annexations; whenever a farmer wants land annexed for development, we require they dedicate all water rights to Longmont. As it happens, the land around us has the senior-most water rights in the St. Vrain Basin, so we do a little bit better than other cities in getting the water we need.”
“Almost half the water used is outdoors for lawns and gardens. We’re asking people to think about next summer now,” said Huson, “what do you need to do in spring to repair sprinklers? And there are a lot of great seminars in spring on water conservation.” Start by checking out the Center for Resource Conservation for tips and classes, or check with local garden centers for their upcoming seminars.