Denver Water to issue mandatory watering limit of two times per week starting April 1

Snowpack low, reservoirs not filling

DENVER - Denver Water officials say snow levels in the South Platte and Colorado River Basins are so low that they’ll be forced to implement Stage II drought watering restrictions beginning next month.

“People may not realize that we’re actually in the second year of a severe drought,” said Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney. “They may see snow in the foothills, but our reservoirs haven’t been full since July 2011.”

Chesney said the non-profit utility plans to limit its 1.3 million customers to watering lawns just two days a week starting April 1.

“Last year, we had Stage I restrictions. They were voluntary,” Chesney said. “These restrictions, if approved by the Board March 27, will be mandatory.”

7NEWS drove up to Dillon Reservoir on Thursday.  It was covered with snow.  The snow masks a 32-foot drop in water level.

“Dillon is only 65 percent full,” Chesney said. “Last year at this time it was 96 percent full.”

“We’ve never seen conditions like this, and we are concerned about our water supply,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water.

Chesney said, overall, the utility’s reservoirs are lower right now than they were during the last severe drought in 2002.

Snowpack in the South Platte River basin is at 53 percent of average and the Colorado River basin is at 68 percent of average, according to Chesney.

"What snow there is, is melting fast," she said.  'We need to be prepared for a potentially worsening situation in 2014."

Under the mandatory watering restrictions, Denver Water customers will be required to follow this schedule:

- Single-family residential properties with even-numbered addresses: Sunday, Thursday

- Single-family residential properties with odd-numbered addresses: Saturday, Wednesday

- All other properties (multi-family, HOA, commercial, industrial, government): Tuesday, Friday

Customers will only be allowed to water before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

“It’s hard to predict what will happen with the weather,” Chesney said. “But at this point, it would take 8 feet of snow in the mountains, in our water shed, to get us back to normal.”

In addition to limits on lawn watering, Chesney said Denver Water will ask homeowners and apartment dwellers to cut water use in their homes.

“If they have old fashioned toilets, they may want to consider replacing them,” Chesney said. “They should repair leaks in showers and sinks and conserve as much as possible.”

Homeowner Susan Mattson told 7NEWS that she can live with the restrictions.

“We seeded grass on our lawn last year,” Mattson said. “We had to get a permit to do it.”

Mattson wonders if the restrictions may end up being long term.

“It’s been getting more and more like a desert over the years that we’ve lived in Denver,” she said. “It doesn’t even feel like the same state it was 15 years ago.”

When asked if the was the new normal, Chesney told 7NEWS, "It's possible that this is the new normal.  We don't really know, but we are in the second year of a severe drought and we've seen other cities and states face multi-year droughts and we have to be prepared for that, if that is the case."

In addition to cutting back on water use, customers will be asked to pay more for the water they use.

Denver Water is considering a temporary drought pricing structure that would raise the rate for any water use in excess of 6,000 gallons a month.

“If approved by the Board, that pricing structure would be implemented in May.

Aurora Water has permanent conservation measures that don't allow watering more than three days a week. However, the Aurora City council will vote April 1 on whether to make those restrictions tighter.

"If current forecasts come to fruition, 2013 drought conditions could be worse than we experienced in 2002," according to Aurora Water's website.

If drought rates are approved, heavy water users could pay about five dollars more per month.

As we potentially pay more, 7NEWS is asking Denver Water what it is doing to cut costs.

A spokesperson said some repairs at the Dillon Reservoir may be put on hold.   Some open positions may not be immediately filled.  In addition, some computer upgrades may be delayed.