A balanced approach - Denver Water Blog

When you bring water from across the state and serve it to more than a million people in the Denver metro area, you’re bound to hear some differing opinions on how you operate. While the issues are endless, one, in particular, seems to be at the heart of the most passionate debates: the nexus of water conservation and new supply.

We hear from people who:

  • Love our Use Only What You Need and Use Even Less campaigns and share with us their water-saving tips.
  • Say water is too cheap and it should cost more because it is a valuable resource.
  • Say we should ban lawn watering.
  • Say we should have stricter water-use rules.

And, from people who:

  • Say water is too expensive and it should cost less because of the economics of supply and demand.
  • Are involved with Colorado’s multi-billion dollar landscape industry.
  • Say what they do with their lawns is none of our darn business.
  • Say we shouldn’t have any rules at all.

And it is our job to take into account the voices of these people – our customers, our neighbors on the West Slope, recreationists, environmentalists, public officials and everyone else we touch – and balance them with how we plan for the future. For Denver Water, securing water for the future means protecting our water supply, planning for the long term, evaluating changing conditions, working with customers on water use rules that are fair, working cooperatively to enhance the environment, and much more. When we look at the challenges we face – climate change, increasing regulations, aging infrastructure and more – we believe no one solution is the answer. That’s why our plan for the future includes conservationrecycled water and developing new supply.


Over time, treated water demand has decreased while population has increased.

So – how do we balance water conservation and new supply? Let’s take a look at the facts:

  • Denver Water serves 25 percent of Colorado’s population with just 2 percent of the state’s water.
  • Our customers do a great job of conserving water. For example, the average Denver Water residential customer uses 85 gallons of water each day, which is far ahead of the goal set by the environmental community to reach 90 gallons per person per day by 2020, known as “90 by 20.”
  • Since the early 1970s, the number of people we serve has increased by almost 50 percent while the amount of treated water they use has increased only 6 percent.

Right now, there is misinformation swirling about the Moffat Collection System Project – a project to help balance our system and ensure a reliable water supply for the future by enlarging an existing reservoir rather than building a new one. This project – to enlarge Gross Reservoir north of Boulder – was suggested by the environmental community in the late 1980s when they advised that we pursue conservation, increase recycled water and enlarge an existing reservoir (rather than build a new one) when meeting our customers’ water needs — and we’re trying to do just that.

Myth: While easing watering restrictions for customers, Denver Water is maximizing diversions from the Fraser River.

Fact: Diversions from the Fraser River this summer are far from the maximum, and we are honoring our commitments to provide flows to keep the river healthy. More important, if we had the Moffat Project (an enlarged Gross Reservoir) in place, we would not be diverting additional water in dry years. Instead, we would be providing 1,000 acre-feet more water for the Fraser River every year.

How is that possible? Through enhancements that are contingent on the Moffat Project, the project will provide many benefits to the West Slope, making the West Slope better with the Moffat Project than without it. In order to gain the support necessary to proceed with the Moffat Project, Denver Water took an unprecedented approach of negotiating with more than 40 entities in western Colorado, from the Continental Divide to the state line, including Grand and Summit counties.

Denver Water recognizes the interdependencies between the East and West slopes, and that the old way of water development in Colorado will be divisive and destructive to the environment and economy. As a result, Denver Water and the West Slope agreed on a simple yet powerful goal: To make the West Slope better with the Moffat Project than without it.


Leaders from Grand and Summit counties, Denver Water and the Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Co. — entities that for decades battled in court over water — stood with Gov. John Hickenlooper and signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, changing the way water is managed in Colorado.

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, the result of those negotiations, provides for an array of enhancements over and above the mitigation of impacts that will be required under state and federal environmental permitting processes for the Moffat Project. The agreement represents a more responsible way of water development in Colorado. It has been hailed as a model for the future in statewide inter-basin water discussions.

Denver Water’s Moffat Project would be a win-win for this state: It would make possible our ability to benefit the environment in dry years like this one, and it would bring additional water for our metro area, which we desperately need in times of drought.

Myth: Denver Water is not doing enough for conservation.

Fact: Denver Water has a longstanding, highly effective and nationally applauded water conservation program because we know the value of water in a dry region. Conservation is a critical part of our future water supply planning, and our innovations in encouraging wise water use are well-known throughout the country. A few highlights:

  • Denver Water’s current goal is for customers to cut their water use by 22 percent by the end of 2016. Today, we have nearly reached that goal, with our customers using 20 percent less than they did before the drought of 2002. We’ve committed to additional conservation savings through the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.
  • Denver Water has conservation programs for every type of customer: residential, commercial and industrial. We also have rules prohibiting water waste, including a limit on the number of days and times customers can irrigate lawns or landscapes. Additionally, many other communities have adopted Denver Water’s plan as their own.
  • We have a tiered rate structure to encourage water conservation. The more you use, the more you pay.
  • Denver Water spends more than $5 million each year on customer water audits and incentives, such as retrofitting appliances, fixtures and irrigation systems with more efficient models, and more.

Denver Water does not have land use authority, and therefore issues related to development and municipal mandates on lawns are issues we cannot change on our own. We are, however, committed to advancing the discussion in this arena to make sure the inevitable increase in population results in smart growth.

Myth: Denver Water is supplying water to its customers at the expense of the West Slope.

Fact: As a major water provider in the West, we know we have a special responsibility to the environment. We take this responsibility very seriously, and incorporate into our future planning and daily operations. Some examples include: partnering with the U.S. Forest Service on the From Forests to Faucets program to reduce the likely hood of catastrophic fire in the forest/urban interface; partnering with Grand County and others on a sediment trap to capture the traction sand entering the Fraser River; our leadership in the South Platte Protection Plan; and being an active member of the Wild and Scenic River program on the Colorado River.

We care about the environment. It is an ethic and value that runs deep in our organization. We know our infrastructure is not just our pipes and reservoirs — it is also millions of acres of Colorado forests and thousands of miles of rivers and streams. Water is essential to making Colorado beautiful and to ensuring the quality of life we enjoy. Yet we know it is scarce in our state, and demands for it are intensifying.

With that understanding, Denver Water’s highest responsibility remains to serve 1.3 million people today and a growing population in the future. We strive to do so while minimizing our environmental footprint and working collaboratively with our neighbors to protect and enhance supplies for agriculture, riparian habitat, stream health and many other needs.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Drew Peternell on August 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Denver Water is glossing over the impacts its operations have on the Fraser River. The reality is that, on an annual basis, Denver diverts an average of over 60% of the natural flow of the Fraser River to the Front Range. As a result, the river experiences low flows and high water temperatures that are lethal to fish. Sediment and algae accumulate in the streambed and destroy habitat for trout and other aquatic life. It is not just the environmental health of the Fraser River that suffers; outdoor recreation and tourism and the West Slope communities that depend on these industries are also impacted.

    Denver delivers Fraser River water through the Moffat Tunnel to Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. Currently, Denver is seeking permits to triple the size of Gross Reservoir. The additional water needed to fill the expanded reservoir would come directly from the Fraser River through the Moffat Tunnel.

    Denver wants you to believe that the West Slope will be better off with the expanded Gross Reservoir/Moffat Tunnel project than without it. The utility even goes so far as to assert that, if the expanded project were in place, it would not be diverting more water from the Fraser River, but rather would be providing additional water to the river. This assertion is inaccurate.

    It is true that under the so-called Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water has committed to providing 1,000 acre-feet of water annually to augment flows in the Fraser River if and when the Gross Reservoir/Moffat Tunnel expansion project comes on-line. But, according to the environmental impact statement for the project, Denver is expected to take an additional 10,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Fraser River to fill the enlarged Gross Reservoir. It doesn’t take a math degree to see that providing 1,000 acre-feet of water to the river while taking 10,000 acre-feet from it results in a net depletion to the river.

    To be clear, Trout Unlimited is not completely opposed to the Gross Reservoir/Moffat Tunnel expansion project. In our view, the Gross/Moffat project is a better option than a massive new reservoir like the Two Forks project that Denver proposed in the 1980s. Indeed, we can envision a scenario that would allow us to support the Gross/Moffat expansion, as we recently did with the Northern Colorado Water District’s expansion of its Windy Gap project. Specifically, for TU to support Gross/Moffat expansion, Denver Water needs to agree to three conditions:

    1. No diversions from the Fraser River when stream temperatures reach levels that are lethal or chronically harmful to fish;

    2. Curtailment of diversions during spring run-off as necessary to provide short but powerful flushing flows that remove sediment and rejuvenate habitat; and

    3. Participation in a monitoring and adaptive management program that requires Denver to adjust project operations if the river shows signs of significant decline in the future.

    So far, Denver Water has rejected these commonsense conditions.

    Denver Water likes to point to the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement as evidence that it is taking care of the Fraser River. While Trout Unlimited agrees that the Cooperative Agreement includes several provisions that are beneficial to the West Slope and the rivers that originate there, it is important to recognize that the Cooperative Agreement does not offset the impacts of expanding the Gross Reservoir/Moffat Tunnel project. In fact, the plain language of the agreement itself states that it is not intended to mitigate for the impacts of enlarging the Gross/Moffat project.

    Denver Water’s current designs for the Gross/Moffat expansion project will not make the West Slope or its rivers better off. If Denver would agree to the three conditions outlined above, however, the project could benefit the West Slope. TU would be the first to congratulate Denver Water for its accomplishment.

    Drew Peternell, director, Trout Unlimited Colorado Water Project


    • Posted by Denver Water on August 16, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      We welcome all opinions. In this case, it is important to note that we have and will continue to meet with Trout Unlimited and other interested parties about the Moffat Project. In fact, over the past few years, we have met with Trout Unlimited numerous times to work through the best way to pursue this project. And, Trout Unlimited is part of the group that will be making decisions on how water is used to provide the environmental enhancements identified in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

      Through the federal permitting process, we will mitigate project impacts identified in the final environmental impact statement. Our fundamental philosophy and goal of the Moffat Project, however, was and is to expand Gross Reservoir in a way that protects and enhances the environment while providing a more secure and critical water system to our customers.

      That’s why we will go beyond the project impact mitigation that will be required under our permit. Through the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, we have committed to provide significant water resources and operations for the benefit of the environment, including sediment transport and temperature. We also have committed to provide millions of dollars and thousands of acre-feet of water and reservoir storage capacity in Grand and Summit counties to improve the health of the rivers in the Colorado River Basin. By working cooperatively, we believe we will meet our goal and find solutions that are in the greatest interest of all parties and for the basin as a whole.



said on Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Wow, great stuff, Sinjin. What a great overview of a complicated situation.


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