Archive for April, 2013

The new norm?

Normally, April showers bring May flowers, not April snow storms.

Normally, snowpack begins to melt by mid-April.

Normally, we expect our reservoirs to fill by the end of runoff season.

There is nothing normal, however, about the conditions Denver Water is measuring this year. With unexpected snowfall week after week this April, runoff from the mountain snowpack is starting a few weeks later this year. Because of this, we are no longer able to compare snowpack numbers to what they normally are this time of year.

Bring in the new norm. To make sure the benchmark we’re using to describe current snowpack conditions isn’t misleading, we must now look at the current snowpack numbers and compare them to the average peak levels. By this measure for the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs, the Colorado River watershed is at 84 percent of the average peak and the South Platte River watershed is at 78 percent of the average peak.

We are excited about the snow and hope it keeps coming. But it’s too early to say how full our reservoirs are going to be by the end of this runoff season. Even if we hit the normal peak for snowpack, the reservoir storage graph below highlights how far behind our reservoirs are after these last two years of drought conditions. Many of our reservoirs are so low they are unlikely to fill completely even if we hit the normal peak for snowpack this year.

The warm weekend was a kick-off to the runoff season this year. But, right on par with the new norm, more snow and cold weather is in the forecast later this week.

Last week’s blog post Out of hibernation explains why you can wait to water because of the recent snow and other tips to make sure you’re using the best practices when preparing your landscape for a summer with watering restrictions.

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Out of hibernation

Just like the black bears of Colorado, many people will be stepping outside this weekend with spring on their minds. And, after a month of snow, the green grass will quickly remind you that yard work is right around the corner.

If you plan to venture into the yard this weekend, first read the Tip of the Week from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado to make sure you’re using the best practices when preparing your landscape for a summer with watering restrictions.

Excerpts from the ALCC Tip of the Week, April 19, 2013:

  • You won’t need to water until well into May, depending on the amount of precipitation in your area and the weather. Check plants that get a lot of sun and don’t water until the soil starts to dry out. If a screwdriver inserts easily into the soil, don’t water yet.
  • Don’t water just because you canit’s OK to skip your watering day. Spring is when the grass roots need to be trained to grow deep in search of water — over-watering only makes the roots lazy and less drought-hardy.
  • Know what kinds of sprinkler heads you have on your system and set the timer to water accordingly.
  • With the weekend warm-up, this is a good time to get to know your sprinkler system better than ever. If you can only water twice a week, you need to make it count by knowing your water delivery system well.
  • In one minute of time, different kinds of sprinklers will put out different amounts of water. If you don’t know the difference between one that quickly puts down 2-3 gallons a minute and the one that emits only a half gallon, you will over water and waste water. Or, you will under-water and stress your plants.


Antero Reservoir will remain open

News release:

Thanks to a snowy April, Denver Water will no longer need to close Antero Reservoir in order to move the water and store it in Cheesman and Eleven Mile reservoirs during the ongoing drought.

“Managing water supplies through a drought is an ever-changing process,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “While we are still in drought and need our customers to save water, the recent snow has helped our supply situation. Keeping Antero open will be a benefit to Park County and those who love to fish there. If we drained the reservoir, it would take about three years to refill.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages the fishery and says effective immediately, the regular bag and possession limit — two trout per angler — at Antero will be reinstated.

Antero Reservoir will be open for recreational use from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Hand-launched vessels such as kayaks, canoes and belly-boats will be allowed, but no trailered or motorized boats will be permitted until details about aquatic nuisance species inspections can be determined.

The reservoir was last taken out of service to assist with water management during the drought that began in 2002.

Wildlife questions regarding fishing at Antero can be directed to Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 303-291-7227.

More snow, more numbers

As a majority of Colorado begins to see some much-needed relief from two years of hot and dry conditions, we all are talking about the many numbers associated with drought, with hope that the snow this spring will get us out of it. But, what numbers matter?

Here’s what the experts at Denver Water are looking at:

The big one is snowpack. We get our water from the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds. But, it isn’t as easy as pulling up the latest report from the National Water and Climate Center to see what the snowpack levels are for those watersheds. Why? Because we need the snowpack levels above our diversion points within these watersheds, not the entire watershed.

In the graphs below you’ll see that the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs in the Colorado River watershed is at 87 percent and the South Platte watershed is at 78 percent of average. So, while the complete watershed numbers are higher — Colorado River watershed is at 103 percent of average and the South Platte River watershed is at 90 percent of average — the areas within those watersheds that feed into our reservoirs are much lower.

Obviously, we are very excited to see these numbers increasing each week, but the snowpack levels that feed our reservoirs are still well below the normal peak.

What else are the experts tracking? Because of the past two dry winters, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July of 2011. So as we move out of April, we will look closely at our reservoir levels, the temperature, and the amount of rain or snow we get.

We will also monitor the conditions that determine how much of this snowpack will become water in our reservoirs because:

• Some will soak into the ground, depending on how dry it is and what plants need
• Some will evaporate
• Some may be passed downstream to senior water rights

As we continue to evaluate the conditions and crunch the numbers, we will continue to manage our water supply carefully. At this point, we are still in Stage 2 mandatory watering restrictions. The good news is you don’t even need to think about watering your landscape right now, because Mother Nature is taking care of that for all of us.

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Cheering for blue

There are many reasons to cheer for blue in Denver these days.

First, the ever-popular Blue Man Group returned to Denver this weekend. Second, the Denver Nuggets, sporting their white-and-blue uniforms won their 55th game of the season — a franchise record.

And today, Denver Water released its water watch report where we continue to root for the blue line that represents our current snowpack and reservoir conditions.

As of today, we would need 4 feet of snow in our mountain watersheds to get to a normal snowpack; however, even with a normal snowpack our reservoirs still would not completely fill this year. But, every little drop helps.

Droughts are unpredictable. We don’t know what is in store for us next winter, or even the winter after that. We’ll continue to manage our supply and demand in case these drought conditions carry over into the next few years. So, even if the next couple of weeks bring us to our average snowpack levels, we still expect to have the Stage 2 mandatory drought restrictions in place to save as much water as possible this summer.

As we embark upon the hot and dry summer months, help us cheer on the blue line by following the mandatory watering rules and Use Even Less.

Go blue!

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It’s spring … but think before you water

Kristen Fefes

Kristen Fefes

Guest Blogger: Kristen Fefes

Kristen Fefes is the executive director of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado and an executive team member of the Green Industries of Colorado, an umbrella association of green industry associations.

Like most people, come April I’m ready to think about my outdoor life. Away go the paintbrushes and the shelf paper; the winter home projects are done. Make way for spring yard work.

Because Denver Water announced mandatory Stage 2 drought restrictions, this year it’s more important than ever to get your landscape started on the right foot. We can’t waste a drop of water this spring and summer — our plants will need all they can get. Watering your landscape is more complex than just a day of the week, and drought makes it even more so. You need to watch what’s happening in your yard and pay attention to your plants, trees and turf.

A few suggestions for spring watering under mandatory watering restrictions:

Activate your system, but use it wisely. April is the typical time to turn on your sprinkler system, but just because it’s been activated doesn’t mean you have to use it. Spring rain and/or cooler temps (or snow, like we got yesterday!) might mean you only have to water once a week, or maybe just a south- or west-facing area, or maybe not at all. This applies if you’re watering via hose, too.

How to tell if your grass needs water? Use the screwdriver test. Stick a screwdriver or knife in the ground. If there’s enough moisture, the screwdriver will slide in. If you can’t penetrate, you need to water on your assigned day.

When you water plants, make sure to water deeply. One thorough soak is better than 2-3 quick spritze that do not soak deeply into the soil. Heavy clay soils may take additional effort to run several short cycles during one watering day to get water to soak in deeply. If water starts pooling or running off, you’ve watered too much at one time. A thorough soak helps the roots grow deeper and find moisture down in the soil, and deep-rooted plants will survive better than plants with shallow roots. Spring is the best time to get those plants trained and in shape for summer. Sorta like baseball.

Here’s another lawn watering tip until early June: after watering the grass, let the top one-half inch of the soil dry out before watering on your assigned day again. This is when the roots are growing deep, seeking water in the soil. By letting that top one-half inch dry out, you’re building a healthier, drought-tolerant lawn.

Get an audit. Sprinkler audits are simple, quick and inexpensive. Get a professional to help you detect pressure and spray problems, leaks and other issues. Then, get them fixed to give your plants a fighting chance once the heat of the summer hits.

If there ever were a year to upgrade your sprinkler system, this is it. A new irrigation clock, efficient nozzles and rain sensors are examples of terrific technology available on the market. Denver Water is just one of many water providers offering rebates for this technology. Now is the time to get busy and do the things that save water, so see what you can do to upgrade and retrofit your system to make it even more efficient.

If you’re planting, be sure to do it right. Use organic material to improve the soil, install mulch to hold in moisture, group like plants with similar water needs together and zone your irrigation correctly. Having beds and turf on the same sprinkler zones isn’t smart. Separate them and use drip whenever possible in beds and containers.

In April, hardy shrubs and trees can be planted, as well as early season veggies like lettuces, peas and kale. Perennials can be planted later in April and in May. Don’t plant annuals before about May 15 (the usual date of the last frost). Take advantage of cooler soil and daytime temperatures for Spring planting, this will help plants get established before the heat of summer sets in and plants see more stress.

Find more advice by signing up for ALCC’s weekly landscape tip.

It’s raining, it’s snowing, the drought is still going

We are always excited to see moisture in the forecast, but unfortunately it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve experienced two years in a row of above average temperatures and low snowpack. Because of this, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July 2011.

We would need about six feet of new snow in our mountain watersheds over the next 2-3 weeks to have a normal snowpack. The forecasted snowfall will certainly help our situation, but we don’t expect enough snow to get us out of the drought because of our low reservoir levels. In fact, we are so far behind that even with a normal snowpack, our reservoirs would still not completely fill this year.

It isn’t all bad news though. The upcoming forecast is great for local soil moisture and serves as a reminder that you don’t need to use your irrigation systems just yet.

You can see in the snowpack charts below that the snowpack levels in the South Platte watershed are hovering just above last year’s number at 57 percent of average. The Colorado River watershed is doing better than last year, but it is still at 70 percent of average. These are the two watersheds that Denver Water relies on for mountain snowmelt to feed our reservoirs. You can see from the supply reservoir graph below, our reservoirs are 14 percent lower than they should be for this time of year – and we don’t expect them to fill.


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