Denver Water: ‘Use only what you need’

Drought watch 2012

Denver Water promotes conservation, but new developments along Tower Road, near DIA, still include acres of bluegrass lawn and unsustainable irrigation practices, including sprinkler watering during high winds. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

*Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of contributed articles highlighting water conservation efforts in Colorado.

By Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager of Denver Water

Denver Water is leading the way in water conservation in Colorado, helping customers with an ambitious goal: Use 22 percent less water than before the 2002 drought. And the plan is working. Denver Water customers are using 20 percent less water than they were before 2002 — and there are nearly 10 percent more of them.

Denver Water started promoting water conservation as early as the 1920s, but following the drought of 2002, Denver Water customers embraced a cultural shift in how they value water. One of the primary drivers for this culture change has been Denver Water’s advertising campaign. The campaign helps customers appreciate the value of water by encouraging them to “Use Only What You Need.” A 2011 survey found that almost 95 percent of respondents recognize the advertising campaign.

Aside from the campaign, several programs and rules encourage customers to use water wisely. Large irrigation customers, such as homeowners associations and commercial properties, can earn $6,000 per acre-foot of water saved by developing a plan to cut water use by at least 3 acre-feet a year. In the past five years, Denver Water has signed 68 contracts with those customers (with more in the works), saving an estimated 510 acre-feet of water per year — the annual amount used by roughly 1,275 households.

Denver Water will pay industrial and institutional customers that save at least 100,000 gallons of water in a year. During the past five years, Denver Water completed 38 contracts and saved about 390 acre-feet of water — the annual amount used by roughly 975 households.

Denver Water offers rebates to residential customers who install high-efficiency toilets, clothes washers and efficient irrigation products. Since 2007, nearly 108,700 residential rebates have been processed by Denver Water. Rebates for new high-efficiency products helped save about 2,500 acre-feet of water — roughly the amount used by 6,250 homes in a year.

The rate structure is affecting customers’ water use habits as well. Customers pay for water based on an increasing block-rate structure. The more they use, the more they pay.

Denver Water has a team of water waste monitors driving and bicycling throughout the service area educating and enforcing the rules (one of which prohibits lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.). Each summer, thousands of customers call Denver Water’s water waste hotline to notify Denver Water that neighbors (and sometimes spouses!) are violating the watering rules.

Two of Denver Water’s main missions — being responsible stewards of the environment and supplying our customers with high-quality water — depend on Denver Water helping customers use water wisely. In fact, Denver Water coined “Xeriscape,” the term for water-wise landscaping, in the 1980s.

In an extremely dry year like this one, the importance of our customers valuing water is even greater. In April, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners declared a Stage 1 drought, asking customers to reduce outdoor water use. Despite higher than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation, our customers have responded by using less water than expected based on the conditions.

Denver Water serves water and promotes its efficient use to 1.3 million people in the city of Denver and many surrounding suburbs. Established in 1918, the utility is a public agency funded by water rates, new tap fees and the sale of hydropower, not taxes. It is Colorado’s oldest and largest water utility.


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