Understanding Water Conservation in Colorado

In the field of water conservation, Colorado is cleverly called an “80/20” State.  80% of the State’s population resides in the Front Range urban corridor, an area that receives only 20% of the State’s total water.  The other 80% of available water drains through the watersheds West of the Continental Divide, serving the remaining 20% of the State’s population along with several other Western States that depend on the flow of the Colorado River.

The growing population of the Front Range, especially the Denver Metro area, demands significantly more water than the region’s natural available water supply. Historically, we have engineered ourselves out of this problem by investing in large-scale infrastructure projects.  These water supply projects called “transmountain diversions” redirect water from its natural drainage into a series of pipes and storage reservoirs, which ultimately provide cities with potable water. Denver sits in the South Platte River Basin, which depends on 17 such diversions to supply its population.

The population of the Denver Metro area is projected to grow substantially in the coming decades. Some estimates suggest the area may see an increase of 1 million people by 2035. How will the municipal water providers of the Front Range meet this growing demand?

One solution is to continue business as usual- constructing additional large-scale infrastructure projects to increase available water supply.  If you’ve followed Denver Water’s decades-long plan to expand the Gross Reservoir, you know that these projects come with a hefty cost. Environmentally, the project has been delayed in the approval process for many years to assess the ecological impact and mitigation strategy associated with the project.  Financially speaking, if the project is approved, Denver Water’s customers will pay for it. The utility will need to implement a substantial rate increase to fund such a massive expansion project. The Gross Reservoir is just one of many proposed plans to supply Colorado’s growing population. The bottom line is that business as usual comes with a substantial cost, both financially and ecologically.  

The good news actually lies in the widespread inefficiencies among current water users. This water can be understood as a buffer in the supply/demand issue. For example, some estimates suggest that up to 10% of all potable water  is lost due to leaks in broken supply pipes or at end-uses, like residential plumbing fixtures. Additionally, 50% of all potable water in Colorado is used for landscape irrigation, which mostly waters Kentucky Bluegrass- a grass species not suited for Colorado’s arid climate.  If we could re purpose even a fraction of this water, how many more homes could be supplied with clean drinking water?

With this understanding, water conservation isn’t just about using less water –
it’s about supplying the future demand.

This is why Front Range Water Providers have created robust conservation programs, which incentivize water efficiency by providing free services and upgrade rebates.  If we can increase the efficiency (and decrease the demand) of current water users, these large-scale infrastructure projects can at least be scaled down or delayed; at best, they might be able to be avoided all together.  

So, where does your community association fall into this larger issue?

Continue following CAP’s Sustainability Blog Topic to learn how a Community Association can be used as a tool for neighborhood-scale water conservation.