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Hot, dry summer has cross-divide consequences

The start of this year’s summer season was one of the hottest and driest ever recorded by Denver Water.

It’s another sign of the increasing variability of weather patterns and the consequences that will roll across both sides of the Continental Divide.

Aftermath of Buffalo Fire near Dillon Reservoir
In June, the Buffalo Fire burned 73 acres near Dillon Reservoir, a main source of Denver’s water supply.

June saw fires burning through thousands of acres of dry forest on the West Slope. In Denver, the city tied its all-time heat record on June 28, when the thermometer hit 105 degrees.

The hot summer months also came on top of a smaller-than-normal snowpack and limited runoff in the South Platte River basin, as well as throughout the state last winter. That meant Denver Water had to look to its West Slope collection system, centered on Summit and Grand counties, to make up the difference.

The result?

In Denver, as temperatures regularly soared into the 90s, the hot, sunny days demanded extra irrigation to keep landscapes alive. While water use since May has been higher than in recent years, our customers’ average daily water use was roughly a quarter lower than the same period in 2000, which was similarly hot and dry. And that does not account for the addition of 250,000 people since 2000.

Efficient water use in the Mile High City keeps more water in reservoirs and streams on both sides of the Continental Divide. That’s important, because we never know when the next drought will begin.

We’re not immune to dry conditions in other areas of the state, and our water planners are always watching for dry spells to deepen into droughts. Thanks to our customers’ wise water use, and full reservoirs, Denver Water didn’t implement drought restrictions in 2018. But next year could be different. If the situation worsens this winter, we’re prepared to implement drought restrictions next year.

Water connects us all, especially across the Continental Divide.