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All the ways we save (It’s not just shorter showers!)

Counting up the many ways Denver Water encourages efficient water use and conserves our West Slope supplies.

There are a few things many customers might know about Denver Water’s efforts to use water efficiently.

  • There was that fun and flashy and very effective 10-year “Use Only What You Need” campaign that cut per person water use by 22%.
  • Denver Water was among the first water utilities in the West to institutionalize summer restrictions with permanent three-day watering rules after the 2002 drought.
  • The utility uses recycled water for parks, golf courses, schools and power plants.
  • We require that people who use more water than typical households pay a higher rate for that additional water.
  • And there’s always this important piece of context: Denver Water serves one-quarter of Colorado’s population using less than 2% of the water used in the state. And Denver Water wants to see its customers use that water as efficiently as they can.

Editor's note: Video was produced in 2016. 

That said, there’s probably a lot more you may not know when it comes to the utility’s conservation and efficiency work. There are things it does that are less publicized, and things it is working on, all of which may not get the spotlight that watering rules and popular advertising campaigns might.

So what follows is an overview of all kinds of other important work Denver Water is doing to find new and innovative ways to save. 

  • The utility sends a Summer Watering Rules direct mailer to all customers and Distributor customers, every year regardless of weather conditions. This helps remind folks what the rules are after a long winter’s nap for the sprinkler.
Suggested watering times for efficient sprinkler systems are part of the Summer Watering Rules mailer, which is sent to customers every spring. Image credit: Denver Water.
  • More than half of single-family residential customers are receiving monthly communications about their water use. Those letters provide options to increase efficiency and Denver Water is working to increase the reach of this information.
  • Along the same lines, Denver Water in 2018 launched an efficiency campaign that sets indoor (40 gallons per person per day) and outdoor (12 gallons per square foot per year on landscaped areas) benchmarks for smart water use. The utility is educating those exceeding those figures on how they can save water and money.
Changing to high efficiency sprinkler heads means a slower, rotating stream of water that reduces the water running off the lawn and increases what settles into the soil. Photo credit: Denver Water.
  • Denver Water knows that half of our water comes from the West Slope, and we know how important that water is to streams and rivers, including the Colorado. So, we put a premium on using Front Range water first. 
  • When supplies in its Front Range reservoirs are sufficient, the utility pulls water primarily from those. Amid the wet spring of 2021, for example, Denver Water turned off flows from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County through the Roberts Tunnel for several weeks.
  • Additionally, Denver Water this summer sent water it otherwise could have stored down the Colorado River system to help lower water temperatures for fish. All told, the utility provided enough water to the heat-stressed streams that would be enough to support more than 40,000 households. 
  • Now, in August, the utility is again leaving more water in the Fraser River and the Colorado River downstream of Williams Fork Reservoir, both in Grand County, to help fisheries.
  • Denver Water continues to expand what it calls our “downstream reservoirs.” These reservoirs capture water north of Denver on the South Platte River. The utility releases that water when needed downstream, allowing it to keep more water in upstream reservoirs, reducing the need to convey West Slope water to the Front Range.

Editor's note: Video was produced in 2018. 

In fact, this is a good place to emphasize: The more efficient Denver Water’s customers are, the more water can remain in upstream reservoirs. That means less water moved to the Front Range from the West Slope. That also means more flexibility to put water into streams when it’s needed most for the environment.

  • The utility continues to offer rebates for efficient toilets and outdoor irrigation systems. Buy a 1.1 gallon-per-flush toilet and get $100 back.
  • Denver Water completed work on more than 300 low-income properties and 11 large properties in the last three years to retrofit fixtures as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Challenge. 
  • It’s teaming with nonprofit Resource Central to offer outdoor irrigation audits to single-family residents whose outdoor water use is above efficiency benchmarks. 
  • The utility also partners with the organization to sell customers native landscapes — known as “Garden In A Box” — to use in refashioning their yards. The program is immensely popular and routinely sells out. In fact, Resource Central estimates the gardens sold in 2020 alone will save 7.8 million gallons of water over the life of the plants.
The Mountain Medley Garden In A Box is one of many professional designed gardens with water-wise plants offered by Resource Central every spring. Image credit: Resource Central.
  • The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which took effect in 2013, created a permanent geographic boundary to Denver Water’s service area. That means it cannot provide water to areas that grow beyond that line.
  • Denver Water is piloting a program that provides incentives via tap fees for new developments when they use water-efficient fixtures and landscaping practices. 
  • Water budget management tools have been created for large commercial and industrial customers. These allow property managers to access better information on water use and improve water efficiency across complex properties and multiple sites. 

The utility has led and supported numerous state legislative and regulatory efforts toward efficient water use, including: 

  • Phasing out sales of low-efficiency faucets, shower heads and toilets.
  • Permitting the use of greywater (once-used water from sinks, showers and washers) in toilets and irrigation.
  • Reusing water in oil and gas operations.

These legislative efforts have real-world impacts. 

  • Residential greywater systems were installed for the first time last year in the popular Central Park neighborhood in Denver.
  • Denver Water and Colorado Springs (atop Pikes Peak) are launching the first-ever on-site treatment facilities to allow water to be treated and used a second time for toilets and on-site irrigation.
  • Two additional commercial building designs are under review for incorporating greywater systems. 
  • The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is developing new regulations that will allow treating wastewater for reuse as drinking water; Denver Water has been supporting this effort and the public rulemaking process is underway.
A greywater reuse system — the black equipment roughly the size of a stacked washer and dryer — is shown in the basement of a model home. Photo credit: Greyter Water Systems.

That’s not all. Other important work is occurring between Denver Water and the City and County of Denver at the planning level. Though these kinds of efforts can seem esoteric, the upfront planning can result in enormous water savings years down the road.

  • The city and the utility are together working to align the polices of metro area water, wastewater and stormwater services in ways to increase efficient use.
  • The City & County of Denver Green Codes are creating incentives for new development to be water efficient beyond standard building codes; those codes incorporate highly efficient landscape and fixture requirements and alternative water source options.
  • The two are working to get a better understanding of where turf is throughout our service area and where there are inefficiencies (narrow strips in some cases, for example) and opportunities for replacement.

That’s an aerial view of many of the actions and initiatives where Denver Water is pushing forward, looking for more ways to use water more efficiently. 

Few are as obvious as watering rules or fixing leaks, but taken together, Denver Water expects them to keep the utility on the leading edge of conservation and efficiency in the West. 

The small green roof above Offshoots café at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo credit: Denver Botanic Gardens, Scott Dressel-Martin.