Print Back to top
News Article

Major municipal water providers act on Colorado River crisis

Several large municipal water providers commit to significant reductions in water use.

Editor’s note: We are sharing on TAP this important Aug. 24 announcement from major water providers in Colorado and other states that rely on the Colorado River. Subscribe to TAP to stay up to date on water issues affecting the metro area and the West. 

A two-decade drought on the Colorado River affects 40 million people who rely on it for drinking water, agriculture, power production, landscape irrigation, recreation and more. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Large water providers from across the Colorado River Basin on Aug. 24 announced a commitment to substantially expand existing efforts to conserve water, reduce demands and expand reuse and recycling of water supplies.  

The agreement includes water providers in both the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River, stretching from Colorado’s Front Range to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The providers invite other utilities in the basin to join in the commitment to increasing water-use efficiency and reducing the demand for water.  

Read more TAP stories about the Colorado River, which supplies about half of Denver’s water supply. 

The agreement comes amid a two-decade drought on the river that affects 40 million people who rely on it for drinking water, agriculture, power production, landscape irrigation, recreation and more. Demands for water in the basin have exceeded available supply, reducing storage levels in lakes Mead and Powell to critically low levels. 

The water providers are outlining their commitments in a Memorandum of Understanding that was delivered to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton on Aug. 24. Some providers have committed to pursuing the MOU’s intent while awaiting final approval through their various governing boards.

“We are developing prudent municipal water conservation actions that every community that relies on the Colorado River should be using,” water providers said in the letter to Touton. 

Moving forward, “We will describe the steps our organizations will take now and codify our commitment to continued effort as we work to ensure our river and the communities it serves continue to thrive. We sincerely hope our commitment to action inspires other stakeholders that share the river to do the same.” 

Water-wise plants offer beauty and color outside Denver Water’s Administration Building. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Specifically, the agreement will focus on several key areas as pathways to cutting water use, including: 

  1. Develop programs to replace nonfunctional or passive cool weather turf grass (grass that serves primarily a decorative role and is otherwise unused) with drought- and climate-resistant landscaping, while maintaining vital urban landscapes and tree canopies where appropriate.     
  2. Increase water reuse and recycling programs where feasible. 
  3. Continue and expand conservation and efficiency programs to accelerate water savings. 

“Achieving the protection storage volumes needed to preserve water and hydropower operations within the Colorado River basin cannot be met by a singular country, basin, state, or water use sector,” continued the letter to BOR. “While municipal water use represents only a small fraction of total Colorado River water use, progress begins with one and then many until we are all moving in the same direction.” 

Arapahoe County expects to save 1.5 million gallons of water per year by converting this three-acre field of nonfunctional but thirsty Kentucky bluegrass into native prairie grasses. Photo credit: Denver Water.

While not all the conservation strategies under consideration may make sense for each community, utilities say the agreement demonstrates the commitment that municipal water providers have not only to coordinating and collaborating on strategies to conserve and manage water demands, but to also help protect the Colorado River system.    

Links to the letter to the BOR, the MOU and a support letter from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Seeding native prairie grasses at Arapahoe County’s Administration Building in Littleton in August 2022. This three-acre field that used to be covered with Kentucky bluegrass wasn’t used by the community for recreation or other purposes, meaning it was “nonfunctional grass.” So, the county is converting it to a landscape that can survive with the moisture Mother Nature provides. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Quotes from signatories to the BOR letter:

“The water supply challenges we are facing on the Colorado River are accelerating at an alarming pace. Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must take bold and immediate action to reduce their use on this vital water source,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This agreement represents our commitment to working with our municipal partners on the river to come up with innovative, collaborative approaches to better manage our Colorado River supplies and promote a more sustainable future for our communities.”

Check out tips and programs that support water efficiency

“With climate change and aridification affecting the entire Basin, improving the health of the Colorado River system requires a swift and collective effort of all water users – in all sectors – to reduce water use and implement actionable strategies, policies and programs to protect this vital resource and balance water supplies with demands,” said John Entsminger, Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager.

“Climate change and overuse of the Colorado River have put us squarely within the crisis we long saw coming. The bottom line now: We all need to work on solutions, no matter our individual impacts on river flows,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “While we have long been a conservation leader, Denver Water has consistently said it is prepared to do even more, and the commitments contained in this agreement reflect our readiness to take further important steps to keep more water in the Colorado River Basin.”

Parking lot medians are no place for grass. Water-wise landscaping can offer beauty and save water. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“Water issues in the arid west are accelerating,” stated Aurora Water General Manager Marshall Brown. “Aurora is embracing these conservation pathways through Colorado’s largest potable reuse system, an aggressive turf replacement rebate program and a new ordinance that prohibits nonfunctional turf in new developments. We’re doing what needs to be done to ensure a reliable water supply for our community in unpredictable times and we challenge other municipalities to do the same.”

“Colorado Springs Utilities is committed to conservation programming that ensures a clean, reliable water supply for years to come. Building on our customers’ successful 41% reduction in per capita use since 2001, we continue to pursue and implement water efficiency and reuse initiatives that support our vibrant community and make wise use of this valuable resource,” said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin.

“The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District supports the efforts of the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), the State of Colorado, and municipal and agricultural water providers in the basin, to collaborate in bringing the system into balance,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the district.

Functional grass offers people a place to meet and recreate, like this field in Washington Park that’s set up for volleyball. Photo credit: Denver Water.