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Portion of Douglas County under stage 1 drought restrictions for first time since 2002

Surface reservoirs are at 37% capacity. They are usually around 70% to 80% once snow melts in the spring.

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — For the first time in 20 years, Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which supplies water to Highlands Ranch, Solstice and northern Douglas County, is implementing Stage 1 drought restrictions.

In the summer, about 75% of water consumption is used on outdoor irrigation, said district general manager Sam Calkins.

“The water we use indoors, we can actually recapture a lot of that water, re-treat it, it goes back into the South Platte River system and it’s available for reuse," Calkins said. "But water that goes to irrigation is really only about a one-time-use type of water."

He said the average demand for indoor water use is about 8 million gallons per day all year-round. Demand jumps up to 30 million gallons per day in the summer months, due to outdoor watering.

"So if we restrict [outdoor irrigation], we have the biggest impact, quickly, on water use, overall," he said. 

To help conserve water, residents are being asked to limit outdoor irrigating to two days per week, before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Hand watering trees and shrubs is allowed if the hose is held and equipped with a shut-off device.

"Agencies like the Highlands Ranch Metro District and the Highlands Ranch Community Association, they may be watering more than two days a week, but they're committed to cutting their outdoor irrigation by 15-20%, and that's what we're asking our residential customers to do as well," Calkins said.

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Centennial Water stores water at McLellan, South Platte and Chatfield reservoirs. Calkins said right now, they’re at about 37% capacity. That’s about 6,368 acre-feet of water in the reservoirs, right now, and they’re declining. He said usually, they have about 10,000 acre-feet of water stored. An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to fill a football field to a depth of one foot.

"This is about the lowest that anybody has seen it,” he said, looking out at McLellan Reservoir. “In fact, after April 30 when the snow melts, the reservoirs should start to fill and get to 70-80%, but this year they really have stayed at about that 40% or a little bit below.”

Credit: KUSA
McLellan Reservoir

Calkins said these low water levels are the reason they're instituting water restrictions for the first time since 2002.  

"If the reservoir was full, it would be up to that level of the red rock. The rock further below, the white rock, is usually underwater, so we'd expect it to be somewhere in that band of gray rock behind us in a normal year," he said. 

Credit: KUSA
McLellen Reservoir

But this isn't a normal year. Hotter, drier conditions and drought are affecting water levels on the South Platte River, which is what fills this reservoir. 

“As a result, the soils are really dry. Despite the fact that we’ve had average snowfall this year, the soil absorbed a whole lot of that water before it ever made it into the river," Calkins said. "So in Colorado, there’s a priority system for water rights, and there are very senior water users north of us, a lot of agricultural interests in northeast Colorado, and they get the water before we do.”

Calkins said he expects Stage 1 drought restrictions to end in late September or October, when outdoor irrigating stops. Until then, outdoor water features like fountains and splash pads will be turned off. 

He said besides the reservoirs, Centennial Water also has well water sources.

“If there was an extreme drought that lasted for years and years and we didn’t have any water in the reservoirs, we would still have enough water from those well fields to again provide the needs of every resident of Highlands Ranch," he said. “We have storage or a backup supply of well water that is plenty of water to meet people’s needs on a day-to-day basis.”

The Centennial Water Board will meet on July 27 to decide on implementing Stage 1 drought rates. If approved, the rates would go into effect for the billing periods that start after Aug. 1. Customers who do not exceed their water budget would not see a rate increase.

"While we're not in an emergency situation, really what we want to do is get the message out that we have been in a drought for a few years and that conserving water is important," he said. "We need to come together as a community to do that."

Centennial Water will answer questions about water restrictions at an open house on July 28 at South Ridge Rec Center from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Residents can also check their website for more information on water restrictions.

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