Drought watch for Highlands Ranch continues despite greenery

Designation remain in place even after wet weather


As afternoon rainstorms have continued through spring and early summer, officials of the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, the water provider in Highlands Ranch, warn residents that the community is still under a drought watch designation.

“A drought is not just about precipitation,” said Swithin Dick, water rights administrator for Centennial Water. “Precipitation is one part of the equation, but you also have to look at snowpack, water runoff, demand and water supply.”

Centennial Water monitors the water supply for the community daily. On July 7, Centennial Water's reservoir storage was 8,048-acre feet, or 47% of 17,200 acre-feet total capacity. Centennial Water's median storage level for July over the past 10 years has been 8,904 acre-feet, or 52% of the capacity.

An acre-foot of water equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land, about the size of a football field, one foot deep.

“Despite the precipitation we have received over the past month, the storage level in our reservoirs has declined,” Dick said. “This is because community water demand has increased, which is offsetting the water we have been able to capture.”

Dick said water supplies are based on water rights priority in the region. Water rights determine who is able to capture the water for use.

“Those with earlier water rights can capture the water first,” Dick said. “And, right now, there is a limited quantity, but high demand.”

According to Centennial Water, drought is a normal, recurring feature of the Colorado climate. Water shortages from drought can occur quickly and require immediate response or may occur gradually over multiple months or years.

A water shortage from drought occurs when available water supply from anticipated runoff and storage is reduced to a level that means supporting customer demands is at risk.

Centennial Water stressed that not knowing exactly when a drought begins, when it will end, and its severity makes uncertainty one of the defining characteristics of drought.

As drought conditions continue, Thomas Riggle, a water conservation and efficiency coordinator, said there are steps residents can take during the summer to help.

“When we talk about water supply and its direct relation to drought conditions, it provides an opportunity to talk about water conservation,” said Riggle. “July is Smart Irrigation Month, which is a national public awareness campaign to promote water efficiency. Implementing water-saving irrigation practices today not only helps save you money but will help us keep more water in our storage reservoirs.”

Centennial Water has three stages for measuring drought condition. In April, the Centennial Water Board of Directors approved the lowest stage level, drought watch. The drought watch designation is for residents in Highlands Ranch, Solstice, and portions of northern Douglas County.

If drought conditions get worse, the board can approve two new stages, Drought Stage 1 and Drought Stage 2, which would mean higher fees to further encourage residents to practice water conservation.

For instance, a resident who uses between 101% and 120% of the allotted amount, rates would go from $5.52 per 1,000 gallons to $6.95 under a Stage 1 designation. Under a Stage 2 designation, rates would increase to $8.38.

For more information about water conservation and drought conditions in Highlands Ranch, visit centennialwater.org.

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