Snowfall impacts on parks and water

Highlands Ranch Metro District reviews needs for next winter, stresses concern for upcoming dry season.

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Just over a month after a major snowstorm that brought much-needed moisture to the area, the Highlands Ranch Metro District is assessing how things went and what is needed moving forward. As crews look at the winter season success, water officials are warning it was not enough snow to take the region out of its drought conditions.

In a recent meeting, the board commended the efforts taken in the district to clear the snow, noting that compared to recent years, it was clear it was making strides each year to improve services.

Dirk Ambrose, the district's parks and parkways manager, said in the past when a major storm like the one on March 13 occurs, it sometimes would take crews more than two weeks to clear the more than 150 miles of concrete, sidewalks and paths. This year, Ambrose said continued planning paid off. Crews worked more than 900-man hours to get the work done in a week.

Now, Ambrose said he will review staffing and equipment over the summer in preparation for next winter. One area of concern is in the number of roads near the pathways and the equipment needed to clear piles created by plows.

“What we have seen happening over the last few years is that when (Douglas County) road plows go through, the snow piles can be several feet high on paths and sidewalks,” he said. “This year we found snowblowers were great for quickly clearing the pile-ups.”

Ambrose said he will be looking to the board for new equipment to handle large and small snowstorms.

Ambrose said another issue that will take parks staff into the summer is the consequences of a major storm.

“Once we get snow past four or five inches, he said, “we really start losing landmarks. We lose sight of the sidewalk and path edges. Sometimes we damage the sod in snow clearing.”

Ambrose said over the next few months they will work to repair damaged areas through reseeding.

While Ambrose will be planning for next year, with the heat of summer just around the corner, the metro district is working to remove the misconceptions residents have that the March 13 snowstorm and others that followed took the region out of drought warnings.

Dick said with snow levels increasing in February and March this year, the drought rating is still a matter of concern. The drought meter moved from “exceptional drought” to a designation of “serious drought,” he said.

Swithin Dick, the water rights administrator for Centennial Water, said to look at current conditions, the impacts of 2020 have to be considered.

Dick said 2020 had an average snowpack but it was also the seventh warmest year on record and second driest.

“Even with above average snowpack, the soils in general have been very dry,” he said.

Dick explained that even though the March 13 storm increased the average snowpack to about 91% for 2021, the dry soil is sucking up a lot of the water before the runoff can make it to the rivers. He estimated only 75% will make it into the water streams.

“The dry plants and soils have been grabbing that moisture,” he said. “It adds more moisture to the soil but takes away from the river.”

Because another dry season is expected, officials of the metro district are warning residents to be vigilant with summer water usage.

Sherry Eppers, community relations manager of the metro district, said there are plenty of steps residents can take to do their part in conserving water in 2021, including:

Fixing leaks: Check water lines and preserve water by fixing all big and small leaks.

Water Budgeting: Eppers said it is important to not “set it and forget it,” meaning residents should routinely check and set irrigation schedules. Turn them off when it is raining. Irrigation controls should be adjusted continuously throughout the year.

Garden in a box: Box gardening helps cut back on water usage.

High-efficiency nozzles: High-efficiency nozzles are good replacements for traditional, fixed-spray nozzles. Centennial water will provide rebates for those using high-efficiency nozzles.

Turf replacement: Among other incentives, there is a rebate available for the removal of any existing grass that is replaced with Xeric or drought-tolerant vegetation.

For more information on what residents can do to help preserve water, visit the Centennial Water website at centennialwater.org/water-conservation/waterwise/.

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