Money and Denver Water |

Money and Denver Water


Chips Barry, manager of the Denver Water Board, told a Summit County audience last week that “water is more important than money.”

That’s the kind of talk we like to hear from the chief of the Denver water utility that owns Dillon Reservoir and major water rights in the Blue River Basin.

Barry was speaking at the annual State of the River Forum, a Colorado River Water Conservation District event where water diverters such as Denver Water and other experts predict summer water levels.

Barry was making a point about water conservation. His utility is in a financial pickle because many of its 1.2 million customers are saving water in reaction to the drought. The trouble is that the more water they save, the tougher it is for the utility’s budget.

That, of course, bespeaks to the cheap price of Denver’s water, much of which comes from the Western Slope. Cheap water is a structural defect in Denver Water’s long-range ability to save water during drought, and to have it available in years when there’s plenty of water but too much demand from growth.

Recently, we talked about Denver Water missing a chance to institutionalize a drought mentality by upping outdoor water use this summer to a voluntary three days a week. It had been a mandatory two days a week.

To be fair, Barry preached on the importance of conservation and the utility’s new rules against watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., overwatering and wasting irrigation water on hard surfaces.

A first violation results in a warning; the next three result in fines of $50, $100 and suspension of service. This is an important new wrinkle in the utilities water rules that never before made overwatering an infraction.

Barry was asked in an interview why the utility didn’t keep twice-a-week watering rules to assure reservoirs might fully recover with this runoff.

He said the problem is the utility’s 75 contracts to supply water to users outside of Denver’s borders. He said those contracts, written many years ago, don’t allow for strict water-use rules unless there’s a severe drought or the system breaks.

He said Denver Water could not restrict its city customers while allowing those outside the city to have more liberal water use rules.

That’s another big structural impediment to wise water use, if you ask us.

Why should we care? As noted, Denver Water owns Dillon Reservoir and significant water rights in Summit and Grand counties. It is negotiating to increase its water diversions from Summit County.

Somewhere down the line, the suburbs south of Denver that are draining their underground water supplies will be trying to get Denver’s “extra” water. That means more water taken out of our basin.

Summit County water interests continue to meet behind closed doors on a counteroffer Denver Water eagerly awaits. Barry said he hears its more than 20 pages long.

A lot is going on outside of public view. At some point, there’s going to be a deal and the public will have little say in it. We trust our county officials led by County Commissioner Tom Long to be watchdogs for our interests, but the public is being shut from view on this one.

That’s what happens when attorneys stamp “attorney-client privilege” on everything.

Water is the most precious natural resource in the West. We’ll keep hammering away at the issues to help the public stay informed.

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