Back-to-back, drought-plagued winters have prompted Colorado water users and providers to prepare for another dry year.
Xcel Energy is relaxing some of its water rights on the Colorado River to help Denver Water meet the needs of people on the Front Range and Western Slope.
On May 1, Denver Water and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will close Antero Reservoir in southeastern Colorado then drain it to save water. In Pueblo, Lake Minnequa is drying up, and a plan to use a pipeline to bring fresh water into the lake this summer offers little hope of filling it up.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that all of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought this year. A large portion of southeastern Colorado is seeing exceptional drought
Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Thornton and other communities are trying to limit watering. Colorado Springs will also charge large water users higher rates.
Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit conservation group, said Wednesday utilities learned a lot from the 2002 drought, one of the worst in the state's history.
A decade ago, they waited until May 1 to take action and many consumers didn't get the message until July, when they got their water bills and it was too late to have much impact. Many utilities and water regulators now begin taking action April 1.
The Xcel Energy decision affects the Colorado River at the Shoshone Hydro Plant. The practice gives the upstream junior water rights holders the ability to store water once the spring runoff begins in earnest.
Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn said water restrictions are going into effect now to prepare for the worst.
"In a year like this, every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later," he said.