Colorado’s water picture is not looking favorable

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 2/4/21

I don't know if Westminster Window readers normally read the City of Westminster's web page or not. In case you don't, you need to be aware of the punch line in their recent article, “Standley Lake …

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Colorado’s water picture is not looking favorable

Posted

I don't know if Westminster Window readers normally read the City of Westminster's web page or not. In case you don't, you need to be aware of the punch line in their recent article, “Standley Lake water level steady, but below full.”

It's good to see city staff has started calling attention to the 100% drought conditions across Colorado - which certainly includes Westminster and other communities that rely on the snowpack in the high country.

The key sentence in their article states, “Depending on how the snow season progresses, a drought declaration may be necessary to spring.” The term “drought declaration” is code for WATER RESTRICTIONS.

The city doesn't tell us how much below historic levels Stanley Lake currently is and that is an important fact to have. The city should be more forthcoming and transparent with key facts.

We do know that our water supply and a part of the Cities of Arvada, Broomfield, Northglenn, Federal Heights, Thornton and western Adams County come from the South Platte River Basin. The most current measurements for this basin indicate the snowpack of is at 77% of historic levels for this time of year. That is not good!

Having said that, we all know how unpredictable Colorado precipitation can be.

Droughts are no stranger to Colorado

We need to remember that we live in a semi-arid region where precipitation is not anything like the Midwest where many of us once lived. The wettest months for snow or rain are March, April and May so we need to pray for a wet spring in the mountains and down here in suburbia.

We have had droughts in the past. The most notable drought was in the early 1950s. I recall the drought in 2002 when lawn irrigation was limited throughout the Denver metro area. We could only water the lawn for a specified amount of time on certain days of the week, depending on your street numbers. Last year, the City of Westminster adopted a more definitive Drought Management Plan which empowers the city manager to call the shots on water restrictions.

Water scenario with water restrictions

One of two water scenarios will likely impact us, and neither is favorable to homeowners wanting to keep their lawns and landscaping looking green.

First, we could easily experience a continuation of the drought to the extent that public water providers like municipalities, water districts and the Denver Water Board (a big water provider to several suburban municipalities) will have to impose water consumption restrictions. If it gets too bad, restrictions could go beyond limited lawn watering. Remember years ago in Los Angeles the motto of “if it's yellow, let it mellow and if it's brown flush it down?”

Let's hope that extreme does not become reality here.

A 2020 hot dry summer repeat scenario

The other scenario I would envision is a repeat of the summer of 2020 with a hot, dry and sometimes windy season. That is when the stuff hits the fan like it did last summer when water consumption was higher than normal and the third tier of the city's water rate structure - $12.00 per one thousand gallons - kicked in. Ugh!!

Last year, the city council was so proud of what they did with their benevolent gesture of NOT raising water rates in 2021. That was specious reasoning, that there might not be back-to-back drought condition summers.

There has never been anything magic about only having three tiers. The council should have rolled back the rate structure adopted in 2018 to take place in 2020 and reduced the third tier rate, putting the higher rate in a new fourth tier.

So, we will see what the weather brings us. I will give you odds that the city will be forced to implement water rationing for the summer months.

In the meantime, we wait to see what happens with the Westminster Water Warriors lawsuit. You know, we may have a recall election yet.

Second Westminster mayoral candidate

In case you didn't catch her video announcement, current city council member Anita Seitz has announced she is running for mayor. With former Mayor Nancy McNally's earlier announcement seeking the mayor's position, it will be a formidable contest. There will be plenty to talk about over the coming months.

Apartments galore!

Here's a non-surprise set of findings in a report just released, one in which Westminster residents could have said, “I told you so.”

Guess what I am referring to? Yes, you are right on. It's the number of new apartments built in Westminster being excessive!

According to RentCafe' and Yardi Matrix, which monitors and analyzes such things, Westminster is one of three Colorado cities in the top twenty cities in the nation to have experienced the most apartment construction in the last five years.

Yes, I said in the entire United States.

Westminster's 2,133 new apartment units is ranked 20th, Parker is 19th at 2,150 units and Longmont is ranked 18th at 2,154 units.

Hang onto your hat, the top-ranked city is Frisco, Texas, a Dallas suburb, with its whopping 8,044 new apartment units. In fact, six of the top nine cities are all Texas suburban cities. They must love their apartments. I bet Mayor Herb would love it.

Plus, we should not overlook Denver's Central Business District with its 4,583 units under construction and 10,314 units in the planning stages according to Apartment Insight.

City Council hooked on apartments

So, we have confirmation from the outside national source that the Westminster city council and City Manager love to approve more apartments. In fact, they touted having the “next Colorado urban center” with plenty of density.

While they removed that boastful statement after the 2020 community survey results were so negative on all of the density, it doesn't mean that the present City Council and certainly the mayor won't approve more apartment construction.

They declined to pursue a modification of the New Downtown high-density plan in conjunction with the 2021 City Budget. The current seated city council with its majority of mayor Atchison and the “three devotees” of City Manager Don Tripp are very likely to continue pushing more apartments despite Westminster being a national leader in apartment construction.

Ugh.

More and more new apartments in the pipeline

Besides 2,133 new apartments being built in the past five years, we need to keep our eye on what has already been approved and is now under construction.

This category is NOT included in the 2,133 units. For example, there is a fourth apartment complex (Westminster Peaks) well along at the New Downtown (274 units), St. Mark's property on Federal Blvd. (205 units), Church Ranch property at Old Wadsworth Blvd. (216 units), and the former Builder's Square property on 90th Avenue and east of Wadsworth Parkway (306 units).

This PARTIAL listing will add 1,001 additional apartment units and I didn't even list all of the currently approved developments which also include single-family subdivisions, townhomes and a boutique hotel at the New Downtown. Not only do these additional units continue a trend away from single-family developments (which is the bread and butter make-up of our community), it adds a water demand burden on finite water resources. With the distinct possibility of the drought continuing and global warming becoming more apparent, a rational person would ask when is enough?

The newest candidate to throw her hat in the ring to run for mayor espouses “community sustainability” time and time again, but her support of unbridled apartment growth up against limited water resources is anything but a sustainable approach.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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