Westminster water demand has declined, but more conservation work can be done, staff reports

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/16/22

Westminster’s water utility demand use has declined over the past ten years, despite increased growth, according to city officials. 

Drew Beckwith detailed this statistic at a June 6 …

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Westminster water demand has declined, but more conservation work can be done, staff reports

Posted

Westminster’s water utility demand use has declined over the past ten years, despite increased growth, according to city officials. 

Drew Beckwith detailed this statistic at a June 6 study session. 

“We are using less total water today than we were a decade ago in spite of the fact we’ve added 15,000 residents to our community and 150 new commercial business accounts,” he said. 

He attributes that decline to conservation programs, the price of water, state legislation, social norms and other factors. 

Indoor water use is also declining, he said, and technology affects a large portion of that. As an example, he talked about newer high-efficiency toilets that use less water than older ones. 

Whether outdoor use is increasing or decreasing is unclear. 

“I would hope over the next couple of years we would start to see a decline in our outdoor water use as a result of some of the recent investments we’ve made in increasing our outdoor conservation programs,” he said. 

He said that since Westminster is so close to build-out, the choices made by current residents will affect conservation in the future the most. 

Water supply and demand 

According to Sarah Borgers, Interim Department Director of Westminster’s Public Works & Utilities Department, Westminster's approximate water supply ranges from 23,000 and 34,000-acre feet. That range is based on centuries of modeling. 

She said demand depends primarily on three different factors: weather, conservation and land use. 

Land use demand is based on averaging how much acre-feet of water per acre of development the city needs to have available for development. 

Staff created categories — such as Urban Multi-Family and Commercial Mixed Use — and averaged how much water is typically needed. For example, a bookstore will use water much differently than a brewery, therefore, they calculate the average. 

Staff then applies the calculated acre-feet to the comprehensive plan’s land use map on the assumption that every parcel is developed to calculate the need for the city as a whole. They create multiple scenarios and the impacts of assumptions to better plan for the future. 

Borgers presented various results of the study based on different scenarios. The four main scenarios are built around different assumptions. One calls for a hot growth, a second assumes a weak economy, a third assumes business as usual and a fourth depends on a resource-aware community. 

For today’s demand (2001-2019,) water demand stayed below 23,000 acre feet. 

For hot growth, development and redevelopment is much greater than the proposed comprehensive plan and the downward conservation trends reverse. Water demand went close to 35,000-acre feet on the higher end of the estimated range. 

The weak economy puts some parcels undeveloped and conservation trends plateau at the current level. This puts water demand under 28,000 acre feet. 

Business as usual assumes development as proposed in the comprehensive plan and conservation trends continue at the same downward rate. Water demand is under 25,000-acre feet. 

“The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s less than the weak economy (scenario) and what is driving that is the conservation metric,” Borgers said. 

For the resource-aware scenario, development is denser than proposed and conservation trends are greater than the current trend. This puts water demand under 23,000-acre feet. 

Conservation programs

City Councilor Sarah Nurmela asked how far conservation can bring water use and demand down, and noted that at some point it will plateau. 

Borgers explained there’s much more progress to be made before that happens.

“Industry-wide, I think the sense is we are not close to there yet. There’s still a long way to go before we hit that plateau,” she said. “We don’t know what the bottom is, but we aren’t there yet.”

The City of Westminster provides residents with conservation programs and incentives to practice conservation, which are all detailed on their website.

Some of those programs include providing free high-efficiency toilets and free indoor water-use inspections to income-qualified homeowners, a lawn replacement program, water-wise garden discounts and more. 

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