Denver Water, North America

Climate-Smart Utility Case Story

Denver Water takes its water source mainly from the Colorado River and provides water to about 25% of the state of Colorado’s population. In 2002, the Denver area experienced simultaneous natural disasters from drought to wildfire and then rainstorms and this had serious impact on the supply of water in their largest water reservoir. Following this disaster and with existing knowledge of global warming, Denver Water decided to study the effect on temperature and precipitation on their supply system .The different warming scenarios studied in 2005, 2011 and 2017 all indicated that the watershed supply is sensitive to temperature changes and could result in further decreased water volumes. For example, in 2011, a warming of 0.15 degrees Celsius resulted in a 20 percent reduction in water supply, while water demand increased by 7 percent. In addition, Evaporative losses, snow and ice melt, changes in runoff patterns, and decreases in local precipitation are some associated impacts being experienced with these high temperatures. The increased demand for water from population growth cannot be ignored either.

As a utility, Denver Water has embraced the uncertainty that comes with these challenges and developed an Adaptive Strategy by considering the changes in warming climate, economy, and social values of the people. This plan includes a diversified water portfolio which considers all geographic locations and types of investment, scalable options to be prevent over investing, preserve options, and employs a continuous & iterative planning process.

Some of the lessons learned from this case is that dealing with climate change requires developing new techniques into planning approaches and mainstreaming climate adaptation across organisational practices. Partnership and collaboration are also key as this case cited the strong alliance with 12 water utilities through the Water Utility Climate Alliance to collaborate on advancing water utility climate change adaptation.  In addition, as a coordinated and holistic strategy for a safe and reliable water supply are part of the strategy for adaptation and resilience.


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