Youth and water – our future depends on it

Matt Bond, Denver Water's youth education manager, uses a DSST-Cole Middle School student to demonstrate the Continental Divide and its impacts on water in Colorado.

Matt Bond, Denver Water’s youth education manager, uses a DSST-Cole Middle School student to demonstrate the Continental Divide and its impacts on water in Colorado.

As Denver and the West begin to address the next generation of water challenges, from climate change to the gap between supply and demand, educating the future leaders in our community about their role in the water cycle has never been more important.

From navigating water law to managing a water system, providing a reliable supply of drinking water is more complex than it may appear every time you turn on the tap.

That is why Denver Water has a dynamic Youth Education program that includes a Teacher Resource Packet to support sixth-grade water education, classroom presentations and a variety of online, interactive teaching aids.

Over the next six weeks we’ll use this blog to provide weekly posts of factual, locally relevant resources, activities, games and news clips about all things water to complement our Youth Education program. The resources provided below, and in this series of posts, will include additional teaching tools and information to enhance your discussions on how water relates directly to you and your students.

Week one: Watersheds                         

Online resources 

  1. What is a watershed? Explore the natural and human factors that influence a watershed in the Watershed Activity section.
  2. Visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website and enter your zip code or city name to learn about the watershed you live in.
  3. Contact organizations that are working to protect your watershed. Many of these organizations, such as The Greenway Foundation and Earth Force, provide hands-on learning opportunities for students.

Charts, graphs & maps

co_update-snow

Visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service of Colorado’s Snow Survey Products page for a complete list of snow survey reports and maps.

This map  from the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows how current snowpack levels in Colorado’s watersheds compare to the long-term median. Measuring snowpack in each watershed is a vital part of managing a water supply, because it helps water managers estimate how much runoff (snowmelt) to expect in the spring months. Denver Water’s collection system is comprised of portions of the South Platte and Colorado River watersheds shown below.

Math & science questions

  1. How many major watersheds are there in Colorado?
  2. How do you find the median of a group of numbers? How is a median different from an average?
  3. If you were a water manager at Denver Water, how would you use this graph to make decisions about your water supply? What additional information would be helpful to know about your watershed’s snowpack?
Denver Water only measures snowpack above its diversion points for a more comprehensive chart specific only to our operations. Check out our weekly Water Watch Report for a summary of water supply conditions, including updated snowpack numbers, reservoir supply and precipitation.

Denver Water measures snowpack above its diversion points for a more comprehensive chart specific only to its operations. Check out the weekly Water Watch Report for a summary of water supply conditions, including updated snowpack numbers, reservoir supply and precipitation.

Online activities

The Watershed Game (Bell Museum) – In the intermediate level, you’ll be in charge of your watershed, making decisions about recreation, agriculture, transportation and much more. Can you make the right choices to ensure a healthy watershed? Depending on your students’ level of knowledge on this topic, you might consider beginning with the novice level, which provides a good introduction to the basic concepts.

Watershed Detective (Agrium) – Investigate water samples for water-quality challenges that may occur in any watershed.

Recent water news

Visit historic Denver Water building during Doors Open Denver

This 1899 photo shows Denver Water’s pumping station that is now called Three Stone Buildings.

This 1899 photo shows Denver Water’s pumping station that is now called Three Stone Buildings.

For the first time, Denver Water is opening up a historic building to the public during this year’s Doors Open Denver.

This is the 10th anniversary of Doors Open Denver, a free two-day event celebrating architecture and design. About 100 new and historic, public and private buildings will open their doors to the public, offering access to spaces that are often seen but rarely entered. This year’s event, held April 12 and 13, focuses on neighborhood architecture.

Denver Water is opening the doors to the 134-year-old Three Stone Buildings, located on its main operations complex east of Interstate 25 between Colfax and Sixth avenues. The buildings have played a number of roles during their lifetimes, but began as a pumping station to supply the growing city with water.

In 1880, the first stone building was built west of an artificial lake. At the time, it pumped up to 5 million gallons of South Platte River water to Denver per day. In 1881, a second stone building was built, doubling the pumping capacity. The third stone building was added in 1905. After nearly 50 years in operation, the buildings stopped pumping water in 1929, and the lake was drained in the years following. In 1983, the three stone buildings were combined and turned into a museum and Denver Water employee center, a function they still serve today.

During Doors Open Denver, Denver Water employees will guide guests through the building and point out historic photos and artifacts. Refreshments will be served while guests view historic videos.

 

More snow same adventure – Denver Water crews measure snowpack

Tracking snowpack is a vital part of managing Denver Water’s water supply. But, with sample sites in remote locations throughout our watersheds, this is no easy task.

Take a journey with Jay Adams, from Denver Water’s Communications and Marketing Department, as he joins Denver Water crews to take on this adventurous mission.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

What a difference a year makes in snowpack levels

By Jay Adams

It’s a trek not many people take, but one that provides critical information to more than 1 million people. The journey begins just below the Continental Divide in a Trooper Snow Cat. The ride leads up the side of a mountain, past a group of snowmobilers and two wandering moose. Onboard the Snow Cat heading into the forest are Denver Water employees Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman; and Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker. The task today is to get a firsthand check on the snowpack by poking a few holes in the snow-covered forest.

This trip yields better results than one year ago when Colorado was facing one of its driest winters on record. “We have more snow this time,” Clark said. “Right now it’s definitely up, but you never know what can happen.”

Clark plows the Trooper up until they reach the Ranch Creek snow course. The Denver Water trio straps on their snowshoes, grabs their tube and gets down to business.

Snowpack readings in March are double where they were at this time last year.

Snowpack readings in March are double where they were at this time last year.

“Forty-four – 41 – 33. That’s good for Ranch,” Olsson calls out after spearing the snow and pulling out a plug. Clark holds the scale, while Holinka jots down the snow depth and calculates the water content and snow density — two critical numbers that will be called down to Denver and used for projecting the yield from this winter’s snow.

Next stop, the Arrow course. Ten tests are taken on the top of a hill where the old railroad town of Arrow once stood. Denver Water has been taking samples from this hill since 1938.

Olsson has been running snow courses for 23 years. “You want to do a good job and get a good reading,” he said. The group takes pride capturing good samples. “We are very serious about how we do it because it’s so important (for managing water supply),” Holinka said.

Measurement of the snowpack is extremely critical for Denver Water said Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply. “Without snowpack readings, we’d have no way of estimating what the spring runoff would be. It’s important to have boots on the ground as a rough check on the automated readings,” Steger said.

Twenty samples were taken on this day. At the Ranch course, the snow water equivalent measured 12.9 inches, compared to 6.3 inches last year. “They’ll like that down in Denver,” Olsson said, referring to the strong readings.

More stories about measuring snowpack:

So, how are we looking this year?

Last year at this time, Denver Water needed about 6 feet of new snow in its mountain watersheds over a two- to three-week span just to have a normal snowpack. Fortunately, we experienced snowstorm after snowstorm throughout the rest of that spring and, along with customers’ reduced water use, water supply conditions improved.

This year is a new story, which is evident by the current snowpack charts for both of the watersheds that feed Denver Water’s supply.

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Learn how to find & fix leaks in your irrigation system for Fix a Leak Week

March 17–23, 2014

March 17–23, 2014

From water utilities to irrigation companies across the nation, word is spreading fast about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Fix a Leak Week.

Denver Water encourages leak prevention and repair all year long, and we have an extensive conservation program filled with tips and tools to help customers cut out leaks in their homes and businesses. This important week serves as a great reminder to use these resources and learn how to look for hidden problems to avoid costly and wasteful water leaks.  

With irrigation season right around the corner, we want to focus this week on a trend we are noticing during our high-bill audits. After a winter filled with fluctuating weather, leaks on irrigation systems are the main culprit for these high bills.

So, print up these tips and tape them to your irrigation controller as a reminder to check for leaks in your system when the irrigation season begins later this spring.

1)      Backflow device – Visually inspect the device for cracks before turning it on. Once your system is hooked up and ready to go, watch for drips from the valves or pipe connections.

2)      Zones – Turn on each zone, one at a time, and look for broken heads. Make sure all heads are adjusted so they are not spraying impervious areas.

3)      Valve box – After turning on each zone, open all valve boxes to ensure they are dry inside. If not, identify and replace leaking valve(s).

4)      Pipes – Walk the landscape twice. Once when the weather is dry and the sprinklers have not run for at least one day, and again after running a complete cycle of the irrigation system. Look for exceptionally wet or soggy areas in your yard. This could be a sign of a broken sprinkler head or an underground pipe leaking in that spot.

5)      Repeat – Continue to check your irrigation system throughout the season (at least once a month) to catch leaks before they affect your water bill.

A great way to identify a water leak is by monitoring your water bill. Compare the water usage with the same month from the previous year (there is a yearlong water use chart on Denver Water bills), and look for an unusually high month. Or, download a graph displaying your water consumption history over a specified period of time with Denver Water’s personalized water use graph, and look for unusual spikes in water use. If you are unable to identify a leak, submit a request for a free water audit of your property here.  

Check out more tips and tools being shared for 2014 Fix A Leak Week:

Breakthrough water agreement benefits cities and rivers

Water management is never easy. And in Colorado, where the resource is scarce, everyone’s interest is valuable, and needs are often widely divergent.

Last year, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited came together to pen a guest editorial for The Denver Post, Together, we can meet Colorado River challenges, acknowledging the fact that there are differences over how to best use water to meet our diverse needs. But, more important, the editorial highlighted the fact that smart water planning and cooperation are the only way to meet the future water needs of all interests along the Colorado River.

Less than a year later, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited have come together again, this time with Grand County, to reveal an agreement that balances municipal needs and environmental health. And, just like the recently finalized Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this partnership demonstrates the benefits of working together to protect our shared interests in a healthy river. 

Below is the news release that the three parties sent out regarding the agreement, which also was highlighted in a recent Denver Post column, Plan for Fraser River is a good one.

Fishing on the Fraser River.

The deal, years in the making, provides water management and project funds to benefit Fraser River habitat and trout populations.

Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Grand County reach agreement on river protections for Moffat Project

March 04, 2014 – Denver Water, Trout Unlimited and Grand County today announced agreement on a package of river protections designed to keep the Fraser River and its trout populations healthy.

The Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan brings to a close several years of discussions over the proposed Moffat Collection System Project and its potential impacts on the Fraser River. All sides hailed the stakeholder agreement as a breakthrough that balances municipal needs and environmental health.

Trout Unlimited called the agreement “a victory for the river.”

“This package of protections and enhancements, if adopted in the final permit, gives us the best opportunity to keep the Fraser River and its outstanding trout fishery healthy far into the future,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This pragmatic agreement underscores the value of a collaborative approach to water planning — one that recognizes the value of healthy rivers. It shows that, working together, we can meet our water needs while protecting our fisheries and outdoor quality of life.”

“In an effort to move past a disagreement on impacts from the Moffat Project, Grand County reached out to Denver Water and Trout Unlimited to propose additional environmental mitigations,” said Lurline Curran, Grand County manager. “To all parties’ credit, this effort has succeeded.”

“The Fraser is a river beloved by generations of anglers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts —it’s the lifeblood of our community,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter in Fraser and a longtime advocate for the river. “As an angler and Fraser Valley resident, I’m gratified that this agreement keeps our home waters healthy and flowing.”

The plan includes environmental enhancements and protections to ensure the Fraser River will be better off with the Moffat Project than without it.

The plan includes environmental enhancements and protections to ensure the Fraser River will be better off with the Moffat Project than without it.

The package includes environmental enhancements and protections to ensure the Fraser River will be better off with the Moffat Project than without it, said Denver Water. The Moffat Project will improve the reliability of Denver Water’s system, which serves 1.3 million people in the Denver-metro area. 

The centerpiece of the agreement is Learning by Doing, a monitoring and adaptive management program overseen by a management team that includes Denver Water, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado River District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District. Upon the project permit being issued, the management team will implement an extensive monitoring program to assess stream health based on specific parameters including stream temperature, aquatic life and riparian vegetation health. Water, financial and other resources committed by Denver Water through project mitigation, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and other agreements will be deployed to prevent declines and improve conditions where needed.

Learning by Doing is a unique and groundbreaking effort to manage an aquatic environment on a permanent, cooperative basis. Notably, the program will not seek a culprit for changes in the condition of the stream, but will provide a mechanism to identify issues of concern and focus available resources to address those issues. Mitigation measures to prevent impacts of the Moffat Project on stream temperature and aquatic habitat will also be implemented through Learning by Doing. 

“Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this plan represents a new, collaborative way of doing business together when dealing with complex water issues,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Since the beginning of our planning for the Moffat Project, we set out to do the right thing for the environment, and we believe coming together with Trout Unlimited and Grand County on the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan demonstrates a monumental step in making the river better. It’s satisfying that after more than 10 years of study and discussion, Trout Unlimited and Grand County have stayed at the table with us in good faith.”

Denver Water, Grand County and Trout Unlimited have submitted the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan to federal and state agencies charged with permitting the Moffat Project and have requested that it be made part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit. 

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in early 2015.

For more information about the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, see the full agreement here.

Apply lessons from physicist to save water in your yard

Walter A. Shewhart first discussed the concept of PDCA in his 1939 book, Statistical Method From the Viewpoint of Quality Control.

Walter A. Shewhart first discussed the concept of the plan-do-check-act cycle in his 1939 book, Statistical Method From the Viewpoint of Quality Control.

Walter A. Shewhart, 1930s physicist known as the father of statistical quality control, is about to help you transform your landscape into a water-efficient oasis.

Unfortunately, he isn’t going to show up at your door with shovel and seeds in hand, but he did come up with a model, called the plan-do-check-act cycle, that can be used as a process to ensure continual landscape improvement year after year.

Here’s how:

Plan – Since November, we’ve featured a Transforming Landscape series to help you plan an upgrade for your lawn. Peruse through these posts for ideas to improve areas of your lawn that are unused or are difficult to maintain.

Do – Pick one section of your lawn that needs an upgrade and make the transformation from turf to a water-efficient option.

If the posts above inspire you to explore designing your own xeric garden this spring, you’re in luck. Right now, through a partnership with Center for ReSource Conservation, we’re offering Garden-In-A-Box kits for customers at a discounted rate.

All proceeds from garden and plant purchases directly support the Center for ReSource Conservation, a nonprofit organization.

All proceeds from garden and plant purchases directly support the Center for ReSource Conservation, a nonprofit organization.

Garden-In-A-Box simplifies water-wise gardening by providing professional plant-by-number designs and a selection of colorful low-water-use plants that adapt well to our dry Colorado climate.

Check – This summer, take the time to determine if this was the right upgrade for you. Are you saving water? Is this the look you want throughout the rest of your landscape? Can this new look be integrated into a larger upgrade with other types of water-efficient solutions?

Act – After analyzing the pros and cons of your first transformation, you are ready to start the cycle over again. Use lessons learned from your experiences this summer to begin the planning process again next fall and winter.

There are always opportunities to make your landscape more water efficient while maintaining its character and usability. But, this transformation doesn’t need to occur all at once. By using the Shewhart model, you can make upgrades every year to make sure you are always doing your part to conserve.

If you are going to buy a Garden-In-A-Box this year, don’t wait — there are a limited number of discounted gardens available. This Denver Water discount offer is limited to no more than three gardens per customer. Order now, and gardens will be available for pickup in May and June at locations throughout the metro area during scheduled days and times.  

For more information, or to buy your discounted Garden-In-A-Box, visit http://www.gardeninaboxco.org or call 303-999-3820, ext. 222.

Teaming up to tackle toilets

Steve Lynch

Steve Lynch

By Steve Lynch, program coordinator for conservation at Mile High Youth Corps. Lynch served two yearlong terms of service with Mile High Youth Corps, participating in the Water Conservation Program as a Corpsmember in 2009 and 2010.

With much of the West mired in drought, water shortages have forced innovators to take a closer look at anything that uses water. This includes an ancient piece of technology – the toilet.   

Low-flow, pressure-assist and high-efficiency toilets have become the standard in new construction. But Denver is an old city, and many of its homes have old toilets. These toilets use twice as much water per flush than their modern counterparts, which raises a red flag in a city where water efficiency is a way of life.

As part of its commitment to conservation, Denver Water offers rebates for customers who purchase and install high-efficiency toilets. Not everyone can afford the upfront cost of a brand new toilet, however, and many are not comfortable replacing a toilet on their own. Enter Mile High Youth Corps.

In 2013, Water Conservation Program crews conducted 2,800 water audits and replaced 1,900 toilets.

In 2013, Water Conservation Program crews conducted 2,800 water audits and replaced 1,900 toilets.

Built on the principles of conservation and youth development, Mile High Youth Corps is able to offer job skills to young people (18–24 years old), while helping Denver Water’s commitment to conservation through the Water Conservation Program. The program is simple. Denver Water supplies the high-efficiency toilets, and Corpsmembers identify qualified high-need clients and perform the installations in their homes. Most important, the toilets and other water-saving appliances the program participants install in low-income homes are provided at no charge to the customer. 

Over the past seven years, Mile High Youth Corps crews have installed more than 10,000 high-efficiency toilets in low-income single- and multi-family homes across the Denver metropolitan area. Based on annual water consumption numbers, this is a savings of more than 200 million gallons of water. That’s enough water to fill 315 Olympic-sized swimming pools (roughly the size of 42 city blocks).

Of course, those conservation numbers would not be possible without the support of Denver Water, thanks to its commitment to conservation and youth development. Over the years, Denver Water employees have taken participants on tours of water treatment plants, provided educational opportunities for young people interested in learning more about water conservation, and supported the intensive development programs that Mile High Youth Corps offers to its Corpsmembers. 

Kelsey Bowers accepts her Corpsmembers of the Year award from Rep. Lebsock (left) and Sen. Udall.

Kelsey Bowers accepts her Corpsmembers of the Year award from state Rep. Steve Lebsock (left) and former interior secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

Along the way, hundreds of young people have learned job skills, gained confidence and emerged as the future leaders of their generation. In the past four years alone, the Water Conservation Program has produced three Colorado Youth Corps Association Corpsmembers of the Year, including Kelsey Bowers, who was honored at the state Capitol as Corpsmember of the Year on Feb. 3, 2014. During the morning session at the state Senate, Bowers was recognized by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and introduced by state Rep. Steve Lebsock, who shared some of Bowers’ amazing accomplishments.  

Because Mile High Youth Corps has such a strong focus on youth development, our participants represent a non-traditional approach to performing conservation-based tasks. Involvement on the Water Conservation Program is not a job, but rather a term of service. Upon completion of a five-month term, participants receive an AmeriCorps Education Award. Many participants have used this award to pursue post-secondary education or pay off costly student loans. This structure makes it important for Mile High Youth Corps and our partners, like Denver Water, to emphasize education and leadership development. 

As the program coordinator for conservation, I am fortunate enough to receive calls and notes from clients about our Corpsmembers. From an elderly man calling to praise the work of our youth, to a woman who was so impressed with the teamwork of the crew that she took the time to say thanks in a hand-written note – these testimonials are some of the most inspiring parts of working for Mile High Youth Corps. 

Mile High Youth Corps is proud to continue the partnership with Denver Water through 2014 and beyond, and we look forward to being able to provide services to clients while working to empower the future leaders of the communities we serve. 

To learn more about these services or to see if you qualify, email claires@mhyc.net or rachelt@mhyc.net or call 720-974-0500, ext. 527.

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