Getting back into the wise-watering groove

Irrigation Audit - DW Field Photos 060

Conservation specialist Jenelle Rhodes checks an irrigation clock during a water audit.

As temperatures rise, use these tips to be water-savvy this summer.

By Jessica Mahaffey

While the record-breaking rain hasn’t been ideal for pool time with the family this summer, it has been great for keeping our lawns green, gardens lush and water bills low. If you’re like me, you haven’t missed the chore of watering your lawn and garden.

As things warm up and dry out, it can be difficult to get back into the swing of watering our lawns wisely. Thankfully, our friends at Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado put together some great tips for getting back into the watering groove.

Take some time to inspect your sprinkler system to make sure everything is working properly. Use the ALCC checklist to find wasteful system failures and mechanical problems:

  • Look at the timer and make sure it is plugged in. Replace the battery so you have power back-up.
  • Make sure watering times are correct for the types of sprinklers in any given area. Rotor heads — that throw a stream of water back and forth — should run no more than 20 minutes per watering cycle. Pop-up heads that spray continuously over one area should not run more than 8-10 minutes per cycle.
  • Turn on the system to make sure sprinklers are pointed into the yard, not the street.
  • Replace any missing heads or nozzles; check for clogged heads and clean them out.
  • Notice how high sprinklers pop up above the lawn. Thatch build-up over time can mean the heads no longer rise above the height of the lawn. The grass will deflect the water and keep it from spraying the full distance it needs to spray. Mark those sprinkler heads that need to be raised and schedule the work.
Sprinkler iStock

Denver Water offers rebates for qualifying high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles, like this rotary nozzle.

ALCC also recommends taking some of the money saved from your lower water bills and investing it into making your sprinkler system smarter and more efficient. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Replace old nozzles: Denver Water offers a rebate up to $3 per sprinkler-head nozzle when you upgrade to qualifying high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles.
  • Install a Smart Controller: Denver Water also offers a rebate up to $100 for WaterSense-labeled smart sprinkler system controllers, which act like a thermostat for your sprinkler system by telling it when to turn on and off.

And, did you know that those brown spots in your yard may not mean that your grass is dead? Learn more about Ascochyta, a fungus that has shown up this season causing straw-colored patches and streaks that may grow into large areas of brown grass.

July is Smart Irrigation Month — a good reminder that smart irrigation practices contribute to managing whatever Mother Nature hands us.

Deluge or drought, you can’t make this stuff, so please use only what you need.

Out of drought? Not so fast!

A federal report says Colorado is no longer in drought, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods from a long-term water supply standpoint.

By Steve Snyder

Woo hoo! The drought is over! Let’s open the tap and let the water flow!

After all, a recent federal report shows that nearly all of Colorado is free from any type of drought designation. We are drought-free for the first time since 2009. It’s time to celebrate, right?

This U.S. Drought Monitor map shows nearly all of Colorado no longer carries a drought designation.

This U.S. Drought Monitor map shows nearly all of Colorado no longer carries a drought designation.

If you’ve lived in Colorado for any length of time, you know better. In our semi-arid climate, the next drought is always lurking right around the corner.

“Our customers have truly embraced the concept of water conservation, particularly during droughts,” said Denver Water CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead. “Now it’s about taking that next step to use every drop of water efficiently, no matter the weather conditions.”

It’s also important to remember that Colorado is tied to other Western states in terms of water use. And one look at the same drought report shows that much of California and Nevada are still classified in the highest category of drought.

“Denver Water relies on the Colorado River for about 50 percent our water supply,” said Lochhead. “The Colorado River Basin remains locked in one of the worst droughts in its history. Our state and our customers are still at risk to possible impacts from this ongoing crisis.”

With that in mind, Denver Water is actively involved in a unique partnership with other water providers in the Colorado River basin looking for ways to reduce demand on the river’s waters.

“This issue on the Colorado is like a slow-moving train heading right at us,” Lochhead said. “There is time to fix the problem, but if we get hit, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.”

Certainly the abnormally wet weather we’ve seen in recent months has helped conditions throughout the basin, but it still isn’t enough to offset the long-term imbalance between demand and supply that exists in our region. Some experts say drought will become the new normal in the West.

So enjoy the moisture we’ve been lucky to receive in recent months. Colorado is now a beautiful shade of green, both figuratively and literally. But never forget: Mother Nature can be fickle when it comes to the weather in our state and the water flowing through it.

We are never truly out of drought, at least when it comes to thinking about using water efficiently.

Passion for the river

When it comes to the Colorado River and Denver Water, it’s all connected

By Travis Thompson

Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

This rings true for Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. Even though he has touched every section of the 1,450-mile Colorado River, it’s never from the same perspective. As a river master and scholar, Jim spends much of his free time rafting the rapids and sleeping next to the banks. As a lawyer and water manager, his 30-year career has been dedicated to water in the West, centered upon myriad issues along the mighty Colorado River.

Because the river flows west from the Rocky Mountains, its course doesn’t touch the city of Denver. But with half of Denver Water’s supply coming from the Colorado River Basin, Jim’s connection to the river remains steadfast.

When Jim speaks about his passion for the river, it’s easy to see how it’s all connected:

 

The intersection of professional dedication and personal passion for water persists throughout Denver Water. Like for Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate scientist:

 

And Dave Bennett, water resource manager at Denver Water:

From water wagons to 50 million gallons a day

How the cornerstone of the Denver Water system came to be       

By Matt Bond

A rusted sign at the bottom of Waterton Canyon tells the story of what was once the hub of Denver Water’s treatment.

Picture yourself in 1858, just as Denver was in its infancy.

If you were one of the first hundred or so other gritty settlers, you were the rough-and-tumble type, living along the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. You lived there because that’s where the water was — most of the time, anyway.

The water was as clean as the rivers were. In dry years, water might be scarce by late summer. In wet years, floods could sweep away your shack.

Either way, it was good enough because it had to be.

Within no time, Denver swelled to nearly 5,000 citizens.  New water companies began to deliver water farther away from the riverside — usually by ditch or water wagon. You’d be happy to get it either way, even if you accidentally received a fish or two in the process. By 1870, private water utilities delivered you your water via underground pipes pumped from shallow wells along the South Platte and Cherry Creek. The water passed through charcoal as simple filtration.

Denver has always been more of a boom-and-pause city — less boom-and-bust. The population held at around 5,000 until the railroad came to town. By 1880, the population jumped to 36,000, and numbered more than 106,000 by the height of the silver boom in 1890.

Rival water companies actively fought for your business, one even opting to deliver water for free in a successful attempt to drive the competition out of business.

In 1894, Denver Union Water Company (now Denver Water), was the last utility standing.

Workers lay concrete in the bottom of the filter beds in July 1905.

Citizens demanded an alternative to riverside wells, which had become polluted by Denver’s rapid growth, industrial and agricultural activity, and lack of any real sanitary sewer system. The company began searching for a more abundant and cleaner source of water upstream on the South Platte.

Surveyors found such a spot at the point where the South Platte first exits the mountains, far upstream of any development — a place then known as Platte Cañon.

In 1889, Citizens Water Company built crib filters under the riverbank, which captured water as it seeped through the fine sand. The water then passed into buried wooden boxes that resembled long crates, and from there, flowed by gravity to Denver through more than 20 miles of wood-stave pipe.

When those filters could no longer keep pace with demand during low river flows, citizens clamored for more. In 1901, the company constructed the first English slow sand filter treatment plant west of the Mississippi.

The Kassler treatment plant was born. The facility could treat 50 million gallons a day, and low river flows didn’t hinder its operation. Soon Kassler became the cornerstone of Denver’s water system. It was so reliable that it remained in service until 1985, delivering high-quality water to the great-grandchildren of those first settlers.

The history of Colorado is very much tied to the development of the state’s water resources.

Check out our interactive timeline, which gives you a firsthand look at how the Kassler treatment plant came to be.

Timeline screenshot

Click on the image to view the Kassler virtual tour.

Mi familia trip to Cabo: A water perspective

Learning about the value of water in Mexico    

By Travis Thompson

Dinner with an ocean breeze.

Dinner with an ocean breeze.

As a kid, I kept a journal of my family vacations. With two children of my own now, I decided to keep up the tradition on my recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, documenting our journey through a lens of what I know best: water.

Dear Diary,

Arrival. After a long, exhausting day traveling with my wife, two kids and a clan of extended family, we immediately hit the pool and enjoyed a cold cerveza. After all, beer is 90 to 95 percent water.

Beach time. In my ocean-side book, “Blue Mind,” Wallace J. Nichols wrote, “As children we delight in water” — an experience I relished first-hand on this trip. Standing knee-deep along the Pacific, hand-in-hand with my family, we let the surf crash into our bodies. And, with each surge of water, my kids screamed with delight, anxiously awaiting the next swell headed our way. It was an amazing connection with water I’ll never forget.

My daughter spent more time in the water than out.

My daughter spent more time in the water than out.

Parched. We spent a lot of time in pursuit of clean drinking water, fueled by a healthy dose of fear that the local tap would punish us with Montezuma’s Revenge. Keeping a thirsty 2- and 4-year-old away from the sink, ice cubes, washed vegetables and anything else that may have touched water from the tap was a constant chore. Every order included half-a-dozen water bottles — some to keep my sun-drenched family from wilting away, and the others to stash in our bags like camels to bring back to our rooms for brushing our teeth and nighttime rehydration. This trip truly made me appreciate the value of having access to clean drinking water.

Water-wise. On a short walk into town, I noticed that without the golf courses, grass would practically be non-existent here. In Cabo’s semi-arid climate, cactus and other native succulents are the most prevalent plants. And water efficiency is as important in Cabo as it is in our dry climate in Colorado. Even the hotel had signs asking guests to reuse towels and linens if they weren’t dirty. A simple request for us to help them protect their most precious resource. Sound familiar?

Home. After landing in Denver, we raced to the nearest drinking fountain to enjoy fresh, great-tasting and — most important — safe water straight from the tap. And as we gathered our bags, one family member exclaimed: “I’ve never appreciated Denver Water as much as I do right now. Thanks, Travis!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Adios!   

Spectacular sights from spring 2015

By Jay Adams

With record rainfall and water levels across our collection system this past spring, the moisture led to spectacular scenes at Denver Water’s dams and reservoirs. We wanted to share our favorite photos so you can see how dam spillways work when reservoirs fill, and meet some of the people who help deliver water to your home every day.

 

Bottled water vs. tap water

When it comes to water quality and cost, it’s important to know the facts

By Travis Thompson 

Our friends at Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District took to Twitter to ask a handful of water utilities for thoughts about a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, We don’t trust drinking fountains anymore, and that’s bad for our health, by Kendra Pierre-Louis.

Tweet 1

The piece provides an interesting history of the public water fountain, unveiled in London in 1859, and follows its rise and decline along with that of bottled water — at one point considered to be “low class”  — alongside public health environmental changes that have influenced society’s behavior and choices since the late 1800s.

Madison Water Utility responded with a picture of water fountains they’ve installed in local schools with a sign saying: “Your brain is 70% water! Drink up for a healthy you!” And Miami-Dade County’s Urban Conservation Unit shared their own photo of a drinking fountain, proclaiming they would like to see more.

Tweet 2             Tweet 3

 

The article and tweets are really about the value of water, igniting a conversation of the benefits that safe, affordable tap water provide to the community. But the article inevitably touches on a popular battle in the world of water: bottled vs. tap.

Obviously, we promote the great-tasting and affordable water that we’ve provided to the Denver metro area for nearly 100 years. However, bottled water serves an important purpose for us and the community. In fact, we provide bottled water to customers during some emergencies when there is an extended water outage. But, the bottled vs. tap debate usually includes a lot of misinformation, especially when it comes to water quality and price, so we thought it important to chime in.

Water quality:

According to a Gallup poll cited in the piece, 77 percent of Americans are concerned about pollution in their drinking water, “even though tap water and bottled water are treated the same way, and studies show that tap is as safe as bottled.”

That’s a pretty hefty number. Many bottled water companies actually use tap water as the source, and bottled water is not as heavily regulated or tested as tap water.

Next time you fill a glass from your tap in Denver Water’s service area, know that the water you’re drinking is part a system that has more than 16,000 samples taken and 66,000 tests performed each year, to ensure the highest-quality water possible.

Price:

Pierre-Louis writes: “Drinking eight glasses of tap water a day costs about 49 cents a year. If you got that hydration exclusively from bottles, you’d pay about $1,400, or 2,900 times more. If you’re living at the poverty line, that’s 10 percent of your income.”

‘Nuff said. Currently, Denver Water customers pay an average of less than $3 for 1,000 gallons of water. Because we don’t make a profit, rates go to covering service costs — what it takes to capture, treat and deliver Rocky Mountain snowmelt to your tap as clean, great-tasting water.

Whether it’s through bottles, taps or fountains, water is the single-most essential element to every community. Water is life, and we applaud those who continue to keep the conversation of its value moving forward. Drink up!

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