Learning the value of water: A childhood story from Liberia

Mac Noah working to make a positive change.

IMG_9935

Mac Noah, water treatment tech operator at Denver Water’s Recycling Plant, was born in Liberia, and is determined to one day put his skills to use in Africa to improve lives.

By Dave Gaylinn

Like his childhood football role model Barry Sanders, Mac Noah is a man on the move. He’s fast on his feet and keeps his balance handling many responsibilities.

Whether cleaning the injectors at the Denver Water Recycling Plant or attending classes at the University of Colorado Denver, the 38-year-old Noah is quick to flash a bright smile and ask a question about any new acquaintance.

“Everybody is like a book,” said Noah, a water treatment tech operator at Denver Water since late 2014. “You get to meet a new person and hear their story of where they’ve been and where they’re coming from.”

Noah’s book reads like an unlikely fairy tale.

He was born in Liberia, an impoverished country in West Africa. He frequently visited the countryside with his grandmother, where he would swing on tires suspended from trees and play in the river. When he wasn’t outside, Noah was planted in front of martial arts movies.

It wasn’t until years later that Noah noticed the poverty all around him.

“We don’t really have a water system in Liberia,” Noah said. “You can find places where sewage is running down the street.”

Frustration in Liberia boiled over in the late 1980s, and Noah’s homeland was torn apart. More than 200,000 people, including several members of his extended family, were killed during Liberia’s first civil war, which spanned a bloody seven years, 1989-96.

Trying to protect his family, Noah’s father put his mother and seven siblings on a plane that left Liberia in the nick of time. Mac and his father were reunited with their family in Hamburg, Germany, before immigrating to the United States.

The family lived in Houston, then Savannah, Georgia, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, before finally settling on Chicago’s South Side. Noah attended Bolingbrook High School where he stood out as a running back and cornerback on the football team.

“I didn’t want to get hit,” Noah chuckled. “Which is crazy because when I was on defense, I would throw myself around.”

After high school, Noah sought to make his own mark. While his parents were vacationing in Denver, his father called and encouraged him to consider moving to the Mile High City.

“The only pictures I saw of Colorado were of snow, mountains and cowboys. I really was under the impression that there were horse-drawn carriages in downtown Denver,” he said.

IMG_9947

After starting as an intern, Mac Noah is now a water treatment tech at Denver Water.

Noah moved to Colorado in 1996 and enrolled at Red Rocks Community College. He pursued an associate degree in water quality while working a full-time internship at the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District.

“I really, really had to be disciplined with my time,” Noah said. “I pulled a lot of things in and just set myself on a schedule. I couldn’t just be on the phone for an hour talking to somebody about nothing.”

His classroom acumen and time management impressed his water chemistry teacher, Chance Green, who also worked at Denver Water. Green encouraged Noah to apply for an internship. He landed the position, and after four years, ascended to his current role at the recycled plant.

Given his background, it would be easy to draw a correlation between Noah’s childhood in Liberia and his work at Denver Water. It’s purely coincidental, he said.

But he’s quite aware of the difference that clean, safe drinking water can have on a society.

The World Health Organization reports 2 million deaths annually from unsafe water, poor sanitation conditions and hygiene. Listed among the world’s poorest countries, only one in four Liberians has access to safe drinking water.

Noah said those statistics “light a fire” in his heart to make a positive change in Africa. He is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering at CU Denver, determined to one day put his skills to use in Africa to improve lives there. One of his brothers still lives in Liberia, but Noah has not been back to see him — yet.

“I definitely want to go back,” he said.

Scaling “The Great Divide” — a movie review

Havey Productions’ documentary comes at a critical time for Denver and the West.

By Jimmy Luthye

Great Divide

“The Great Divide” premiers on television Monday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. on KTVD-TV (Channel 20) in Denver.

It looks like Denver is kind of a big deal now, huh?

Recent lists (here and here and here) have positioned our dusty old mining town as one of the best places to live, work and drink tasty tap water in the country.

Although, this isn’t exactly a recent development.

From our first days in 1858 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, to our rapid expansion after World War II, and our quick recovery following the 2008 recession, Denver keeps growing stronger and more appealing to the masses. And it’s only going to continue, with Colorado’s population projected to double by 2050.

But there would be no hip restaurants, no Broncos games on a sunny Sunday afternoon, no Casa Bonita (thank you, Lakewood!), and no bounty of microbreweries if it wasn’t for our founding pioneers who came here in search of gold, only to realize they would need a lot more than that to survive.

Namely, water.

Havey Productions’ gripping documentary, “The Great Divide,” does a masterful job balancing different sides of a very complex subject, telling a comprehensive story about Colorado’s water past, present and future. From the history, to the cultural influence, to the legal battles over water rights, this film hits it all with precision and graceful neutrality.

IMG_3345

Jim Havey, director and producer of “The Great Divide,” takes footage at Cheesman Dam.

And a story about the history of water in Colorado wouldn’t be complete without also telling the story of Denver Water, the largest water provider in the state. It’s a tale riddled with innovation, remarkable engineering feats, and certainly some controversy.

The film doesn’t sugarcoat tough issues. And, as a brand-new member of the Denver Water team, it was fascinating to learn so much about such a complicated topic in just 90 minutes.

It does an outstanding job of going beyond finger-pointing and side-taking to shed light into the conflicts of the past and the progress all parties are making toward collaborative solutions.

You could say we’re crossing “the great divide,” working together now more than ever. And, particularly with efforts such as the Colorado Water Plan leading the way, our uncertain future can still be bright — as long as everyone does their part.

The film, which premiers on television Monday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m., on KTVD-TV (Channel 20) in Denver, is a must-watch for everyone. Seriously. Gather the people around you, put down your cell phones, and settle in with some popcorn.

Why? The first step to meeting the water challenges we face is education, which is exactly what you’ll get from this documentary.

Factors such as wildly unpredictable climate change, overwhelming population growth and the drought-ravaged Colorado River all add up to a very uncertain water future for our city, state and region.

As Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO, states in the film, “If we grow the next 5 million people in Colorado the way we grew the last 5 million people, that may not be a sustainable model.”

Great Divide at DU

The Aug. 6 premier of “The Great Divide” at University of Denver’s Neumann Center. Photo credit: Havey Productions.

So what role can you play? For starters, make sure you watch this film, and encourage others to do the same. If you can’t watch it Aug. 31, here are some other ways you can check it out:

  • The Great Divide 10-city tour is ongoing. Click here for tour dates.
  • The film is heading to all Colorado public school libraries.
  • Click here to request a private screening for your community, group or organization.
  • It will also likely be appearing on local and regional PBS affiliates soon.

 

As the film pointedly reminds us, “Clean water running wildly from city faucets is one of the great achievements of civilization.”

We can’t afford to take this for granted — particularly here in the dry, unpredictable, wild, Wild West.

Siphons, chutes and flumes, oh my!

Take a virtual tour of Denver Water’s north supply system

By Kim Unger

If you’re like me, you probably turn on your faucet more than 30 times a day and yet rarely stop to think about how the water gets there.

Most of us know that clean, safe drinking water starts in the mountains as the snow melts and eventually makes its way to our taps. But how, exactly, does all the water get up and over the mountains?

As it turns out, water runs uphill and downhill — and then some.

Take a look.

 

Note: The following slideshow may not work depending on the type and configuration of your Web browser. If that’s the case, click here to view it.

The “why” behind our fluoride policy

Denver Water’s board decided to continue community water fluoridation by weighing the evidence. Now you can, too.

By Denver Water staff

Denver Board of Water Commissioner members listen to information at the July 2015 fluoride information session.

Denver Board of Water Commissioners listen to information at the July 2015 fluoride information session.

In the end, it came down to the science. And there’s a lot of it.

On Aug. 26, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners voted to continue its practice of community water fluoridation.

That decision was not entirely unexpected. Denver Water has been regulating fluoride in the water since 1953, but board members said they took opposition to the policy seriously and requested a review of the latest science from the foremost national and local authorities to inform our policy.

Fluoride naturally occurs in many of Denver Water’s supply sources. We add fluoride as necessary to achieve an average concentration equal to the target recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Earlier this year, opponents of water fluoridation began appearing at Denver Water board meetings, urging commissioners to end the practice. In response, the board held a fluoride information session on July 29 and encouraged public input. Many individuals and organizations submitted comments and reference documents.

“We are just trying to educate people on this issue,” said Greg Gillette, a spokesman for We are Change Colorado, a group urging Denver Water to stop adding fluoride to water. “We hope everybody has an open mind.”

After reviewing the presentations, the extensive research on this issue, and the advice of public health and medical professionals in Colorado, the board announced there would be no change in its water fluoridation policy.

The resolution the board adopted at its meeting stated: “Nothing we heard through the presentations or learned in research would justify ignoring the advice of the public health agencies and medical organizations or deviating from the thoroughly researched and documented recommendation of the U.S. Public Health Service.”

Denver Water Commissioner Greg Austin went on record saying, “After careful consideration of the information put forth by both sides of the fluoridation debate, I am convinced that the community water fluoridation level recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service provides substantial health benefits, and is a safe, cost-effective and common sense contribution to the health of the public.”

The research on fluoridation is quite extensive. Here’s a sample of what board members and Denver Water staff reviewed:

  • The work of the Federal Panel on Community Water Fluoridation. This group of physicians, epidemiologists, environmental health experts, dental professionals, toxicologists, statisticians and economists re-examined water fluoridation levels.
    • In 2011, the U.S. Public Health Service published a proposed recommendation based on the conclusions of that panel.
    • The Public Health Service then received thousands of comments opposing community water fluoridation, raising the same categories of objections as those submitted to Denver Water at our public forum and during the public comment period.
    • The Panel did not identify compelling new information to alter its assessment that fluoride levels of 0.7 milligrams per liter provide the best balance of benefit to potential harm.
    • In May 2015, the Public Health Service issued its final decision document, adopting a recommendation to change to a single target fluoride concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter.
  • Letters, documentation and personal stories from public and professional health organizations and medical professionals supporting the continuation of community water fluoridation. Notably, every public health agency operating in our service area urged us to continue our practice of managing fluoride concentrations in our drinking water.

Commissioners also noted that if Denver Water stopped managing fluoride levels, our customers would still be drinking fluoridated water.

“But the levels would vary significantly, creating an imbalance throughout our service area,” Denver Water Commissioner Penfield Tate said. “Community water fluoridation provides dental health benefits across all socioeconomic communities in a predictable and uniform manner.”

Filter beds at a Denver Water treatment plant. Fluoride is added after filtration, prior to disinfection. Learn more about the treatment process: denverwater.org/WaterQuality/TreatmentProcess

Filter beds at a Denver Water treatment plant. Fluoride is added after filtration, prior to disinfection.

“Community water fluoridation is a public health action, which by definition protects the health of the population in general, and sometimes conflicts with individual choice,” said Denver Water General Counsel Patricia Wells. “Those who object to fluoridated water do have alternatives, such as nonfluoridated bottled water or in-home filtering systems.”

With their decision, the commissioners said they were relying on experts who bear the responsibility to protect the health of the public. Community water fluoridation provides health benefits to all our customers, at all stages and ages of their lives, regardless of their access to health care or their adherence to healthy living guidelines.

Denver Water consumers can inform themselves about fluoride levels in their water by accessing readily available public information on our website.

 

 

Craftsmen pedal journey of water to schoolkids

Denver Water craftsmen who built the water wall. Thomas Mabe, Construction Shop foreman; Terry Barker, welder; Buck Young, welder, Paul Archuleta, plumber; Jeff Gulley, plumber; Dale Conn, Plumbing Shop foreman; Keith Gillest, plumber.

Denver Water craftsmen who built the water wall. Thomas Mabe, Construction Shop foreman; Terry Barker, welder; Buck Young, welder, Paul Archuleta, plumber; Jeff Gulley, plumber; Dale Conn, Plumbing Shop foreman; Keith Gillest, plumber.

Water Wall highlights ingenuity at Denver Water

By Jay Adams

It may look pretty simple, but behind Denver Water’s new Journey of Water wall is a story of ingenuity, commitment and determination.

The interactive display highlights water’s journey from a reservoir to a treatment plant using energy from a bicycle to push water through a series of pipes and fixtures.

But a closer look reveals the dedicated Denver Water professionals who work behind the scenes every day to make sure 1.3 million people have water to drink.

Denver Water’s Youth Education manager, Matt Bond, worked with local engineer Chad Weaver to create a preliminary design. A team of skilled craftsmen — Denver Water plumbers, metal shop workers and a carpenter— took it from there and built the wall from scratch.

“We had a schematic design, but most of it was just trial and error,” said Dale Conn, plumbing shop foreman.

The challenges of building the water wall provide a snapshot of the type of work Denver Water’s tradesmen do on a daily basis.

Students have fun playing and learning with the Water Wall at the Denver Metro Water Festival at the Auraria Campus in May.

Students take the water wall display for a spin during the 2015 Denver Metro Water Festival

Conn’s team had to find a way to get water to flow from one end of the wall to the other. When the bike didn’t provide enough pressure to run water through the wall, plumbers Paul Archuleta, Keith Gillest, Jeff Gulley and John Martinez found different sized pipes and configurations to make it work.

When the wall needed a stand, welders Terry Barker, Buck Young and Ed Ramirez built a metal frame.

“We listened to what they needed, drew a sketch and then just figured it out. That’s just what we do,” Barker said.

When the plumbers needed a prototype wall, carpenter Thomas Mabe built one from scratch. “It was good teamwork getting this to run,” Mabe said. “I enjoyed it — the project was something different and we did it all for the kids.”

Conn hopes the wall will help kids and customers understand the skill of the tradesmen and women at Denver Water. “Most people think all plumbers do is fix toilets, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the scope of work we do here,” he said.

The wall got its first test at the Denver Metro Water Festival in May and will be used as an educational tool throughout the year.

“We really want kids to know what it takes to get water to their homes. It really is quite a journey,” said Archuleta.

We’re gonna need a bigger watering can!

As a rare flower begins to bloom at Denver’s Botanic Gardens, we think about the role Denver Water played in helping it along.

By Steve Snyder

The large and exceptionally smelly Amorphophallus titanum or corpse flower is almost ready to bloom. (Courtesy: Denver Botanic Gardens)

The large and exceptionally smelly Amorphophallus titanum or corpse flower before blooming. (Courtesy Denver Botanic Gardens)

The moment we heard there was a 5-foot tall flower that stinks to high heaven preparing to bloom at the Denver Botanic Gardens, guess where our minds went? That’s right; we thought about watering that baby!

Yes, we are just as fascinated with the corpse flower as anyone. But we feel a bit more pride. The Botanic Gardens is a Denver Water customer, so it was our product that helped this incredibly unique flower grow to the size it is today.

How much water did the corpse flower require? Not as much as you might think. While they don’t have exact numbers, the horticulturists at the Botanic Gardens tell us that when the flower is actively growing, it is watered by hand once or twice a week. They also sometimes spray the greenhouse floor and plant foliage to increase humidity. Normally, the plant actively grows for only a year and then goes dormant for four to six months. When dormant, it receives no water at all.

The horticulturalists also tell us they rotate between using water straight from the tap and using filtered water from a reverse osmosis process. By using the RO water, minerals from the tap water and the fertilizer the Botanic Gardens provide do not build up and damage the plant’s roots.

If you want more fun facts about the corpse flower, 9News wrote this piece. And we are regularly monitoring the Botanic Gardens’ “stinky cam” to see what the flower looks like now that it’s blooming. After all, we had a part in growing it.

But we will not accept responsibility if your eyes water from the smell, a noted side effect from this most odorous oddity.

Top watering tips before you leave town

Vacations are for relaxing — not stressing about your yard         

By Dana Strongin

Taking some time away before summer’s end? Don’t let watering-related worries take over your trip. Follow our tips based on these four watering facts to earn peace of mind before you leave town.

Leaving town

Installing a WaterSense-labeled smart irrigation controller makes it easier to use the cycle-and-soak method — plus, you get a $100 rebate.

Fact: Before you leave, your landscape deserves a little love.

  • Mow before you go. Cut grass a little higher than usual to lend some water-saving, evaporation-reducing shade to your soil.
  • Remember to save yourself a step and leave grass clippings in place to retain moisture. You can give gardens the same advantage by applying mulch.
  • Give your lawn one last watering using the cycle-and-soak method.

Fact: Summertime power outages can reset sprinklers, wasting water and your money.

  • Set up your irrigation system for success — even when power fails — by showing your house sitter how to shut sprinklers off if they’ve gone haywire.
  • You also can combat the wreckage power failures pose by replacing your system’s backup battery each year.

Fact: Rain is a bigger blessing when your sprinklers can sense it.

  • Get a $100 rebate for installing a WaterSense-labeled smart irrigation controller. Make sure to include a rain sensor to prevent your system from running in the rain — a water-wasting violation of our summer watering rules, which are in effect until Oct. 1.
  • Check your system’s setup to make sure you’re making the most of its features.
  • Take advantage of technology, but don’t discount the value of having a human keep an eye on your system as well.

Fact: Your house sitter will give plants better TLC if you make the job easy.

  • Round up your potted plants and place them in groups based on the amount of water they need. Do this for houseplants, too.
  • Ask your sitter to check whether water pools in saucers — a sign of overwatering. Your sitter can pour all of the leftovers into one container, then set it aside for the next watering.
  • Protect outdoor plants from hose-dragging damage by installing guards to shield plantings near vulnerable areas such as corners.

There’s no reason to fret about watering when you’re out of town. Put in a little effort before you leave, and you can return home to a healthy yard without wasting water — now, that’s giving yourself a break!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers

%d bloggers like this: