Water Fest soaks students with knowledge

Water Fest soaks students with knowledge

Teaming up for a day of hands-on learning

By Jay Adams

On May 19, Denver Water and its suburban distributors teamed up with Metro State University’s One World One Water Center for the second annual Denver Metro Water Festival on the Auraria Campus. Despite the rainy weather, more than 1,200 sixth-grade students from Denver Public Schools and other metro-area schools attended the event.

The festival offered unique lessons and activities to create a greater awareness of the importance of water in our daily lives. Denver Water’s Youth Education team worked with organizers to create a fun, hands-on experience for students to learn about the impact of the environment, industry, population growth, agriculture and more on water in Colorado.

We’re off to see the wizard, the Water Wizard of Oz

Strontia Springs Reservoir started spilling on May 2. Between 1,200 and 1,700 cubic feet per second has been flowing out of the spillway since that time.

Strontia Springs Reservoir started spilling on May 2. Between 1,200 and 1,700 cubic feet per second has been flowing out of the spillway since that time.

We’re off to see the wizard, the Water Wizard of Oz

Pulling back the curtain on how we move Denver’s water

By Travis Thompson

In middle school, I wrote a paper on the symbolism of “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy represented American values, the Tin Man was a metaphor for industrial workers and Oz signified the American dream.

Today, I think of that classic film in more local terms. Colorado, with all its beauty and majesty, is the wonderful Land of Oz, threatened only by our own Wicked Witch of the West: drought.

We all know it takes a bucket of water to stop the witch, but those buckets aren’t filled and poured without some helping hands. Enter the man behind the curtain, or in this case, the men and women who serve as Denver Water’s supply managers.

Led by Bob Steger, manager of raw water supply, the team analyzes conditions and projections to strategically position water throughout our system.

Because Denver Water’s reservoirs are connected by rivers, canals and pipes, our water managers are able to strategically move water throughout the system every day. Their efforts ensure that the water supply is appropriately distributed among our reservoirs or released into the river to benefit aquatic habitats.

So, let’s pull back the curtain to see how the water managers handled May’s heavy rains.

Currently, Cheesman and Strontia Springs reservoirs have water flowing over their spillways — an area on each dam designed to release water back into the river when it is full. The connotation of spilling may lead some to believe that these reservoirs are flooding. But, that’s not the case.

Our water management team is using the spillway instead of the large valves in the dam that are typically used to release water from a reservoir back into the river below.

It's not abnormal for Cheesman Reservoir to spill, but it doesn't happen every year. Before 2014, the last time the reservoir spilled was 2009.

It’s not abnormal for Cheesman Reservoir to spill, but it doesn’t happen every year. Before 2014, the last time the reservoir spilled was 2009.

Why? Because operating the valves in a dam requires a lot of work from the Denver Water caretakers stationed at our reservoirs. Morning or night, in good weather and bad, each time the water levels in a reservoir need to be adjusted, these employees have to go inside the dam and electronically or manually turn oversized valves the size of a wheel on a semi-truck until the precise flow is released.

With runoff season underway, above-average reservoir levels and rainstorms delaying the start of watering season, Steger said spilling is a good option right now — especially considering the impact on the employees having to manually regulate the valves.

The duration that each reservoir will spill depends on conditions and variables calculated by the team. In addition to weather, this year our supply managers will be monitoring the Antero Dam construction project and water temperature.

In June, Denver Water will drain Antero Reservoir to clear the way for significant repairs to the dam. That may cause Cheesman Reservoir to spill most of the summer, as managers send the Antero water back into the South Platte River, feeding other reservoirs within our system downstream. (Read Draining Antero Reservoir: Where will all that water go? to learn more about rehabbing a 100-year-old dam.)

But it isn’t necessarily that simple. Our water managers also have to keep an eye on river temperature, which can affect aquatic life. If the water temperature below the dam gets too warm, they will send more water through the valves to cool the river and maintain a healthy fish habitat downstream.

It’s hardly wizardry, Steger says, though on some days it may feel that way.

“Whether we are experiencing drought years or wet years, we have to make sure the water we have available is in the right spot at the right time,” he said.

 

Denver Water launches Strike Team for wildfire season

Denver Water's emergency Strike Team. Front row: James Gordon(left), William George (right). Back row: Heath Stuerke, Jay Joslyn, Jeff Rybolt and Rick Geise.

Denver Water’s emergency Strike Team. Front row: James Gordon (left) and William George. Back row (left to right): Heath Stuerke, Jay Joslyn, Jeff Rybolt and Rick Geise.

Denver Water launches Strike Team for wildfire season

Specialized team can respond to 12 counties in a moment’s notice

By Jay Adams, Communications and Marketing

Heath Stuerke and James Gordon know the risks of their jobs. As caretakers at two of Denver Water’s mountain reservoirs, they live and work in the middle of a fire zone and know the best defense against wildfire is preparedness.

So when the two were offered the opportunity to head up Denver Water’s first emergency Strike Team — a group of six specially trained caretakers who are able to respond to wildfires that impact Denver Water in a moment’s notice — they jumped at the chance.

Caretakers are responsible for a wide variety of critical duties at Denver Water reservoirs and dams. Their primary function is maintaining operations at the dams and releasing water downstream. “We basically get the water to town,” Gordon said.

Denver Water operates a vast system, with facilities in 12 counties and more than 10 reservoirs on both sides of the Continental Divide — surrounded by forest or grassland. The Strike Team is trained to respond anywhere in Denver Water’s system.

Strike team members evaluate evacuation routes in Eleven Mile Canyon.

Strike team members evaluate evacuation routes in Eleven Mile Canyon.

Over the past 15 years, several large fires have burned on or near Denver Water dams, reservoirs and property, including the Hayman, Lime Gulch, Lower North Fork and Springer fires.

“It’s just a matter of time before we get hit again,” Gordon said. “It’s not just about protecting the dams. We live up here in the community, and so do our families.”

Wildland fire training

To establish the Strike Team, members took firefighting and leadership training this past winter in Colorado Springs, Colo., to learn about fire safety, fuels and the weather’s impact on fire behavior. The training prepared them to work with local and federal officials during emergencies, and use heavy equipment, such as bulldozers and graders, to build fire lines around key facilities.

Many dams are located in remote canyons with only one road as an escape route. The fire training also taught them what to do if they become trapped. “Wildfire, it’s no joke and has to be taken seriously,” Gordon said.

Dedication and duty

While the caretakers left the training equipped with firefighting gear and knowledge of basic firefighting tactics, the primary goal was to receive the federal government’s Incident Qualification Card, better known as a “Red Card.” The cards are critical during emergencies and allow caretakers access inside an evacuation zone where only firefighters are allowed.

“Our dams and reservoirs are extremely critical infrastructure that need to be manned 24/7 to ensure reliable water supply to our customers,” Stuerke said. “That’s why we put together this team. We now have the training and credentials to get into an incident perimeter and operate Denver Water’s facilities under extreme conditions.”

Heath Stuerke (left) and James Gordon walk the Pack Test in Waterton Canyon.

Heath Stuerke (left) and James Gordon take the grueling Pack Test in Waterton Canyon.

Part of the ongoing Red Card certification process is an annual physically demanding exercise called the Work Capacity Test or Pack Test. It’s a 3-mile hike carrying 45 pounds — and must be completed in 45 minutes. The team took the test in Waterton Canyon this past April.

“It’s an arduous test, the pace is intense,” said Stuerke. “Going through this training shows the dedication of the guys on this team. We’re committed to making sure we can get water to the people, even in an emergency.”

With wildfire season upon them, Stuerke said the Strike Team is ready. “Every guy is proud to be on this team,” said Stuerke. “They have duty, respect and integrity instilled in them, and that’s all part of working at Denver Water.

Mountain treks and tests: What’s in your water?

Water Quality Investigators John Feldhauser (left) and James Berrier (right) sample water from a creek in Summit County. Denver Water’s Water Quality team takes yearly hikes, weekly backcountry rides, and snowshoe treks into the mountains to sample water straight from the source.

Water Quality Investigators John Feldhauser (left) and James Berrier sample water from a creek in Summit County. Denver Water’s Water Quality team takes yearly hikes, weekly backcountry rides, and snowshoe treks into the mountains to sample water straight from the source.

Mountain treks and tests: What’s in your water? 

Highlighting Denver Water’s work to provide clean, safe drinking water every day 

By Dana Strongin

Denver Water’s water quality experts frequently strap on hiking boots, snowshoes and ATV helmets to trek into the mountains and sample your water straight from the source.

“We check the temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, clarity, heavy metals, nutrients and more,” says James Berrier, water quality investigator.

Their vigilance is part of Denver Water’s annual program of exhaustive tests, based around U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment guidelines. The 2015 Water Quality Report shows that your drinking water is safe and meets or exceeds all federal and state requirements.

The report contains important information about the source and quality of your drinking water, including data informed by the more than 70 sites we monitor.

One of the sites’ frequent visitors is John Feldhauser, a third-generation Denver Water employee who takes pride in ensuring your water is safe to drink.

“We need to know what’s in the watershed to make sure the water quality lives up to our standards,” Feldhauser says.

To request a mailed copy of the report, call Customer Care at 303-893-2444 or email your name and mailing address to customercare@denverwater.org.

 

5 summertime water misperceptions exposed

Despite the “water cop” poses of the 2014 Water Savers, the persona just doesn't fit this team of friendly-faced water educators.

Despite the “water cop” poses of the Water Savers, the persona just doesn’t fit this team of friendly-faced water educators.

5 summertime water misperceptions exposed

Taking on tall tales surrounding water supply, rules and enforcement

By Travis Thompson

As the days grow longer, the community begins to stir like a bear out of hibernation. Spending more time outdoors means more neighborly chitchat with quips about the weather.

One common, often true statement is inevitably, “We sure could use the moisture!”

But there also are many misperceptions about Denver Water’s supply and summer watering voiced this time of year. It’s time to debunk these small-talk tales.

 

Fact 1: Denver’s water supply is in good shape heading into the summer.

Misperception: This means we don’t need to worry about water conservation and supply.

Reality: The Colorado River — source of half of Denver’s water supply — has been gripped with a decade-long drought, which has impacted our water supply as recently as 2012. This embodies why we’ve created a culture of conservation, not just during dry times, but also in years like this when we can maintain our supply and prepare for the next dry period. Every drop saved now is a drop available when the next dry spell returns.

 

Fact 2: Denver Water has a team of Water Savers out in the community each summer.

Misperception: This is a team of “water cops” out to issue fines.

Reality: Denver Water takes pride in being part of our community, and what better way to do this than face-to-face interaction? Our Water Savers are friendly, approachable and in the neighborhoods to communicate tips and tools, and respond if help is needed.

But Water Savers issue fines, right? Sure, if a customer continues to aimlessly waste water, fines are a possibility. However, fines are the last step and are rarely needed in this water-conscious city. In 2014, Water Savers met with more than 3,400 customers and never needed to issue a single fine.

 

Instagram gardenFact 3: California uses water from the Colorado River.

Misperception: We sell water to California.

Reality: Just like the Mississippi River, the mighty Colorado River runs through more than just its namesake state. The headwaters of the Colorado River are in Colorado, but the river runs through six other states and into Mexico. The Colorado Division of Water Resources, Office of the State Engineer, administers all water rights in Colorado. For a quick and straightforward explanation on how water is divided among western states, read: Why you and your kids should care about the drought in California.

 

Fact 4: Denver Water promotes efficient landscape and irrigation practices.

Misperception: We hate grass and want everyone to rip out their lawns.

Reality: The goal of our conservation program is to help customers become as efficient as possible while preserving community values — like having a vibrant landscape. But not all landscape is created equal. For example, do you have unused grass on the side of your house or along a slope that is difficult to maintain? If so, those areas are opportunities to make water-saving landscape transformations. We’ve featured a Transforming Landscape series with ideas on how to convert unused or difficult-to-maintain areas of your grass to more water-efficient alternatives. But no matter what type of landscape you have, it’s vital not to waste water in maintaining it.

 

Fact 5: Denver Water expects all customers to use water as efficiently as possible.

Misperception: Denver Parks and Recreation doesn’t have to follow the rules.

Reality: Denver Parks and Recreation manages more than 5,000 acres of urban parkland, so Denver Water has partnered with them, along with other large irrigation customers, to create a water budget. Under the water budget program, we help them identify the amount of water their landscapes actually need, and they determine how and where to use that water. They must still abide by the same rules as residential customers, but they have more flexibility to manage their extensive system efficiently.

With more than 200 city parks used by the public on a daily basis, issues that cause water waste, like broken sprinkler heads, are bound to occur and may not be identified right away. We can all help by serving as an extra set of eyes. Call 3-1-1 to report issues in Denver parks.

 

Now, the next time your neighbor waves you over for some friendly small talk, you’ll have a little more to share than, “How’s the weather?”

If you see a Water Saver in your neighborhood this summer, make sure to say hello and ask about the weather!

If you see a Water Saver in your neighborhood this summer, make sure to say hello and ask about the weather!

Water restrictions in California could impact Denver Water customers, too

Water restrictions in California could impact Denver Water customers, too

Colorado, California and five other western states all draw water from the Colorado River. How each state manages this resource connects all of us.

Denver Water's Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. Colorado is all too familiar with the kind of drought California is experiencing right now.

Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought – a stark reminder that Colorado is always susceptible to the kind of drought gripping California right now.

By Steve Snyder

If you haven’t heard about the drought in California, just Google “California drought” and scroll through the images of cracked earth, snowless ski resorts and nearly empty lakes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called it the worst drought on record. Recently, California Gov. Jerry Brown called for mandatory water restrictions in the state.

But why should Denver Water customers care? Sure we’ve seen our share of droughts in recent years, but right now our water supply is in pretty good shape. And Denver Water has had rules in place for years to help customers use water efficiently, and they have responded. We are trying to make water efficiency a way of life here in Colorado.

Make no mistake, Colorado and California are deeply connected when it comes to water use. In fact, Colorado and California are two of seven western states that rely heavily on the Colorado River for their water supply. It’s all because of the Colorado River Compact. (We have created our own simple summary of the Colorado River compact here.)

So even though we’re not facing the same restrictions as California, the ongoing drought demands our attention — and our action.

“We were extremely fortunate that the areas in the Colorado River Basin that supply water to our system saw near-normal snowpack levels this year,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “But we can’t be complacent. Recent history has shown us we are highly susceptible to drought as well.

“Not only do we have to plan for our own water supply, but we have to work with other states in the Colorado River Basin to find solutions to the water supply problems we all share.”

Denver Water is working with California and other states to reduce demand on the Colorado River through a program called the Colorado River System Conservation Program. It’s yet another way Colorado and California are connected in their water use.

So the next time you read about water restrictions in California, falling lake levels in Utah or lawn removal incentives in Las Vegas, understand that those water issues affect Coloradans and Denver Water customers in some way. We truly are all connected.

Why you and your kids should care about the drought in California

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.  (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.
(Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Why you and your kids should care about the drought in California

A father’s attempt to explain why California water restrictions, western growth and dropping reservoir levels in Utah should matter to all of us in Colorado.

By Steve Snyder

When people find out I work at Denver Water, they ask me one question more than any other: “Why do we let water flow out of Colorado to California and other states?”

The short answer is: The Colorado River Compact mandates that California gets its share. But that leads to a longer explanation about the Colorado River Compact, one of many complex laws that govern how water is divided among western states.

Complicated or not, we should all understand how drought in California — and Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate to cut water use by 25 percent — have a direct impact on the water we use in Colorado. With that in mind, I tried to boil this down for an audience with no prior knowledge or interest in the subject: My teenage daughter.

I’m changing her name to Abby so she doesn’t hate me for sharing her answers with the world.

Me: Sweetie, have you ever heard of the Colorado River Compact?

Abby: You mean a compact like for makeup?

Me: (Sighing) No, a compact is an agreement between states. The Colorado River Compact is an agreement between seven western states that share water from the Colorado River Basin.

Abby: Basin? And you say I talk in a foreign language!

Me: A basin is where water drains into a common area. The Colorado River Basin is the region where the Colorado River drains.

Abby: Wait. If it’s the Colorado River, how does it flow through other states? Isn’t it Colorado’s river?

Me: Good question. While the river originates in Colorado, the water does not belong to Colorado. All seven states have claims to the water. That’s how the compact came about.

Abby: How can other states claim water from Colorado? That’s not fair.

Me: Western water law is based on something called prior appropriation. It … STOP MAKING THAT FACE! It just means whoever puts the first claim on an amount of water for what is called “beneficial use” has the right to use it, regardless of the original location of the water. Think of it as “first in time, first in right.”

Abby: Speaking of time, you’re rambling again, Dad.

The seven states in the Colorado River Basin were divided into the upper and the lower basin states for river water allocation purposes. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

The seven states in the Colorado River Basin were divided into the upper and the lower basin states for river water allocation purposes. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Me: Stay with me. Back in the 1920s, the states in the lower basin of the Colorado River — California, Arizona and Nevada — were growing rapidly, and they had the oldest rights to the water. The other four states in the upper basin — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah — got nervous about having enough water for their own futures. The seven states couldn’t agree on who would get how much of the Colorado River’s flows, so in 1922 they negotiated an agreement, or compact, that divided the region into those same upper and lower basins.

Abby: Cool. So they divided up the water evenly among the states and they all lived happily ever after. The end! Great story, Dad! Goodnight.

Me: It’s 4 in the afternoon. Get back here! Under the agreement, the upper basin states must allow a specific amount of Colorado River water to flow to the lower basin states over a running 10-year average. The upper basin states store that water in Lake Powell in Utah. The lake is like a big savings account of water to meet that obligation. But now we get to the problems.

Abby: Let me guess. There’s not enough water in the river for everybody.

Me: Exactly! It turns out the 1920s were a very wet period in the Colorado River Basin. Essentially, the compact allocated more water than the river would normally produce. Then you add in a lot more growth in the lower basin states and the drought in the region for the past decade or more, and you get … wait for it … one giant bathtub ring!

Abby: Finally! We get to some cool stuff!

Me:  See?! But it’s not really cool. I told you the upper basin states store water for the lower basin states in Lake Powell. But because of the drought and continued increased use by the lower basin states, the water levels at Lake Powell have dropped dramatically in the last decade. Just look at this photo. You see that white discoloring in the rock where the water levels used to be? Lake Powell is at only 45 percent of its capacity.

Abby: So what happens if the lake level continues to drop?

Me: It could trigger what’s called a “compact call.” If the upper basin states can’t supply the amount of water mandated in the compact to the lower basin states, the upper basin states would have to restrict their own usage of Colorado River water to fulfill their obligations.

Abby: And what happens to Colorado?

Me: Well, Denver Water gets about half of its water from the Colorado River. If we lose half of our water supply, you can see how that would cause significant problems.

Abby: Is there anything we can do about it?

Me: We’re trying. Denver Water is actually working with other water providers in the Colorado River Basin through an agreement called the Colorado River System Conservation Program.

Abby: None of these things have simple names, do they?

Me: Point taken. The program is trying to find temporary, voluntary ways to reduce demand on the Colorado River, so more water can go into our bank account in Lake Powell. It’s a much better alternative than having mandated reductions.

Abby: So is this why you yell at me for taking long showers?

Me: Sort of. Every little thing we can do to use water efficiently helps. Particularly in the western United States, we are all connected by our water use.

Abby: Congratulations Dad. Despite your best efforts, I think I learned something.

Me: Thank you … I think.

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