Warm weather, wildfires and watersheds

How reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires improves the quality of water flowing into our reservoirs.

By Steve Snyder

Not cool, bro.

Land near Cheesman Reservoir was severely damaged after the 2002 Hayman Fire.

Watershed lands near Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir were severely damaged after the 2002 Hayman Fire.

That’s one way to describe the warm, dry fall we experienced in Colorado this year, not only from a temperature standpoint, but from a broader view of what these conditions mean to our water supply.

Denver Water gets almost all of its supply from mountain snowmelt, so the lack of snow so far is a bit concerning. But weather like this also has a big impact on another part of our system — our watersheds. As melting snow travels downhill, it may pass through forests, farmland and even commercial, industrial and urban areas. This land is called a watershed, and it directly impacts the quality of water that eventually gathers in Denver Water’s reservoirs.

And warm fall weather only increases the risk of wildfires in our watersheds. In fact, a recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the effects of climate change are making forests in the Western United States drier and easier to burn, thus increasing the risk for large, catastrophic wildfires.

“Catastrophic wildfires in our watersheds have impacts on so many levels,” said Christina Burri, a watershed scientist at Denver Water. “They are devastating for communities and the environment, but they also impact our water quality. When water runs through watersheds scorched by catastrophic fires, rainfall picks up sediment and ash which harms the water quality in our streams and reservoirs.”

Climate change makes it even more challenging to protect watersheds against catastrophic wildfires, she said. “This year is a perfect example. The wildfire season is longer, and the risks are greater.”

But Denver Water works with other agencies and local communities to mitigate those risks, Burri said.

From Forests to Faucets, a partnership between Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service, focuses on forest treatment and watershed protection projects in priority watersheds critical to Denver Water’s water supply.

Through the Upper South Platte Partnership, Denver Water works with local landowners, government officials and other community members to manage forests and protect and improve the health of the watershed in counties where our water supplies flow.

And Denver Water planners work directly with communities to ensure public drinking water resources are kept safe from future contamination. Denver Water worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Coalition for the Upper South Platte to create a source water protection plan for the Upper South Platte Watershed and implement that plan with Park, Douglas, Jefferson, and Teller counties.

A restored and thinned forest in Jefferson County in the Upper South Platte Watershed.

A restored and thinned forest in Jefferson County in the Upper South Platte watershed is much less susceptible to catastrophic wildfires.

“Our watersheds are the first filter through which our source waters run,” said Burri. “We have a really good source of water in our system, but if we don’t have a healthy filter for it, it causes more challenges down the line when we treat water. We have to make sure those filters are in the best shape possible.”

Preserving the environment and promoting high-quality water. Now that is cool, bro.

Do you know your hand-washing personality?

From speedster to perfectionist, preventing colds and flu begins with proper scrubbing and the main ingredient: H20.

By Kim Unger

’Tis the season for sharing — germs, that is. handwashing quick facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal flu outbreaks can start as early as October and last through May, peaking between December and February. Happy holidays, folks.

So how do you survive the holidays without picking up a cold or the flu? Wash your hands.

“Washing your hands with soap and clean water — which is an easy task we can all do — reduces the bacteria on your hands by approximately 95 percent,” said Jessica Thompson, occupational health nurse for Denver Water’s employee health clinic, which performs annual physicals, provides health screenings and treats minor on-the-job injuries.

CDC says the best way to eliminate dirt, harmful chemicals and germs is to wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizers containing 60 percent alcohol are a great alternative if you don’t have clean water and soap handy (ha! handy), but they do not eliminate all germs.

In honor of Handwashing Awareness Week, here are some familiar workplace hand-washing personalities — and how much water they require.

What hand-washing personality type are you? Remember, you really need water to wash your hands effectively, but you can use only what you need.

(Click lower right-hand corner of videos for full-screen view.)


The naturalist prefers to accept nature
as it comes.

Lightning fast speed gets the speedster in
and out in no time.

Sings the “Happy Birthday” song like a pro.
Uses more water than needed.

Kills germs and saves water.

Hidden underground, and ready to go with the flow

Whatever the demand, 30 storage tanks ensure reliable water delivery. Here’s how we keep them ready.

By Kim Unger

How many times do you turn on the faucet or flush the toilet every day? Is it the same amount, at the same time, every time? Probably not. No matter when or how often you need safe, clean water from your tap, it’s right there waiting. But how?

Underground storage tanks.

Inside a water storage tank

A peek inside one of Ashland’s new storage tanks. Construction is expected to wrap up in June 2017.

You may not realize it, but Denver Water has 30 tanks across our service area. They provide a buffer to allow our treatment plants to operate at consistent flows, while the tanks handle the highs and lows of water demands. This reduces energy costs and strain at the treatment plants, and it means that you never have to wait for treated water.

Just like pipes, dams and treatment plant equipment within our water system, storage tanks need maintenance and repairs to ensure reliability. Over the past few years, Denver Water has been replacing and upgrading the tanks, making sure we can provide water well into the future.

Take a look at this animated video to see how storage tanks work — and preview an upcoming project in southeast Denver.

When Mother Nature flakes out, just add water

Water-sharing agreements provide yearly snowmaking operations for six Summit and Grand county ski areas.

By Jay Adams

 

 

It’s finally starting to look a lot like winter in the Colorado Rockies — just a little later than normal. Mother Nature delivered some much-needed snow at the end of November to boost a ski season that’s been dealing with warmer temperatures and limited snow this fall.

Luckily, ski runs have a solid base waiting for fresh powder, thanks to snowmaking and a helping hand from Denver Water.

Resorts typically rely on early-season snowmaking to cover the slopes. In years when Mother Nature is slow to deliver, snowmaking operations are even more critical to the ski industry.

Snowboarders at Arapahoe Basin

Snowboarders enjoy early-season conditions on man-made snow at Arapahoe Basin.

“If we didn’t have snowmaking right now, we wouldn’t be open,” said Alan Henceroth, chief operating officer at Arapahoe Basin ski area in Summit County. “We can’t make snow without water.”

Enter Denver Water.

Through a water-sharing agreement with Denver Water, A-Basin diverts water from the North Fork of the Snake River and stores it in a small retention pond at the bottom of the ski area. The ski area then pumps the water up the mountain to 20 snowmaking machines.

“When we’re at full capacity, we’re using 1,000 gallons of water per minute,” Henceroth said.

Denver Water has senior water rights in Summit County, but allows A-Basin to borrow 97.4 million gallons of water each ski season to make snow. The ski area returns the water in the spring when the snow melts and flows into the streams and rivers that feed Dillon Reservoir — Denver Water’s largest storage facility.

Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Frisco Adventure Park, Keystone and Winter Park also have similar agreements with the utility, which shares 1.1 billion gallons of water with the ski areas each year.

“Letting them redirect water from the streams onto the mountain is a way to get multiple uses out of every drop,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “The ski areas get their water to make snow, and we catch it after they use it.”

Denver Water has very senior water rights in Grand and Summit counties dating back to the 1920s and 1940s before their resorts were open or made snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

A 1985 agreement with Summit County allowed Denver Water to share water for snowmaking in the county.

The 1992 Clinton Reservoir Agreement and the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided the additional framework for ski areas to borrow Denver’s water rights to divert water from streams in Grand and Summit counties.

“The agreements show that people on both sides of the divide can work together and manage water so it benefits as many people as possible,” Bennett said.

Because 20 percent of the water is lost to evaporation in the snowmaking process, the ski areas have their own additional water rights stored in Clinton Reservoir that would be used to pay back the lost water, if needed, during a severe drought.

“When it comes to water, we’re all connected,” Henceroth said. “We’ll ski on the snow this winter, and next summer they might be drinking it down in Denver.”

Cyber Monday shopping list: clothes, shoes — and water?

On the web’s busiest shopping day of the year, choose the online option to pay your bill and check your water use.

By Kristi Delynko

Michael Amireh, customer care representative

Michael Amireh, along with all Denver Water customer care representatives, is able to help customers get started with online self-service.

It’s Cyber Monday — Black Friday’s more civil, convenient and efficient sibling. According to Forbes, Cyber Monday could match or beat Black Friday in sales this year, and nearly two in five of those Americans making purchases will use their smart phones.

So whether you’re at work (we won’t tell), or shopping from the comfort of your home, here’s something else you can do online: Pay your water bill.

(You knew we were headed somewhere with this.)

Denver Water launched online self-service in 2015, said Michelle Garfield, customer relations manager for Denver Water. Since then, about 45,000 customers access online self-service each month.

Online self-service is secure and convenient, Garfield said. In addition to paying their water bills, customers can view up to two years of their billing and payment history, as well as their water use.

While many customers (and shoppers) like the online option, others still want to do it the old-fashioned way. In fact, Denver Water customer care representatives answer more than 19,000 calls per month, many of them related to billing.

Jose Valero Jr., customer care representative

With more than 19,000 calls coming into Customer Care each month, Jose Valero Jr. is prepared to help customers with a variety of questions.

During last year’s holiday season, for example, customer care representative Wendy Sutherland answered a call from a customer concerned about a high water bill. Sutherland set up an appointment with a field technician, who discovered a leak in the customer’s home.

Afterward, Sutherland encouraged the customer to repair the leak, and when she did, Denver Water provided a leak adjustment, putting money back in her pocket just in time for holiday shopping.

While your own credit card is at-the-ready for holiday deals this Cyber Monday, why not give online payment a try?

And if you need help getting started, go low-tech: Give our customer care representatives a call at 303-893-2444.

In Waterton Canyon, Black Friday is for the birds

After nearly two years of sporadic closings, a major construction project is finally complete. Time for a Turkey Trot!

By Travis Thompson

In the spirit of the holiday, I want to give thanks for Waterton Canyon.

As an outdoor enthusiast with two young children, the canyon has become our family sanctuary. In 15 short minutes we can be on a trail — actually a Denver Water service road — large enough for the kids to ride their bikes without impeding others, while we gawk over the varieties of birds, reptiles and mammals along the way.

Like others who love the canyon, our time in this oasis has been limited since the spring of 2015, when the High Line Canal diversion dam, halfway up the canyon in the South Platte River, deteriorated to the point that it needed to be replaced.

Since then, it’s been nearly two years of intermittent, months long closures and restrictions on public access while crews worked to rebuild the dam.

It was a long and challenging process, but construction on the dam is officially complete.

 

On Nov. 25, hikers will be allowed back into the canyon just in time to burn off the Thanksgiving stuffing, gravy and sweet potato pie.

Just as grateful as I am for this recreational retreat next to the city, I’m even more grateful for the true purpose of the canyon: to provide 1.4 million people in the Denver metro area with clean drinking water.

As explained in “The ‘trails’ and tribulations of Waterton Canyon,” the No. 1 priority of this working facility is to store and send water to two of Denver’s three drinking water treatment plants. That means infrastructure maintenance and upgrades are frequent and must take priority over recreation.

In fact, the next weekday closure is already looming. A separate construction project wrapping up at Strontia Springs Dam, located at the top of the 6.5-mile canyon, involves heavy equipment, creating unsafe conditions for recreationists for the last three weeks of the year.

This certainly won’t be the last time the gates are closed to the canyon, either. So, here’s my advice:

1) Take advantage of the times when Denver Water is able to safely allow recreation on its service road. 2) If you see a wild turkey in the canyon the day after Thanksgiving, you might not want to look him in the eye.

Turkeys in Waterton Canyon

Wild turkeys, including these two, are frequently spotted in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy of Waterton Canyon enthusiast, Lori Bollendonk.

 

 

Being thankful, not wasteful this holiday season

Hosting a Thanksgiving feast? Follow these 20 tips to save water before, during and after your meal.

Turkey photo

It takes about 520 gallons of water to produce one pound of turkey meat. (Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/NWphotoguy)

By Travis Thompson

Are you hosting a family dinner this holiday season? If so, it could mean unnecessary water waste in your home.

Thankfully, it’s easy to keep water usage to a minimum; just follow these simple tips compiled from Denver Water’s conservation department, the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program and Water – Use It Wisely.

Meal prep

  • Don’t use running water to thaw a frozen turkey or other food. For water efficiency and food safety, defrost food in the refrigerator.
  • Wash vegetables and fruits in a bowl or basin using a vegetable brush instead of letting water run. Use the extra water on plants.
  • Cook food in as little water as possible. This also helps it retain more nutrients.
  • Select the proper pan size for cooking. Large pans may require more cooking water than necessary.

Dinner time

  • Enjoy the side dishes! Corn, apples and potatoes require only 84, 108, and 132 gallons of water per pound to grow, respectively. Meats such as beef and lamb require many more times the amount of water per pound to produce.
  • Reuse leftover water from cooked or steamed foods to make a nutritious soup.
  • Designate one glass for each guest to use for drinking water. This will cut down on the number of glasses to wash.
  • Food waste is water waste. It takes about 520 gallons of water to produce one pound of turkey meat. To avoid scraping leftover food in the trash, serve smaller portions and invite guests to bring containers to take extra food home.
  • Chill drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the faucet until the water is cold.

Clean-up

  • Scrape dishes – don’t rinse – before putting them in the dishwasher. Energy Star-qualified dishwashers and today’s detergents are designed to clean without needing a rinse.
  • Make sure the dishwasher is full before running it. Avoid cycles like pre-rinse and rinse-hold that use heated water but may not be necessary to clean your dishes.
  • Reduce the number of times you run your garbage disposal by composting foods that are not salty, greasy or dairy. Even if you live in an apartment, you can still compost by learning to do worm-composting. Compost can also be made from your fall leaves. Ask your Colorado State University Cooperative Extension expert for more details.
  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run. Fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  • Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean.

Kids

  • Need something for the kids to do? Here are some fun online games from Water – Use It Wisely.
  • Teach children to turn off faucets tightly after each use.
  • Reward kids for the water-saving tips they follow.

Before the next party

  • Check your toilet for leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank and waiting 5 to 10 minutes. If the color shows up in the toilet bowl, you have a leak. Replace that leaky toilet with help from a Denver Water rebate.
  • Install water-saving aerators on all of your faucets.
  • Grab a wrench and fix that leaky faucet. It’s simple, inexpensive, and you can save 140 gallons a week. Learn how to use your water meter to check for leaks.

Do you have a water-saving tip to share this holiday season? If so, add it to the comments below or send a tweet to #HolidayWaterTip.

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