A perfect time to rethink your yard. (That would be now)

Changing seasons, changing landscapes: How one Denver resident turned her yard into a water-efficient urban oasis.

By Jay Adams



The unseasonably warm weather this fall is great for hiking, playing in the park and puttering around the yard. As you’re raking your leaves or putting your garden to bed, take a moment to reflect on how your landscape looked this past summer.

Were there brown spots of grass? Could your kids have used more shade? Did you need more patio space?

“Fall is a great time to rethink your landscape,” said Mark Cassalia, Denver Water conservation specialist. “Walk your property, think about what you’d really like, and start planning for spring.”

Park Hill resident Amy Wright agrees. A firm believer in landscape planning, she designed her own water-efficient yard.

The plants in Amy Wright's yard attract a variety of butterflies, birds and bees.

The plants in Amy Wright’s yard attract a variety of butterflies, birds and bees.

“We had two kids grow up here, and we found the grass was rarely used,” Wright said. “So we started planning and changed our yard into a landscape full of color, shade and natural beauty.”

Wright’s yard features butterflies, ornamental grasses, bushes, flowers, trees and a cactus area.

“We found that by changing our landscape, we opened up our yard for all kinds of fun and creative things,” she said. “Most people find it hard to believe we hardly use any water on the landscape.”

Amy’s landscape uses about 90 percent less water compared to a yard of the same size that’s mostly grass.

“Amy’s garden landscape may not work for everyone, but it demonstrates how homeowners can redesign their yards to custom-fit their family’s needs and save water at the same time,” Cassalia said.

The 2002 drought changed attitudes about landscapes across Colorado, leading nurseries and garden centers to fill their aisles with more diverse options.

Now that the landscape has been established, Wright's landscape requires almost no watering.

Now that the landscape has been established, Wright’s landscape requires almost no watering.

“The increase in variety of plants available has allowed homeowners to create beautiful landscapes that work in our semi-arid climate,” Cassalia said. “The turf industry has also developed more low-water alternatives that look like bluegrass, but are much more water-efficient.”

Wright encourages anyone considering changing their landscape to read books and attend classes to get ideas for creating a water-saving yard they will enjoy.

“We get to enjoy nature all year long,” Wright said. “It feels great knowing we’re saving water, and we still have a great place to live.”

What to do with all those pumpkin guts (Hint: Do not flush)

The terrifying truth about carving pumpkins, and dealing with Halloween’s unexpected water waste.

By Jimmy Luthye


Fact: Fall is the best season, October is the best month in the best season, and Halloween is the best holiday in the best month in the best season.

Moose in a pumpkin on National Pumpkin Day.

Exhibit A: A cat named Moose in a pumpkin makes any day better.

Can you tell I love Halloween? Also, pumpkins. I love carving them. I love their exuberant glow on a chilly fall night. I love the dream combo of pumpkins and cats (see Exhibit A on right).

But to all my fellow pumpkin carvers out there, did you know the goopy mess inside those exquisite orange gourds can lead to wasted water?

It’s true. Plumbing experts say a lot of folks are running pumpkin pulp and seeds through garbage disposals or flushing them down toilets, which leads to clogs and unnecessary water waste.


In the spirit of the best season, I’ve thrown together a tidy list of five suggestions to consider in case pumpkin gunk has you stumped. Thank me later.

  1. Compost. Sure, you can simply toss the innards of the ol’ gourd in the trash, but consider composting instead. It’s perfect for your springtime garden!
  2. Make a pumpkin planter. What’s better than a pumpkin? A pumpkin with pretty plants in it, naturally.
  3. Eat it. From toasted seeds to risotto to pumpkin butter, delicious options abound!
  4. Wear it. Jewelry is good. People like jewelry.
  5. Fling it at your enemies! OK, don’t do this. I really just needed a fifth suggestion.

Thirsting for more? Here’s a list of 28 way more specific things you can do with pumpkins, and their guts.

So keep the goop out of your pipes and have yourself a glorious National Pumpkin Day, Halloween and autumn!

Cats and pumpkins


Contributing: Kim Unger, Steve Snyder and Dave Gaylinn.

CSI Cheesman: The mystery of the missing shrimp

Introduced in 1971 to boost the fish population, the shrimp appear to have vanished. And that might be a good thing.

Galloway collects eDNA from Cheesman Reservoir

Ben Galloway prepares test equipment to collect eDNA, genetic markers in the shrimp’s DNA, from sediment in Cheesman Reservoir.

By Tyler St. John

What happened to the shrimp?

In August, four researchers played detective on the waters of Cheesman Reservoir, dunking tubes, nets and various sensors below the surface and pulling up mud and algae. The team, from the Fisheries Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, was investigating the mysterious disappearance of the Mysis shrimp.

The shrimp are considered an invasive species in Colorado. First introduced into Kootenay Lake in British Columbia in 1949, the little creatures actually boosted the native fish population. The experiment was so successful that the shrimp were introduced to upwards of 400 more lakes in the world, including Cheesman Reservoir in 1971.

Fast-forward to 2013, when someone finally asked, “How are the shrimp doing in all of these waters?” That’s where the CSU team came in. They set out to test all of the waters in Colorado known to have the shrimp, but once they reached Cheesman, they couldn’t find a single one.

So what happened?

One possible culprit has left behind a number of footprints. Scattered throughout the otherwise beautiful landscape surrounding Cheesman are giant swaths of burned trees, bleak reminders of the Hayman Fire of 2002, the most devastating wildfire in Colorado’s history.

“If the fire wiped out the shrimp, the question is how?” said Doug Silver, a research associate with the Fisheries Ecology Laboratory. To find out, the researchers took soil core samples from the bottom of the reservoir by dropping a heavy tube down and pulling up sediment. To test the fire hypothesis, they will look for charcoal in the different layers of mud to determine if it came from the fire.

The researchers performed a second test by identifying genetic markers in the shrimp’s DNA, called eDNA. “If you get out of the bathtub, you still leave your DNA in the water,” Silver explained.

By taking samples from different levels of sediment, the team will be able to tell when the shrimp went missing, and from there they may be able to conclude the most likely cause.

Disappearing Mysis shrimp will help trout.

The disappearance of Mysis shrimp may end up helping Colorado’s trout population. Photo credit: NTNU, Flickr Creative Commons

The results of their work won’t be available for another three months or so, but the disappearance of the shrimp may turn out to be a good thing. At Cheesman, the shrimp were actually competing with the trout for zooplankton: their primary source of food. Now that the shrimp are gone, the fish populations should thrive.

So why bother to solve the mystery?

“We want to know about anything that alters environmental conditions,” said Brandon Ransom, Denver Water’s manager of recreation. “We try to be really good stewards of resources. That includes plants and animals, as well as water.”

If something that had been flourishing for more than 30 years suddenly disappears, Denver Water wants to know why, he said.

“This is why we are involved with wildlife research. The more we know about forest health and the ramifications of wildfires, the more we can be preventative instead of reactive.”

Fraser Flats gets ready for environmental makeover

Grand County project aims to bring more bugs, bigger trout and better fishing to a stretch of the Fraser River.

By Jay Adams



A stretch of the Fraser River in Grand County is on tap for a makeover. It’s a $200,000 environmental endeavor that marks the first river restoration project led by Learning By Doing — a partnership between East and West Slope water stakeholders aimed at restoring, enhancing and improving the rivers and streams of Grand County.

On Sept. 27, members of the Learning By Doing team toured a 0.9-mile section of the river north of the town of Fraser where the restoration project will take place.

The Learning By Doing team included representatives from Trout Unlimited, Grand County, Denver Water and the Colorado River District.

During the kick-off gathering, the group reviewed plans to rehabilitate the river with Freestone Aquatics — a fisheries consulting company specializing in stream restoration.

Members of Learning By Doing tour the Fraser Flats on Sept. 27

Members of Learning By Doing tour the Fraser Flats on Sept. 27.

“The goal of the project is to enhance this stretch of the Fraser River,” said Jessica Alexander, environmental scientist at Denver Water. “The project will improve the habitat for aquatic life and create a better environment for trout.”

Over the years, the health of the river has declined due to diversions to the Front Range and ranching activities.

“This stretch has reduced depth of water over a wide channel, so we don’t have the healthy fish habitat we’d like to see,” said Katherine Morris, Grand County water quality specialist.

Clint Packo, Freestone Aquatics president, said the natural flow of the river has changed, but the size of the channel has stayed the same. “Instead of having a river that’s wide and shallow, we’ll build a channel-within-a-channel, so water can funnel into a narrower section,” he said.

The new channel will include stretches of fast-moving water, pools and other river features designed to benefit aquatic life regardless of changes in river flows. “All of these features create small spaces for aquatic insects to live in, which will give the fish a sustainable food source,” said Alexander.

Next spring and summer, volunteers will plant 4,000 native plants and bushes along the banks to shade the river and keep water temperatures cool.

The stretch of the Fraser River will be reconfigured to have a narrower, deeper stream channel to improve aquatic life.

The stretch of the Fraser River will be reconfigured to have a narrower, deeper stream channel to improve aquatic life during low-flow periods.

There also will be a newly created public fishing access point to a portion of the river. “This is a good project for the county,” Morris said. “The public access will be great for anglers.”

Construction is set to begin in fall 2017 and expected to take about six weeks to complete. Grand County, Learning By Doing partners, a private landowner and a grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife are funding the project.

“This collaborative project ensures that Denver is able to get its water supply and we still maintain a healthy ecosystem,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter. “This will be a healthier stream and one that fishes really well.”

5 DIY fall landscape tips that will save you money

Thwart costly repairs and upgrades next year with this prewinter checklist

By Travis Thompson

Remember when you were paid to do chores as a kid? Well, we found a way to make those jobs profitable again.

Follow this easy do-it-yourself checklist to avoid costly landscape and irrigation system repairs next spring, and put the money you saved back into the bank:

John Gebhart, Denver Water Conservation technician, showed 9News viewers how to protect exposed outdoor pipes and nozzles from freezing this winter.

John Gebhart, Denver Water Conservation specialist, showed 9News viewers how to protect exposed outdoor pipes and nozzles from freezing this winter.

Winterize: In 2015, Denver Water techs discovered about 80 homes with an irrigation system leak, and about half of those leaks occurred in September and October — when the nightly temperatures started to drop.

Don’t become a statistic. With freeze season underway, winterize your irrigation system now to prevent costly damage caused by frozen water left in pipes. Here are some tips from Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado on how to properly prepare your system for winter.

Don’t have a sprinkler system? You still should disconnect your hoses from the spigot before it gets too cold. If you don’t, you’re leaving your faucet and hose vulnerable to the winter conditions that could cause the pipes feeding the spigot to break.

Mow: Did you know that late-season mowing helps reduce the risk of mold and other diseases forming in your yard? There is no reason to trim your grass shorter than usual, but make sure to get in one last cut before the snow flies. This simple task may save you from having to apply a fungicide later.

Mulch: If you’re like me, raking and bagging is the fall chore I dread most. But with one easy step, you can make the job easier while benefiting your yard. Just keep the bag off your mower and mulch the leaves into the grass.

Why? According to ALCC’s tips for fall lawn care, “The mulched leaves will naturally compost into the soil, providing nutrients for the lawn.”

If you do need to collect and bag your leaves, take advantage of community leaf drop programs, like this one in Denver. (And if you have kids, don’t forget to rake the leaves into large piles to dive into first!)

Aerate: By opening up pathways for water and nutrients to move into the root zone, you’ll have a thicker and more drought-tolerant lawn without having to apply more water.

Transplant: Do you have an area that you are looking to transform into a more water-wise landscape? If so, now’s the perfect time to make the move. If you or a neighbor have established plants, splice off some sections and follow these simple steps to get your new garden off and running — for free!


Of course, you can always pay the kids in your neighborhood to do these chores for you and call it a wash. Either way, you’ll have a healthier landscape next spring while saving time, money and water.




Denver Water saved my life

Jodi and her 3-year-old German shepherd, Abby, plan on bringing some relief and joy to patients at Saint Joseph Hospital as a pet therapy team.

Jodi and her 3-year-old German shepherd, Abby, spend most Saturdays bringing some relief and joy to patients at Saint Joseph Hospital as a pet therapy team.

One employee’s personal account of battling breast cancer.

By Travis Thompson

This could have been a tale of tragedy. Instead, Denver Water’s Jodi Johnson is sharing her encouraging story, with a simple message: Get your health screenings. It could save your life.

Johnson’s tale begins in spring of 2014, when she was instructed by her doctor to get her annual mammography. As a strong, healthy woman in her 50s, with no indication of medical concerns, it was not something that she ran out to schedule.

Later that year, Denver Water hosted its annual visit from the Saint Joseph mobile mammography van, offering a convenient way for Jodi to check this task off the list.

“I spent the day joking with my co-workers about getting this type of exam while at work,” Johnson said laughing.

In less than 30 minutes she was back in the office with hardly a blip in her schedule. The screening quickly became such a distant memory that she ignored several calls from an unknown number, never thinking it could be the radiologist.

“Finally I gave in and answered,” Johnson recalled. “They wanted me to come in for some more tests, but I figured no biggie, test results always come back OK. Right?”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Jodi was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, commonly referred to as DCIS, a very early-stage cancer that is highly treatable.

In the blink of an eye, she was working with surgeons and counselors on a plan to become cancer-free.  It was an emotional time for Johnson, but strangely, her test results brought her anxiety level down and her reassurance up.

“Everyone I dealt with through this process was so positive. They would say how excited they were for me that we found it so early,” said Johnson. “Not what you would expect when dealing with cancer.”

To schedule a mobile mammography van event, click here. Photo courtesy of Saint Joseph Hospital.

To schedule a mobile mammography van event, click here. (Courtesy Saint Joseph Hospital)

On Feb. 4, 2015 — coincidentally, World Cancer Day — Johnson had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and some of the normal tissue around it. The surgeon joked that it was the smallest cancer in history.

Thanks to the early detection and treatment, Jodi is now cancer-free.

The experience has Johnson feeling indebted. “I’m forever grateful of Denver Water’s wellness program, which made early detection possible, Saint Joseph’s for the great care and all of those who supported me through this difficult time — especially my kids.”

So, as a way to “pay it back,” Johnson has been working with Human-Animal Bond in Colorado to train her beloved German shepherd, Abby, as a therapy dog to visit hospitals and help people in similar situations.

“I’ve been bringing Abby to the same area I was in and tell patients that I was once in that same chair,” Johnson said with a smile. “If my story can help others, I’m happy.”

Saint Joseph Hospital stresses the importance of early detection, stating, “mammograms detect changes in a woman’s breast health well before an abnormal mass can be felt, but the average five-year survival rate for women who are diagnosed and treated early is 98 percent (where breast cancer is detected in its earliest stages).”

As a happy 98-percenter, Johnson wants to remind us that without the simple step of getting her health screening, she would be telling a very different story right now.

How much water can a reservoir really hold?

With its sophisticated sonar equipment, ‘Reservoir Dog’ presents a clearer picture of our water storage capacity.  

Jason Ellis, survey senior tech, conduct bathymetric survey on Cheesman Reservoir.

Jason Ellis, survey senior tech, conducts a bathymetric survey on Cheesman Reservoir.

By Kristi Delynko

With a likeness to Captain Nemo and his Nautilus submarine, Angelo Martinez expertly steers his vessel — known as “Reservoir Dog” — through Cheesman Reservoir. But unlike Nemo, survey supervisor Martinez doesn’t need a submarine to see what’s at the bottom. Denver Water uses bathymetric surveying, sonar and GPS technology to map the contours of the reservoir floor.

Like the Nautilus — depicted as ahead of its time in Jules Verne’s classic novel — Reservoir Dog houses some pretty sophisticated equipment. The department upgraded its survey instruments this year, allowing the team to more efficiently gather data with a more expansive sonar reach.

In a single day, surveyors can now gather up to 10 million data points — an increase of almost 9 million from previous technologies. This data must then be processed and analyzed. “It’s a lengthy process to work through all the data and ensure it’s accurate before bringing it into GIS software,” said Brad Geist, surveyor.

Angelo Martinez, survey supervisor, explains the remote station the team sets up to ensure a strong signal when Reservoir Dog is out on the water

Angelo Martinez, survey supervisor, explains the remote station the team sets up to ensure a strong signal when Reservoir Dog is out on the water.

Once analyzed, the information can be used by a variety of Denver Water departments, including engineering and planning.

The last time Denver Water surveyed the bottom of Cheesman was in 2013. That bathymetric survey showed evidence of the lasting damage from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and 2002 Hayman Fire, when fires charred the land, creating sediment that washes into the reservoir when it rains.

“With the fires damaging the reservoir’s watershed, a large amount of sediment gets washed into the reservoir, which decreases the storage capacity over time,” Geist said. “The data we gather this year can be compared to 2013 to see how this sediment impacts capacity, and in which areas of the reservoir it tends to accumulate.”

As environmental variables change over time, Denver Water planners want to know exactly how much water the reservoirs can hold. Bathymetric surveying is one way to help plan for future storage.

“I’m not sure of any other water utility in Colorado doing bathymetric surveying at this level,” Geist said.

While no sea monsters have been spotted thus far, the team has made some interesting finds at the bottom of the reservoirs, including roads in Dillon Reservoir and an old railroad grade in Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir.

Take a ride with Martinez on Reservoir Dog.

Reservoir Dog, ready for action, at Cheesman Reservoir.

Reservoir Dog, ready for action, at Cheesman Reservoir.

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