Watershed: It’s not a building for storing water

Denver Water celebrates Arbor Day with a tribute to Mother Nature’s own water filtration process.

Denver Water knows firsthand the debilitating consequences forest fires can have on a watershed. In 2002, the Hayman Fire burned thousands of acres near Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir, as shown in this photo.

Denver Water knows firsthand the debilitating consequences forest fires can have on a watershed. In 2002, the Hayman Fire burned thousands of acres near Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir, as shown in this photo.

By Kristi Delynko and Steve Snyder

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.”

Hold on. No need to be confused. Despite the poetic interlude, you are still on Denver Water’s site. But it’s Arbor Day, and we want to show our appreciation for trees.

So why does a water utility care about trees (beyond the obvious reasons why most of us love trees)?

One simple word: watersheds.

Now that’s a word you don’t hear every day. And no, it’s not a temporary building for storing water.

When it rains, or when mountain snow begins to melt, gravity pulls the water downhill. The water comes together as runoff to form small streams, which connect with other streams to form a river.

As the runoff travels downhill, it may pass through forests, farmland and even commercial, industrial and urban areas. This is called a watershed, which directly impacts the quality of water that eventually gathers in Denver Water’s reservoirs, where we store water for 1.4 million people.

“People don’t realize how important a healthy forest environment in our watershed is to their water supply,” said Paula Daukas, manager of environmental planning. “It’s the first, natural filtration process our source waters see.”

Healthy trees in a watershed absorb rainfall and snowmelt, slow storm runoff, recharge aquifers, sustain stream flows and filter pollutants from the air and runoff.

But, wildfires and insect infestations can harm watersheds, which highlights the need for us to take aggressive steps to protect forest health.

We can’t exactly uproot these trees and take them to the doctor, so Denver Water scientists make house calls. (Or should we call them “forest calls”?) Either way, our medical bills are insane!

From 2010-16, Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service invested more than $33 million in forest treatment and watershed protection projects in a management partnership program called, From Forests to Faucets.

“Through the From Forests to Faucets program, we’ve treated and reforested more than 40,000 acres of forestland to mitigate potential wildfires, insect infestations and restore a healthy forest — reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” said Christina Burri, Denver Water’s watershed scientist.

And because some watersheds aren’t on federal lands, Denver Water also partners with others throughout the state to maintain healthy forests on private and non-federal lands with programs like our source water protection programs.

There’s so much more to drinking water than what comes out of your tap, which is why Denver Water has a team of scientists and collaborative partnerships to ensure our watersheds are in tip-top shape.

So when you turn on the faucet to fill your glass, know you’re drinking water that was filtered largely by the forests of Colorado. Perhaps you may ponder your own poetic ode to trees, and raise your glass in gratitude to the healthy forests that make up your watersheds this Arbor Day.

Too much river runs through it

High water from melting snow closes river access to the South Platte, halts diversion dam construction.

By Jay Adams

Denver Water has closed access to the South Platte River in the lower portion of Waterton Canyon due to high water.

Denver Water has closed access to the South Platte River in the lower portion of Waterton Canyon due to high water running through the High Line Canal diversion project site. 

High water and safety concerns related to the inundated High Line Canal diversion construction project site have closed access to the South Platte River in lower Waterton Canyon.

“The river is running fast right now and we want people to be safe,” said Brandon Ransom, manager of recreation. While the canyon trail will be open on consecutive Sundays, May 1 and May 8, recreationists will only have access to the river in the upper canyon from mile marker 3.2 to Strontia Springs Reservoir at the top of the canyon.

Denver Water expects to open the Waterton Canyon trail seven days a week beginning Sunday, May 15. Ransom said river access in the lower canyon is likely to remain closed until river flows reach a safe level and Denver Water can better evaluate how the project site is responding to the higher flows.

The high water also has postponed construction of the new High Line Canal diversion dam, a replacement for the original dam built in 1870 to divert water from the South Platte River to Denver for agriculture. The wooden structure deteriorated over the years and was damaged beyond repair by high water during the 2015 runoff.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam before high water flooded the site.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam before high water flooded the site.

Denver Water engineers hoped to have the replacement dam completed by May 1, but they put the project on hold when the river spilled into the construction site after a wet spring. Crews are now cleaning up and securing the dam construction zone.

“This is the challenge of building a dam,” said Doug Raitt, construction project manager. “We all wanted to finish the project, but with that big April snowstorm and warm temperatures, the river came up sooner than expected and we had to get out.” Construction is expected to resume in the fall when the river recedes.

Without the dam, Raitt said it will be difficult to send water through the canal this spring, but engineers are looking at a temporary solution to make that feasible.

The lower portion of Waterton Canyon has been closed six days a week since February 2016 for the High Line Canal diversion dam repair work. Look for updates on the canyon throughout the coming weeks on denverwater.org.

Watch our behind-the-scenes video showing construction of the new High Line diversion dam.

 

Rules are made to be broken, except this one

Summer watering rules run from May 1 to Oct. 1 and promote healthy lawns            

By Kim Unger

I have always had a bit of a rebellious side. Tell me I can’t or shouldn’t do something? I just might test those boundaries and do it anyway.

When it comes to maintaining my lawn, however, there are some rules I just don’t mess with: Summer watering rules.

So why would I forego my urge to buck the system? It’s simple, really — I want a healthy, green lawn, and I want to save water too.

I don’t view the watering rules as a restriction, but merely a helpful guide to the best ways to water your lawn. This infographic breaks it all down.

watering-rules-infographic_FINALweb

All in the family

Generations of Denver Water employees have followed in their parents’ footsteps to find fulfilling work.

By Steve Snyder and Jessica Mahaffey

Denver Water is always happy to welcome the latest generation of curious youngsters into our workplace as part of the nationwide “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.”

But our employees have been doing this informally for decades, creating a distinctive legacy of children eager to follow their parents to careers at the water utility.

Denver Water’s Water Quality Lab is perhaps the best example of the ties that bind across generations. Four employees — Nicci Peschel, Ted Nicholas, Rod Edwards and John Feldhauser — share their legacy stories:

 

There are other examples of employees carrying on the family tradition at Denver Water. Like electrician foreman Ralph Cocozzella, who has worked at Denver Water for nearly 37 years, following in the footsteps of his father and his uncle:

 

Patrick Dennis in Denver Water’s Materials Lab is another example. Dennis spends his days testing soil and concrete samples, just like his father did a decade ago:

 

There are dozens more stories like these across our organization. And with a new group of kids fresh off their visits to Denver Water, we hope a brand new generation will be inspired to carry on a family tradition.

Mothering nature — one day at a time

When it comes to protecting our most precious resource, every day is Earth Day.

By Dana Strongin

Mother Earth does a lot for human life, and she deserves her day of honor — which is scheduled for today, April 22.

But what about the other 364 days?

At Denver Water, we take environmental stewardship seriously, every single day. This means we are always taking measures big and small to protect and care for our Earth.

So, in honor of Earth Day, here’s a paperless shout-out — and just a few examples of the many ways we work to serve and support our environment every day.

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

Weekend snowstorm delivers big shot of moisture

By Jay Adams

 

 

It was tough to shovel, but last weekend’s wet, heavy snow delivered a three-day punch of liquid gold for Denver Water.

The storm ramped up on April 15 and finally cleared out on April 17. When it was over, 2 to 4 feet of snow pounded areas of Boulder, Grand, Jefferson, Park and Summit counties where Denver Water captures the snow that produces up to 80 percent of our water.

In just 72 hours, the snowpack shot up 15 percent in the Upper South Platte River basin and 9 percent in the Upper Colorado River basin. As of April 18, the snowpack for the South Platte and Colorado River basins stood at 109 and 113 percent of normal, respectively.

SP_SnowpackCO_Snowpack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This weekend’s snowstorm was really good for our snowpack,” said Bob Steger, manager of raw water supply. That heavy, wet stuff produced around 2 inches of snow-water equivalent — a measure of how much water comes out of snow when it melts. To put that in perspective, the water gained from the three-day storm accounts for 16 percent of the snow-water equivalent in the South Platte River basin so far this season.

Gross Reservoir in Boulder County received nearly 3 feet of snow during the April 2016 snowstorm. The reservoir is expected to fill to capacity later this year.

As temperatures rise later this spring, the snowmelt will reach Denver Water’s mountain reservoirs. Steger expects 10 of Denver Water’s 12 major reservoirs to fill (two won’t be filled due to construction projects).

The bulk of the storm hit the Front Range — a typical spring pattern during an El Nino year — but that also brings benefits to both eastern and western Colorado. “A storm like this weekend’s means we don’t have to bring as much water over the Continental Divide, so more water stays in West Slope creeks and streams,” Steger said.

The moisture in the metro area also means good things for Denver Water customers. Late-season snow in the city means people don’t have to start watering their lawns as early as they do in a warmer, dry spring.

Steger said Denver Water’s annual watering rules, which kick off May 1, serve as good guidelines to follow in our unpredictable climate.

“The rest of this spring we could see a dry spell or more moisture like last year,” Steger said. “We all have to remember, we live in Colorado. Almost anything can happen with the weather.”

Breaking it now, so it won’t break later

Getting down in the dirt — and in a fog — to make sure Denver Water contractors are using the best materials.

By Steve Snyder and Dave Gaylinn

 


The guys at Denver Water’s Materials Lab have an interesting job. They try to break things for a living.

They also spend a fair amount of time dabbling in dirt. Sounds like a fun time, right?

“Yeah, but it’s not as exciting as you might think,” said Josh Smith, Materials Lab manager.

Perhaps not exciting, but necessary. Smith and his team provide quality assurance on soils and concrete products that contractors use when working on Denver Water projects. Typically those materials have already been tested by the contractor.

“But it has been our experience that you need some truth check of those tests,” Smith said.

“We’re here to make sure Denver Water gets the product it paid for from the contractor,” added Patrick Dennis, Materials Lab specialist.

They have some pretty cool tools at their disposal to help them do that, like a large, bright-red vibrating table, used to test how well a soil sample compacts.

And a nuclear gauge. That’s right, nuclear! They stick a probe in the soil and measure the amount of radiation coming back to determine the soil’s density.

They even have a fog room, where the temperature stays at 73.3 degrees, with nearly 100 percent humidity. Here samples are protected from loss of moisture, so the guys can test how well the concrete will ultimately hold up under stress.

“The last thing we need is to build a 15-million-gallon concrete tank and have it fail,” Dennis said.

“With all that in mind, we go above and beyond,” said Smith. “We do a little bit extra with every sample to make sure we are getting accurate results. The best part is the pride we take, knowing Denver Water is getting what it paid for — that ratepayers are getting good quality products for their money.”

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