New kids on the block — on tour!

I joined my fellow newbies to get a first-hand look at Denver Water’s collection system.

By Kristi Delynko

Employees board a pontoon boat and head out across Dillon Reservoir to see operations from the water.

Employees board a pontoon boat and head out across Dillon Reservoir to see operations from the water.

Did you know the town of Dillon used to be located right underneath where Dillon Reservoir is today? Or that Williams Fork Dam’s hydroelectric plant generates enough electricity to help power the remote mountain communities that surround the reservoir?

These are just a few of the fun facts I learned last week on a tour of Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. Not everyone gets to see the inside of a hydroelectric plant, or go behind the scenes at a reservoir, but as a newbie at Denver Water, I was able to join 41 other employees to get a special look inside Denver Water’s operations.

Denver Water offers training programs and tours to help employees through the onboarding process. And let me tell you, what we do at Denver Water is complex, making the learning curve pretty steep.

“It’s important for employees to see the entire system to understand the role each of them plays in delivering safe, quality drinking water,” said Arleen Hernandez, learning and organizational development coordinator.

My colleagues and I piled onto a tour bus and traveled into the mountains to get a first-hand look at Denver Water’s collection system. Along the way, Dave Bennett, environmental scientist, explained Denver Water’s intricate water collection system and a history that dates back to the mid-1800s.

We discovered how that history continues to influence the business conducted at Denver Water today. “Learning about water rights was particularly interesting,” said finance analyst Emmanuel Lubuye, one of my fellow tour attendees. “Seeing how the actions of earlier pioneers at Denver Water laid the foundation for acquiring water rights early on was fascinating.”

Hydro Operator Rick Geise shares the importance of Dillon Reservoir to our water supply and the vital partnerships Denver Water maintains in the community.

Hydro Operator Rick Geise shares the importance of Dillon Reservoir to our water supply and the vital partnerships Denver Water maintains in the community.

We traveled up winding mountain roads, and with our heads spinning with facts and figures, finally arrived at Dillon Reservoir for a perfectly timed pontoon boat ride. John Blackwell, hydro supervisor; Nathan Hurlbut, utility senior technician; Tim Holinka, source of supply manager; and Rick Geise and Andrew Stetler, hydro operators, took us out onto the reservoir. We peppered them with questions about the day-to-day responsibilities of a hydro operator and learned more about the history of the reservoir.

So what about moving an entire town? Yes, Denver Water actually moved the town of Dillon to build the reservoir, including the local cemetery. There weren’t many questions about the logistics of moving a cemetery — most of us choosing to leave the details to our imaginations — but we did learn a lot about the partnerships between Denver Water and the surrounding community, particularly the cooperation with the Dillon and Frisco marinas and the fishing and water sport industries.

“It was interesting to hear how hard Denver Water works to balance diverse needs, from getting water levels up for the marina to providing free water for snow-making to the ski resorts and getting it back later as snow melt,” said Kate Legg, records and document manager.

We continued to hear the theme of partnership throughout the tour as we headed up to Williams Fork Reservoir, which offers free camping, gold medal fishing, big game hunting and other recreational activities. We met Ryan Rayfield, hydro supervisor at the dam, who shared the challenges of living and working in a remote area, as well as what the three hydro operators do at Williams Fork 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We have a responsibility to take care of the dam and keep the hydroelectric plant running, but we also work hard to engage with the community recreating at the reservoir. It’s important we are good neighbors,” said Rayfield.

Not only does Williams Fork play an important role in recreation, water storage and flow management for Denver Water, it also houses Denver Water’s second highest producing hydroelectric plant, which we toured. Equipped with two generators that can produce an output of 3,700 kilowatts per hour, the hydroelectric plant generates enough power to run the Williams Fork systems, the residences on-site as well as providing power to many of the surrounding mountain communities.

Employees gather in front of the Williams Fork dam after touring the hydroelectric plant.

Employees gather in front of the Williams Fork dam after touring the hydroelectric plant.

“It’s not every day you get to see how water generates electricity,” said my co-worker Julia Keedy, raw water planning engineer.

Keedy’s job at Denver Water involves simulating river and reservoir operations, including Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. “Since I am a visual person, it was helpful to see the areas around both reservoirs and to learn about their operational constraints from the actual operators,” she said.

The tour also helped Kate Taft, sustainability program manager, better understand how her job fits into the Denver Water mission, as well as increasing her passion for conservation. “I have always been a strict conservationist when it comes to water, but now I am even more conscious of the water coming out of my faucet, knowing all the work it takes to get it from the mountains to my glass.”

Of course, getting to know other employees in the organization is one of the advantages of taking part in trainings, and it was great to meet other employees throughout the organization and learn more about how all of our jobs add vital pieces to the Denver Water puzzle.

Not your average pledge drive: A revival on the river

Denver Water and Greenway Foundation team up to provide more water for fishing, farmers and fun on the South Platte.

By Steve Snyder

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead announces a pledge drive for storage space in the Chatfield environmental pool at a Greenway Foundation event.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead announces a pledge drive to add storage space in the Chatfield environmental pool at The Greenway Foundation’s Reception on the River event.

Denver, Colorado: the city by the river.

OK, nobody has ever actually said that. Denver isn’t known as “a river town,” like some other U.S. cities.

But Denver does have a storied history with one river in particular — the South Platte River. After all, it’s where the city was founded. Since then, the South Platte has been an important water source, a unique recreational amenity and occasionally, a devastating force of nature.

But the South Platte also has had its share of environmental and water quality challenges. So when Denver Water saw an opportunity to improve the overall environment of the river, particularly through the Denver Metro area, we jumped at the chance.

“Having a healthy, vibrant river running through our city offers so many benefits,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “It helps the environment, encourages recreation and ultimately supports agricultural interests downstream. We all benefit from a healthy South Platte River.”

That’s the goal of an agreement between Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. As part of the mitigation portion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project — a project allowing the flood-control reservoir to store additional water supply — the two agencies will create an environmental pool of water at Chatfield, to increase the South Platte’s flows through Metro Denver.

They have designated 1,600 acre-feet of reservoir storage for the pool, but there is room for more. And Denver Water wants to make that pool even bigger, in a partnership with The Greenway Foundation.

“We’re doing a pledge drive of sorts,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager at Denver Water. “We have committed nearly $2 million to purchase 250 acre-feet of storage space in Chatfield — if The Greenway Foundation can raise the funds necessary to match that amount.

“If the fundraising is successful, it would create an additional 500 acre-feet of storage in the environmental pool to benefit the South Platte flows,” he added.

The South Platte River running through Confluence Park in Denver.

The South Platte River running through Confluence Park in Denver.

The additional acre-feet would provide three major benefits:

  • Water released through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s fish hatchery at Chatfield Reservoir would help grow fish for stocking purposes.
  • Timing of releases would increase river flows, benefitting fish and recreation.
  • Water would eventually be reused by agriculture downstream of Denver.

“This is a unique opportunity to secure water to benefit the South Platte River in our city,” said Lochhead. “This opportunity won’t come again, so we need others to join our efforts.”

The price for purchasing an acre-foot of storage in the environmental pool is $7,500. Interested parties should visit the Greenway Foundation’s website.

The “trails” and tribulations of Waterton Canyon

Why this wild retreat next to the city is such a great attraction — and why we’ve so often had to close its gates.

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

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam last spring before high water flooded the site, resulting in the need to return this fall to finish the project.

By Travis Thompson

With school starting and pools closing, Labor Day weekend is considered the unofficial end of summer.

This year, it also marks the end of weekday recreation in Waterton Canyon for about three months.

Recreationists will only be able to access the trail on the weekends while construction crews inhabit the canyon during the week. Read more about the 2016 fall construction impacts here.

With more than 100,000 visitors a year, it’s no secret that Waterton Canyon is one of the most popular outdoor recreation amenities for Coloradans and tourists alike. But as a key Denver Water operational facility, the attributes that make this canyon so great can also lead to unexpected closures.

Let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs of this special place.

Why it’s great: Well-maintained trail for hikers, bikers and horseback riders

The road for Denver Water employees to access the canyon facilities and Strontia Springs Reservoir doubles as the canyon trail for recreationists. Because this is a vital road for our operational crews, it’s always well maintained, providing optimal conditions for a family-friendly hiking and biking experience.

Challenge: As a working facility, there are times when infrastructure and maintenance projects create unsafe conditions for the public, prompting us to close trail access.

Why it’s great: A scenic mountain experience without having to venture far from the city

Within minutes of starting the 6.5-mile hike up the canyon, visitors are engulfed in nature, losing sight of the Denver suburbs that are right around the corner. And as the South Platte River cascades along the canyon path, the echoes of the flows bounce off the valley walls, providing an escape from the everyday din of the city.

Challenge: Environmental conditions can change quickly in the canyon. During dry times, forest fires can spark in the area. When it floods, the beautiful winding river trail turns into a hazard, as high waters ascend the river banks. In either extreme, one thing is certain: the canyon gates will be locked.

Why it’s great: The wildlife experience

The canyon is home to rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, bears and more than 40 species of birds.

Challenge: The wildlife is a highlight for visitors, but the animals are exactly that — wild. As we learned with last year’s bear situation, there are times when it’s necessary to keep the public out of nature’s way.

 

We love Waterton as much as you — for its natural beauty as well as its vitality to delivering our customers water.

When the construction crews move out and it’s safe for hikers and bikers to rush back in, we’ll reopen the canyon for weekday use.

But there will come a time when we’ll have to close it again. So when we do, know that it’s done to maintain a safe environment for the recreational users and workers who share the canyon.

Looking to branch out during the closure and find other recreational opportunities? See what some other Denver Water facilities have to offer:

Colorado-Reservoir-Recreational-Activities-Infographic

Contributing: Jamie Reddig

When the river runs through it

In most years, water use in the city brings bountiful rapids to grateful kayakers.

By Katie Knoll

2016 08 15 085456

Kayakers on the South Platte River during BaileyFest 2016.

In August, more often than not, Denver Water responds to customer demands by releasing water through the Roberts Tunnel from Dillon Reservoir.

And in those years, that action creates the perfect conditions for kayaking at a time when flows are too low for the sport on many other rivers.

And that’s when we get BaileyFest.

The popular kayaking event runs on a stretch of the North Fork of the South Platte River from Bailey to Pine and has a national reputation for Class IV-V rapids.

“We are really excited in years where conditions align to help make BaileyFest a reality,” said Jeremy Allen, who works with Dave Bennett to coordinate the Roberts Tunnel flows as part of Denver Water’s Planning Division. “This is a great partnership, and we look forward to working with the kayaking community on this event in years to come.”

The event can only be held in years when Denver Water needs to bring water through the Roberts Tunnel to meet water demands in Denver. But all the different groups involved in developing the South Platte Protection Plan acknowledge the value of whitewater recreation in the region. In fact, the plan — a landmark agreement developed by local water providers, government agencies, environmental and recreation groups — includes enhancing flows for kayaking in the actual agreement.

IMG_0179

The author (right) with event organizer Pete Bellande.

There is a family-like feeling among the kayakers who attend BaileyFest. I was honored to attend this year — my first time! — and learned more about the event from the organizers and volunteers, including Pete Bellande and Ian Foley.

I was pleasantly surprised (and a little embarrassed) by the raucous welcome I received from the crowd when the organizers introduced me as a representative from Denver Water. Afterward, a string of happy kayakers stopped by to introduce themselves and say thank you.

I can confirm that a good time was had by all — and by me. BaileyFest has recruited a new fan, and the kayaking community may soon be welcoming a new member. After being a part of the fun, how could I resist joining in next year?

Take a look for yourself by checking out this video from Vimeo user Kaelan Hendrickson.

Are you smarter than an elementary schooler?

A kid’s perspective on all things water-bottle related.

By Steve Snyder

Kids are heading back to class, and water bottles are now a must-have school supply. We asked some elementary school kids at the Denver Green School what they know about what’s in their water bottles.

 

The first question was obvious: What’s in your water bottle?

“Water,” said Matteo Reen, stating the obvious answer.

“Sometimes we put juice in it,” Jasmyn Fisher said with a giggle.

“I don’t put anything in it,” Zach Kim said. “I just drink the water.”

But do the kids know how much water they actually drink?

“Maybe like a gallon,” said Xena Flemister as she smiled.

Paul Cunha went bigger. “Two gallons,” he said proudly.

“Two, three or four bottles,” Matthew Lufkin added.

But none could outdo Lizzy Valdez.

“One time, I drank three bottles, all in a row without stopping,” she said. “I was soooo thirsty!”

How about the taste?

“It’s kinda weird, but I like the taste of water,” Xena said. “It’s not really a flavor, but it tastes so good.”

“It tastes like nothing,” Gisel Martinez said, summing things up quite well.

Now for a tricky one. What is water is made of?

“Liquid?” asked Julius Jackson, after pondering the questions for a moment.

“Liquid and … uh … air?”  Yonas Wassen asked, sounding only slightly more certain.

“Liquid and … I don’t remember the other things,” Paul confessed. He sounded a bit disappointed in himself.

We ended with an easy one: What do the kids like most about water?

“Water fights,” Matthew said with a bit of uncertainty, perhaps for fear a teacher or parent might be listening.

“It’s healthy for me and gives me energy,” Yonas joyfully told us.

And Zach summed things up better than we possible could have.

“Because it’s good for me,”  he said, proving to be wise beyond his years.

You can fish. You can boat. But you can’t swim.

The very complicated reason swimming isn’t allowed in our reservoirs: Too. Cold.

By Jimmy Luthye

Taking a page out of the #SochiProblems playbook, officials in Rio di Janeiro are imploring athletes to be careful if they compete in an outdoor swimming event. Apparently, the water is roughly 1.7 million times more worrisome than the threshold for concern in the United States or Europe.

Rio di Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic games, and some serious water quality concerns, particularly for outdoor swimmers. Photo credit: sama093, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rio di Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic games, and some serious water quality concerns, particularly for outdoor swimmers. Photo credit: sama093, Flickr Creative Commons.

Wow.

Naturally, we’re quite fortunate we don’t have to worry about those issues in our system, which includes 12 major reservoirs and ample recreation opportunities.

So then, why can’t people swim at any of our facilities?

Is it because we’re worried it would drum up too many people at our reservoirs, making it difficult to operate our facilities?

Nonsense — the more the merrier!

Is it because we’re worried about water quality issues stemming from human contact with the water?

Well, maybe at one time, but not anymore. In the 1980s, the Colorado health department issued a guidance that discouraged body contact in water supply reservoirs because of water quality concerns. Since then, however, water treatment processes have improved and that guidance has been repealed, meaning we no longer have to worry about body contact and water quality.

Alas, the real reason swimming and other water contact sports aren’t allowed is all about safety. Of your body.

“The bottom line is that the water in our reservoirs is too cold for prolonged skin contact,” said Brandon Ransom, Denver Water manager of recreation. “When you pair that with a lack of medical supervision, it’s just not a risk that makes sense to take.”

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, home of the "highest triathlon in the world" — the 106 Degree West Triathlon — coming Sept. 10, 2016.

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, home of the “highest triathlon in the world” — the 106 Degree West Triathlon — coming Sept. 10, 2016.

If that’s the case, what about the upcoming 106 Degree West Triathlon happening at Dillon Reservoir in September? Why are those athletes allowed to swim in the reservoir?

“The decision to hold the triathlon at Dillon Reservoir is not one we took lightly, nor one we made alone,” Ransom said. “The Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee came together in agreement, working with local emergency responders to make sure this event is heavily monitored and conducted in the safest manner possible.”

The committee, known as DRReC (pronounced “D Rec”), includes representatives from Summit County, the U.S. Forest Service, the Town of Frisco, the Town of Dillon and Denver Water who come together to make important decisions about recreation at Dillon Reservoir.

The 106 Degree West Triathlon is a USA Triathlon-sanctioned qualifying event and involves elite, highly trained athletes competing in a 56 mile bicycle ride, a 13.1 mile run and a 1.2 mile swim, with medical professionals standing by, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

And that’s not normally the case.

Even in the summer months when the weather is warm and all the snow has melted, the average water temperature at Dillon Reservoir sits in the low 60s. For comparison, Rio Olympians will be swimming in 71-degree water outdoors and 82-degree water indoors.

So, while we don’t have to worry about the same water quality issues as they have in Rio, there’s still no swimming, save for special circumstances like the 106 Degree West Triathlon.

Don’t fret, though; there are still plenty of recreational opportunities throughout our system that aren’t as risky. Take a look!

And check out the video below for more about the 106 Degree West Triathlon.

Why your water bill is going up

New rate structure still rewards conservation while helping us upgrade our system in a fluctuating climate.

By Travis Thompson

We’re getting a lot of questions about our new rate structure.

No surprise there. With multiple tiers of pricing, indoor and outdoor usage totals, and higher fixed charges to meet infrastructure demands and the extreme weather fluctuations of climate change, water rates are complex and often confounding.

Denver Water crews proactively install or replace an average of 60,000 feet of pipe throughout our service area per year. About $11 million will go to main replacement and main improvement in 2016 and $130 million will be invested in main replacements over the next 10 years.

Denver Water crews proactively install or replace an average of 60,000 feet of pipe throughout our service area per year. About $11 million will go to main replacement and main improvement in 2016 and $130 million will be invested in main replacements over the next 10 years.

But of all the questions, one stands above all the others.

Is my bill going up?

That’s a straightforward question, and the simple answer is yes.

Not necessarily everyone’s bill, and not by the same amounts. But yes, in general, this year’s charges were designed to help us recover our increasing costs to collect, treat and deliver safe, reliable water, while remaining affordable and encouraging responsible water use among those we serve.

For about half of our Denver residential customers, the annual increase in 2016 will be less than $39, including some who will see a decrease. In the suburbs, about half of the residential customers will see a total increase this year of $100 or less, including some customers with annual decreases.

“The reality is that the cost of water is going to increase as we continue to invest in infrastructure, new supplies, watershed protection, reuse and more,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “We are committed to keeping essential water use affordable and ensuring our customers are getting good value for the increasing investments they will need to make in their water system.”

Answering that question invariably leads to others, especially these three:

  1. Are your new rates punishing me for conserving water?
  2. If not, why are the biggest residential water users paying less while households using the least amount of water are paying more?
  3. Why is my bill so much higher this year than it was last year?

Let’s take them one at a time.

Question 1: Am I being punished for conserving water?

Some customers tell us they worry the new rate structure doesn’t promote conservation.

Not so. Our philosophy remains exactly the same: The more you use, the more you pay. In fact, our new three-tiered rate structure gives customers a more accurate signal of how their water use affects their bills, allowing them to make changes to conserve water.

The old rate structure, which had four tiers, did its job. Customers reduced water use by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, despite a population increase of 15 percent.

But under the old structure, most residential customers were paying the same price per 1,000 gallons for essential indoor use as they did for outdoor use – even if they weren’t efficient about their water use.

The new structure is much more individualized, with three tiers that help distinguish indoor use from outdoor watering for a typical-sized yard, and then anything additional for those who have larger properties or are being less efficient with their water.

All customers pay the cheapest rates (Tier 1) specific to their needs for essential indoor water use, considered vital for drinking, bathing and sanitation. That rate is calculated by averaging your monthly water consumption on bills dated January, February and March each year.

When you use more water than your unique indoor average, your price per gallon jumps to Tier 2. That price signal tells you you’re using more water, most likely outdoors. We bill this at the second lowest rate so you can still afford to have a healthy landscape. (It takes about 15,000 gallons a month to water an average-sized yard efficiently.)

Water used in excess of that amount jumps to Tier 3, where you are charged the highest rate per 1,000 gallons, alerting you that you may want to cut back on water use that is more about choice than need.

In other words, those using the most still pay the most.

Question 2:  OK. So why am I hearing that bills for the highest users are going down while the lowest water users are paying more? 

There has been talk and media coverage on this point. To be clear, higher water users will always pay higher bills than lower water consumers.

And for 90 percent of our residential customers, bills for those who are higher water users will increase more than for lower water users under the new structure.

The remaining customers at either end of the spectrum are a different story and hardly represent what a typical customer looks like.

Let’s look at the lowest 5 percent of our water users. In many cases, these customers don’t ever use water in some months. They may live in a different state for part of the year, or the property could be vacant because it was abandoned or is waiting on rental tenants, among other reasons.

We raised the fixed charge on everyone’s bill by about $2 a month, which helps us stabilize our revenue throughout the year to account for more frequent extreme weather fluctuations that affect water usage.

That will raise the water bills of these customers by as much as 30 percent. But in almost all of those cases, 30 percent means less than $25 a year.

The highest 5 percent of water users are unique in their own way. Some may have had massive leaks over time, while some may fill large ponds, which creates a huge spike in water use in one month of the year. Others just own really big properties with acres of grass.

Even if they’re efficient users, the size and use of these properties translates into annual water bills totaling thousands of dollars.

Under the old structure, these customers were charged $11 in the city and more than $12 in the suburbs for every 1,000 gallons they used over 40,000 gallons (Tier 4). But less than 1 percent of city customers and less than 3 percent of suburban customers were ever billed at those rates.

With the fourth tier eliminated, the most these customers will pay per 1,000 gallons of water used is $6.24 in the city and $7.87 in the suburbs.

If these customers use water exactly as they did last year, they could see their bills drop by more than $100 this year.

These are the exceptions in the rate formula, not the norm, and they do not reflect the bills of more than 200,000 active single-family residential accounts.

The reality is that about half of Denver residential customers can expect to pay less than $350 total in 2016 for water under the new rate structure. Last year, under the old structure, the total amount paid was less than $300 annually.

Question 3: So why is my bill so much higher this year than last?

We’re not in Hawaii or San Diego, where we can set the daily weather report on repeat. In the Denver metro area, no two days, or months, are alike.

If you look back at the temperature and precipitation numbers for our summer months over the past few years, you’ll see major differences. Because weather drives outdoor water use, these changes make it more difficult to compare your current summer bills to previous summer months.

In 2015, June and July were 5 degrees cooler and brought 5 more inches of precipitation to the metro area than those same months this year. That led to an overall water consumption increase this June and July of 32 percent (about 4.3 billion gallons) compared to last year.

Based on “the more you use, the more you pay,” customers who used more water this summer will pay more than they did last summer.

To figure out why your bill is higher this year, look at the gallons used before comparing the dollar amounts. This information is displayed on a graph on your bill that charts your water use over the previous year.

Image of actual customer's water use through July

With hot, dry temperatures in June and July this year compared to last year, customers are using more water (4.3 billion gallons, in fact), which means higher water bills.

 

So where does this leave us?

Updating our rate structure was an exercise in balancing three different, but related needs:

  1. Stabilizing our long-term rates and revenues so we can continue to maintain and operate the water system;
  2. Continuing to encourage conservation; and
  3. Keeping essential water use affordable for our customers.

Read, “Your water bill: Different path, same goals,” to learn more about how this new structure is designed to help us meet these goals.

It wasn’t easy, and we did not make the decision overnight. We spent 18 months weighing the different impacts of this change. And we didn’t do it alone. The process included input from community leaders, as well as voices from all of our customer types and stakeholder groups, including West Slope and environmental representatives. They recommended this rate structure as the ideal way for us to continue to deliver safe, clean and affordable drinking water today and in the future.

But we also knew it was going to be confusing, so our Customer Care team is standing by to assist you. Call 303-893-2444, and a representative will help you calculate your individual bill impacts, based on your personal water use information.

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