Archive for September, 2015

Time flies when you’re having fun

Adults and children contributed their passion for water to help us create Post-it art this summer.

Adults and children contributed their passion for water to help us create Post-it art this summer.

A look back at a Denver Water summer

By Jessica Mahaffey

Each year, we get dozens of requests to bring our water trailer — a 9,800-pound beast that carries 200 gallons of ice-cold drinking water — to events around the city.

This summer, we took our water-dispenser-on-wheels to 15 community events and served nearly 2,000 gallons of fresh tap water to more than 22,000 thirsty people.

We love the chance to attend these events and connect personally with our customers.

Because our conservation theme this year was “you can’t make this stuff, so please use only what you need,” we asked people visiting our booth to write about their personal connection to water on sticky notes, which we used to create Post-it art demonstrating the value of water.

Visitors responded with passion. We learned that while people value water differently (from drinking it to be healthy to being grateful it’s an essential ingredient of beer), each of us understands the vital role it plays in our daily lives.

Without futher ado, here’s the highlight reel from our summer events:

 

 

Learn about scheduling the water trailer for your next community event.

See ya next summer!

Our message to Martians: Use only what you need!

Scientists find more proof of water on Mars, and we hope our intergalactic neighbors use it wisely.

By Steve Snyder

Photo credit: James Marvin Phelps, Flickr Creative Commons. Photo has been altered.

This is another reason we love the water business!

You never know how our favorite life-sustaining substance is going to make the news. One day it’s the complete lack of water in California, the next it’s the discovery of more water on Mars. (And of course, the folks in Hollywood are already snarky about it.)

Earlier this week, scientists at NASA announced the strongest evidence yet of liquid water on Mars. There is even a Colorado connection to the story.

NASA scientists say this discovery lends further credence to the belief that Mars could possibly harbor some type of life form.

If that’s the case, we at Denver Water feel an extraterrestrial responsibility to provide the little green men on the red planet (or at the very least, Matt Damon) with a few tips and lessons learned about how to efficiently use water in a dry climate. (We figure Mars qualifies, since water vapor is present in the Martian atmosphere at a level 30 times less than on Earth.)

 

Tip #1: Educate customers about efficient water use. If they haven’t already, Martians may first want to establish a water utility. Next, that utility should make sure its customers understand how precious water is on the planet and why they should use it efficiently. Because Mars’ surface is a dry, barren wasteland marked by old volcanoes and impact craters and its average daily temperature is -81 degrees Fahrenheit, outdoor irrigation rules should not be an issue. Indoor use, however, is another matter, as apparently toilets in space have their own unique challenges.

 

Tip #2: Negotiate intergalactic compacts carefully. Since water in space seems to be as scarce as it is here in the Western U.S., Mars should be very careful about negotiating water-use compacts with its neighbors. You might have heard about our difficulties with the Colorado River Compact and how the river’s flows were over-allocated from the start. That has come back to bite us all. If Jupiter and Saturn come looking to share Mars’ new found water supply, Mars should be very wary. Just sayin’.

 

Tip #3: Manage growth effectively. Currently there is a lot of buzz about Mars. Sure, it’s just Matt Damon hanging out there now, but what if his buddy George Clooney comes up for a sequel? The next thing you know, Matthew McConaughey is making awful commercials up there. Then all bets are off! Point being, Mars has to handle growth in a smart, sustainable way so it can manage the extremely limited water resources effectively.

 

Tip #4: Account for all variables. At Denver Water, one variable we are currently dealing with is the recent phenomenon of dust accumulating on our mountain snowpack. This affects the way we plan for future water supplies. And since Mars has a bit more of an issue with dust than we do, perhaps they could help us out with that, if they are ever in our neck of the universe.

 

In summary, we are all in this together. It’s a great big universe, and there is only so much water to go around. If there are Martians, they are clearly at the beginning of a very long and difficult journey with the management of water on their planet. We hope some of these tips will help them avoid the mistakes we’ve made, so they can create a thriving, healthy planet that someday earthlings will want to visit — and dare we suggest, eventually take over!

Who had a worse water season, Denver or Vancouver?

The answer just might surprise you.

stanley park pano

Vancouver’s Stanley Park still captivates, even with dormant grasses.

By Kim Unger

One of the things I love about visiting the Pacific Northwest is the endless sea of green. The trees, plants, grasses, moss … everything is green.

Except this summer. On a trip to Vancouver, where I looked forward to cooler, rainy weather, what I learned instead was a new mantra. Brown is the new green.

I work for Denver Water, so I got curious. This year, it was as if Denver and Vancouver had traded places. While Denver’s spring and early summer saw extremely wet conditions, Vancouverites have been dealing with hot, dry weather.

To make matters worse, the spring rainfall in Vancouver was abnormally low. In May, the city typically receives about 2.43 inches of rainfall. This year? A mere 0.20 inches.

“We’ve had the perfect storm of conditions,” said Bill Morrell, spokesman for Metro Vancouver, the government agency that works with municipalities to provide core services, including drinking water. “We had an almost nonexistent snowpack, below-average rainfall in the spring and very hot weather. It was putting a high demand on the system.”

Landscaping at the Lougheed mall in Coquitlam was varying shades of brown.

Landscaping at the Lougheed town centre in Coquitlam was varying shades of brown.

In July, the demands of the area’s 2.4 million customers drained the local reservoirs to lows they don’t usually see until the end of August. And with little summer rainfall to fill up the reservoirs, capacity was draining fast.

And that’s when water restrictions kicked in.

In a typical year, Vancouver encourages outdoor watering during morning or late evening hours, and only three days per week (sound familiar?). This summer, lawn watering, personal outdoor vehicle washing and the refilling of pools, ponds or hot tubs has been prohibited for the first time since 2003.

“Really, we have a first-world problem,” Morrell told me. “We have reliable, high-quality drinking water, and we will continue to deliver that. What we are asking residents to do this year is cut back on nonessential water use, such as watering lawns and washing cars.”

By the time I visited the city, outdoor watering had come to a halt. The beautiful greenery had turned brown, which felt oddly familiar. Weeds became the new badge of pride. People even got a little surly (for Canadians), referring to homeowners with green grass and vibrant plants as “grass-holes.”

Public fountains were turned off, and public showers at the beach were limited or unavailable.

All of this in a city that typically sees rain 168 days a year. Curious to hear from the residents themselves, I took to Reddit, a social networking, community news website. The responses ranged from disgust to denial.

A lawn in Port Coquitlam is covered in weeds and leaves.

A lawn in Port Coquitlam is covered in weeds and leaves.

Reddit user Tallmiller wrote: “Hasn’t really made a difference. It’s only really dried out our very small lawn and I had to cut a bunch of flowers back to shrubs. … we still shower, drink, cook the same as before.”

Another user, Esclean, shared: “I have a friend who’s (sic) sole business is pressure washing apartment/condo buildings. He’s had to shut down his operations and lay off all his employees.”

OGdinosaur, “Car is looking pretty dirty…”

AdiposeFin: “Vancouver has never had a drought. Sure, we might have extended periods without rainfall. But there is no drought.”

There it was. The dreaded “D” word.

 

So who had a worse water year?

According to the North American Drought Monitor (NADM), the Vancouver metro area is at drought level 3-4. By comparison, Denver is free from official drought designation.

Copyright © 2015, Province of British Columbia

Drought map of British Columbia, Aug. 20, 2015. Image copyright © 2015, Province of British Columbia

droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Colorado drought map as of Sept. 1, 2015. Image: droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Still, it’s hard to talk drought in a city known for near-constant rain. So Metro Vancouver is gearing up to educate its customers by focusing on new water conservation messaging.

In 2016, the campaign will target both indoor and outdoor water use, said Heather Schoemaker, senior director of external relations for Metro Vancouver. The goal, she said, is “for residents to embrace water conservation as a key value and action to ensure the future livability of our region.”

Coloradans certainly understand that. “Warming of the planet is our (humankind) greatest challenge,” said Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate adaptation program manager. “We know the atmosphere is warming, we just don’t know exactly how it will play out in our local watersheds.”

In the Canadian Rockies, for example, the snowpack melted a month earlier than usual, adding to Vancouver’s problems. “Warming is not a one-time, one-season event,” Kaatz warns.

Each year, Denver Water monitors snowpack, stream flows, storage capacity and the state’s overall drought outlook to determine the appropriate water management programs for the summer watering season.

“Our role is to help our customers be efficient with their water use at all times, regardless of the supply conditions,” said Greg Fisher, Denver Water’s manager of demand planning. “During times of drought, we do have to ask them to cut their water use beyond normal, efficient practices.”

During a potential year of low snowpack, Denver Water looks to maintain three to four years of storage to weather a multi-year drought. “After the drought of 2002, we learned the importance of updating our drought response plans more regularly,” said Fisher.

A poster at a bus shelter reminds residents to water wise.

A poster at a bus shelter reminds residents to water wisely.

If there is anything I have learned this summer, it’s that weather patterns are changing and we cannot only use average historical snowpack and rainfall to plan for the future. We have to adapt and change our perceptions of sustainable water use, whether we live in the semi-arid climate of Denver or the oceanic climate of Vancouver. Conservation is not about cutting back, but about using water efficiently.

Residents from both cities can follow these simple tips:

  • Reimagine your landscape from water-thirsty grass to beautiful low-water-use plants.
  • Replace old toilets with high-efficiency toilets; some use as little as 0.8 gallons per flush.
  • Retrofit your faucets with an aerator. They’re inexpensive, easy to install and available at most hardware stores.
  • Use only what you need. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or hand-washing dishes, and use spring-loaded spray nozzles when watering trees and gardens.

And a little rain dance now and then might not hurt either.

Uncovering Dillon’s underwater footprint

Survey team scans reservoir bottom

By Jay Adams

 

 

Like modern-day treasure hunters, they scour Dillon Reservoir looking for clues. Angelo Martinez, Jerry Kahl and Art Cardona are Denver Water surveyors on a quest to map the bottom of the reservoir.

“This hasn’t been mapped underwater since the reservoir was built back in 1963,” said Martinez. “Accurate maps are critical because they provide details of Dillon’s water storage capacity.”

Denver Water surveyors Jerry Kahl, Art Cardona and Angelo Martinez, spent the summer mapping Dillon Reservoir.

Martinez’s team uses a specially designed hydrographic survey boat — aptly named “Reservoir Dog” — to capture contour details of the reservoir bottom.

The survey team collects millions of data points that serve as clues to piece together a picture of what Dillon looks like under the surface. Denver Water uses the data to inform reservoir maintenance, dam safety and planning decisions.

 

Kahl navigates the waters, and Cardona sets sonar scanners in the water while Martinez plots the course and analyzes data from the onboard computers. “It’s a pretty high-tech boat,” Martinez said.

New technology allows surveyors to measure depths and create maps with much more granular detail, said Dan Thompson, Denver Water’s manager of survey. The old topographic maps of Dillon had 5-foot contour intervals, while the new maps capture 1-foot increments.

Angelo Martinez, survey technician, uses sonar and GPS to gather information about the contours and depths of Dillon Reservoir.

Angelo Martinez, survey technician, uses sonar and GPS to gather information about the contours and depths of Dillon Reservoir.

“Looking at our old maps is like watching the Broncos on a black-and-white TV,” Thompson said. “With our updated equipment, our maps have detail like a wide-screen HDTV.”

Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, said the survey data provides valuable information for his team, which oversees reservoir levels and releases. “As our customer base grows, it’s important to know precise reservoir capacities, because the yield our system can produce is dependent on how much water we can store,” Steger said.

Monitoring sediment flowing into the reservoir is another reason surveys are needed, he said. Sediment takes up space and reduces a reservoir’s storage capacity.

The survey team uses single and multi-beam sonar to measure the depths of the reservoir.

The survey team uses single and multi-beam sonar to measure the depths of the reservoir.

“Conditions change over the years,” Martinez said. “Our job is to map those changes and get a more accurate understanding of the terrain.”

The survey team uses two types of sonar beams to measure the reservoir, which is more than 200 feet deep in spots. Readings are coordinated with the boat’s GPS system to create a 3-D picture of what’s below the surface.

Martinez compares mapping the reservoir to mowing a lawn. “Back and forth, up and down. It’s a long process,” he said. The team mapped the reservoir’s 3,233 surface-acres over the past two summers, trolling by nearly 27 miles of shoreline.

The data and maps produced during the survey are a snapshot of the bottom of the reservoir that can be used for many years, Martinez said. “This is a good example to show how Denver Water really knows their system, cares about their system and cares about the future.”

Tales from the front (yard)

Confessions of a first-time landscaper                          

By Kim Unger

The curb appeal in 2011 needed some major attention.

The curb appeal when I bought my house in 2011 was less than desirable.

When I purchased my home in 2011, it was a bank-owned mess, complete with 5-foot tall weeds, dying grass and parched trees in the yard.

I had no experience in lawn care or landscaping, and naively thought that with a little weed pulling and water, a beautiful lawn would appear. Boy, was I wrong.

I spent the first two years pulling endless weeds, fighting bug infestations, planting grass seed and cutting down trees. My homeowners association consistently reminded me that my front yard was less than acceptable.

In 2014, I received seven different warnings about weeds, brown spots, bare spots and more weeds. It was exhausting and frustrating.

The worst part was, I was doing all that work and dumping thousands of gallons of treated drinking water on a yard I never actually used. And because I work at Denver Water, I knew that this was completely wasteful.

So this summer, I set out to rip out my lawn completely, replace it with a landscape my neighbors would envy — and reduce my water footprint.

I entered the spring with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. I scoured Pinterest, Colorado State University’s PlantTalk Colorado and Better Homes and Gardens seeking inspiration, ideas and instructions. I drew up a plan and submitted it to my association for approval.

They signed off, and I was on my way. Or so I thought.

KimsLandscape1

Mexican feather grass is a great water-wise plant that provides year-round interest.

 

Sure looks easier on TV … er, the Internet

My energy and gusto deflated like a balloon as soon as I started ripping out the lawn, thanks to the unrelenting spring rains that gave my grass the will to hang on.

I watched countless YouTube videos of people digging out their grass with a shovel. It looked so simple. It wasn’t.

After removing a mere 25 square feet of grass, I started working on the mulch bed that would border my driveway.

Have you ever tried to lay newspaper and weed barrier in the wind? Not one of my finer moments. The scene felt like something out of an “I Love Lucy” sketch. I was rolling fabric over newspaper and pinning it down just in time for the wind to lift it up and shift it out of place.

It took a while, but I finally mastered that task, then recruited my husband to help me empty bags of mulch and plant Mexican feather grass before the rain dumped on us.

We finished in the nick of time. This task only took six hours, but I needed a break. The following weekend I continued to pull up more turf. By the time I’d removed a patch of green big enough to fit the sidewalk I wanted to lay, I abandoned my plans to pull up the rest of the grass.

Building level trenches was a bigger job than I anticipated.

 

Wait, this has to be level?

Next, I tackled the sloped mess outside my front window. It was originally home to juniper bushes and a cottonwood tree, and much of it had been covered over with mulch. After running wild with ideas, I settled on flowerbeds and purchased a Garden In A Box to fill the barren spot with low-water-use flowers and grasses.

I started digging trenches for the wooden walls only to realize I was digging myself into bigger problems.

The rain kept filling in my trenches. The roots of the giant cottonwood tree blocked my every attempt to level the ground for the flower box walls. After failing to cut out the roots, I ended up building around them.

I finished the walls, scooped dirt back into the boxes, amended the soil with compost and tried to level it all out. I eventually gave up on that last part, figuring a little slope wouldn’t hurt. The water needs to drain somewhere, right?

My plants finally went into the ground a month later than I had hoped.

 

Throwing in the t(r)owel

Missouri evening primrose was the first to bloom. The flower lasts only a day but offers a bright pop of color.

At last, my yard was starting to look pretty nice. My plants were thriving, and my neighbors complimented me on my handiwork. I was feeling pretty good, but I still had one last task: the dreaded sidewalk.

My initial plan was to use a plastic mold to create a concrete walking path that looked like paver stones. I considered the work ahead of me, my complete inexperience in building sidewalks, and my crazy work schedule.

I bailed. Instead, I racked up some quotes from professionals to get the sidewalk done. Despite the initial sticker shock, I am actually looking forward to having someone else do the hard work.

 

Was it worth it?

Now that the summer is coming to a close and my six-month project is complete, I can stand back and say it was worth it. My curb appeal is now fantastic.

But what about the bigger question: Did all this effort actually save any water?

I expected to water frequently this year to help establish all of the new plantings, but Mother Nature did most of the watering for me. When the August heat came, the plants thrived, doubling in size. I watered them once a week, but I had to water the grass more often to keep it green.

Comparison of consumption over the past three years. You can find your consumption chart on your bill, or by logging on to your account.

My summer consumption over the past three years. You can find your consumption chart on your bill, or by logging into your account.

And even with all of that, I saved 3,000 gallons of water in July and 2,000 gallons in August, compared to last year.

I can’t wait to see what the blooming flowers and lower water use looks like next summer!

Take it from a first-time landscaper: If you find that the only time you step onto your lawn is to mow it, you may want to convert that lawn to a vegetable garden, xeriscape garden or other use that suits your lifestyle — and puts our most precious resource to better use.

For more tips, ideas and inspiration from homeowners who have successfully remodeled their yards and lived to talk about it, visit denverwater.org/remodelyouryard.

KimsHouse2015

I still have some work to do, but my front yard is looking much better and receiving thumbs-up from the neighbors.

Mines draining to Denver? Not on our watch.

Contaminated waterways are in the spotlight, but what does this mean for your drinking water?

Water quality investigators gather samples all year long. Aubrey Miller (left) and James Berrier, drill through two feet of ice on the Colorado River near Kremlin to gather samples.

Water quality investigators gather samples all year long. Aubrey Miller (left) and James Berrier, drill through two feet of ice on the Colorado River near Kremlin to gather samples.

By Travis Thompson

After the Animas River vividly meandered through mountains and towns like an orange-colored serpent as a result of the Gold King Mine spill in early August, conversations ignited about abandoned mines in Colorado.

While this topic is very serious, it isn’t new. Mines have such a prominent place in our state’s history that there are tours and museums dedicated to mining’s past, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s replica mine shaft exhibit.

So, what does this mean for Denver Water? A recent Denver Post article could leave customers wondering about the water quality impacts from some of the mines in Denver’s watersheds. While the article accurately notes that the water treatment processes keep contaminants from impacting drinking water, there are additional reasons why your water is safe from these mines.

Zeke Campbell, Denver Water’s superintendent of water quality and treatment, explained that Denver Water’s work to provide the highest quality water begins well before it reaches the treatment plants.

“We monitor the water throughout our collection system, including in rivers, streams and reservoirs,” said Campbell. “Our water quality tests don’t detect a measurable level of contaminants from mine drainage.”

Last year, Denver Water collected more than 16,000 samples and conducted more than 60,000 tests from the mountains to customer taps.

But what if a spill were to occur within one of Denver’s watersheds?

“We’ve developed models to help us determine how long it would take a spill or leak to reach certain points within our system, and our employees are trained to stop contaminants from spreading,” said Bob Lindgren, Denver Water’s superintendent of source of supply. “We also work closely with local authorities, first responders and stakeholders to maximize the response during any issues across our water collection system.”

And, if a Gold King Mine-sized spill occurred, Lindgren said that Denver Water has some ability to move and pull water from different sources, isolating the contaminated area while continuing to provide clean water from other locations throughout the system. “Having multiple storage facilities in different watersheds, three water treatment plants and redundancy built into our distribution system provides us with additional operational flexibility.”

This flexibility is important, which is why Denver Water continues to design and build a more resilient and balanced system as an added safeguard for when emergencies occur.

“Most important, our employees are working around-the-clock to ensure we continue to deliver safe, great-tasting water directly to your tap,” said Campbell.

 

What lies beneath? (We’re about to find out)

Denver Water looks deep underground for new places to store water

By Jay Adams

 

 

For the past century, Denver Water has looked to our mountain reservoirs to store water. But there may be another way to save our most precious resource for future use — right under our feet.

In the next month, Denver Water is drilling boreholes at four locations in Denver to test a process known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery, or ASR. The technique involves pumping treated water underground into aquifers during wet years and pumping it back up to the surface in times of drought.

Bob Peters, water resource engineer at Denver Water, has spent the last two years planning the ASR test.

Bob Peters, water resource engineer at Denver Water, has spent the last two years planning the ASR test.

“There are years when our reservoirs fill and spill,” said Bob Peters, water resource engineer for Denver Water. “Those are the years when we would take water from our distribution system and store that water underground.”

Storing water in underground aquifers may provide another option as part of Denver Water’s long-term strategy to prepare for future demand challenges including population growth and climate change.

“We might see very large gaps between our supply and demand as we look into the future, so we need to look at all possible water storage options,” said Peters.

Crews are drilling down into the Denver Basin, a collection of aquifers that can stretch more than 2,000 feet under the surface, to investigate the basin’s water-bearing and storage capacity. The basin covers an area of roughly the size of Connecticut, stretching from Greeley to Colorado Springs and from Golden to Limon.

 

The tests are necessary because few details are known about the rock formations under Denver.

Geologist Cortney Brand, vice president at Leonard Rice Engineers, is working with Denver Water on the project. He compares the rock underground to a sponge. “We know the rock can hold water. We want to know if it’s economically feasible to put water in and take it out,” Brand said.

Aquifer water storage is a more sophisticated version of what people have been doing for centuries. Projects are currently in use or under study by several communities along the Front Range, including Colorado Springs, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock.

The drilling tests are needed to determine the water-bearing and storage capacity of the rock in the Denver Basin.

The drilling tests are needed to determine the water-bearing and storage capacity of the rock in the Denver Basin.

There are two misconceptions about the big rigs people in Denver may see in the next month:

No. 1: This is not fracking. While rigs may look similar to oil and gas rigs in northern Colorado, Denver Water is not fracking. “All we’re doing is collecting data on the groundwater aquifers that are right below our feet,” Peters said.

No. 2: Denver Water has no plans to tap into the basin for additional water supply. This project is entirely about finding a place to store excess surface water for when we might need it, Peters said.

There are a number of benefits to underground storage, he added. “You don’t have to build a new dam, it’s comparatively less expensive, there’s minimal impact on the environment and there’s less evaporation.”

Results of the tests are expected by the end of 2015. The findings will help determine if Denver Water should build a pilot well, and determine the location and design. If results of the bore tests are promising, the pilot well could be operational by 2018.

“This is future water supply planning in action,” Peters said. “There are always uncertainties that we need to deal with. We have to leave no stone unturned. We’re just looking to make sure our customers always have water.”

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