Archive for December, 2015

A New Year’s song from Denver Water

Watch water use decline in 2016!

By Jimmy Luthye

With the dawn of 2016 comes another opportunity to hit refresh on that revolving list of resolutions. If you’re looking for a water-wise addition to your list, check out this infographic.

But, if you’re looking for a jammin’ New Year’s ditty with water-saving tips built right in, well, you’re in luck! Take a listen, and have a very happy 2016!

 

 

Lyrics:

Should auld water habits be forgot,

As 2015 ends,

Just listen to our water tips,

And watch your use decline.

 

Watch water use decline, next year

Watch water use decline!

Get a new toilet, and check for leaks,

And watch your use decline.

 

Modify your old landscape,

Maybe remove some grass.

Take shorter showers, insulate your pipes,

And watch your use decline.

 

Watch water use decline, next year

Watch water use decline!

Replace those wasteful showerheads,

And watch your use decline.

screenHNY

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Need a resolution? Start in the bathroom.

Three simple water-saving upgrades for your home in 2016.

By Travis Thompson

At least 1 million people will gather in Times Square to ring in the new year Dec. 31. Sounds like a fun party, right? That is, until nature calls.

Believe it or not, there are no portable bathrooms in Times Square, and nearby businesses close their loos to the lookie-loos, so at least one insider website, NewYork.com, recommends party-goers slow their liquid intake at 1 p.m. that day. Talk about a buzz-kill.

So, in honor of the crossed-legged fanatics who — despite these obstacles — will celebrate in Times Square this year, we dedicate this New Year’s post to the porcelain in your life.

Here’s how you can resolve to upgrade your bathroom in 2016:

Jan2016Ver2

Infographic: Jamie Reddig

Season’s Greetings from Denver Water

Wishing you the best this holiday season

By Jay Adams

At Denver Water, we take pride in delivering safe, clean, reliable water every day. It’s simply what we do; it’s who we are. Our 1,100 employees are dedicated men and women who have a passion for water and a commitment to being the best water utility in the nation.

As we head into 2016, we’d like to say what a privilege it has been to serve you, our customers, over the past year.

Please enjoy this video and meet a few of our employees who work 24/7 to keep the water flowing.

Happy holidays to you and your family from all of us at Denver Water.

(Original song and lyrics by Dan Tafoya, Customer Care.)

 

 

Breaking down barriers, building trust

Some of our Latino customers wanted to see for themselves that our water is safe to drink. So we showed them.

By Steve Snyder

“Why should I trust you?”

It was an honest question at the beginning of an uncertain journey.

The question came from a Denver Water customer about to take a tour of our distribution system. But this wasn’t the kind of tour we typically give, where we showcase the size and complexity of our system to people who already know about — and usually trust — Denver’s water.

Community members from Westwood Unidos explore at the base of Strontia Springs dam,

Community members from Westwood Unidos explore at the base of Strontia Springs Dam.

She was with a group from Westwood Unidos, an organization that supports resident-led projects to improve community health in southwest Denver. Westwood Unidos has joined forces with the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation to encourage residents to drink more water and fewer sugary beverages.

But when it comes to tap water, that’s easier said than done in some communities. Culture can often be the barrier, contributing to an inherent distrust that the public water supply is safe to drink. Nearly all of the people on the tour still have close generational ties to Mexico, a country with a long history of water supply and water quality problems.

“People we work with don’t trust the public water supply,” said Rachel Cleaves, a community coordinator with Westwood Unidos. “They’ve been told not to drink tap water since they were kids. That means that they boil water to use in their homes, and they are spending money unnecessarily on bottled water to drink.”

“They think tap water will make them sick,” Cleaves added. “That’s understandable because in many countries it is unsafe to drink the water.”

While catchy conservation campaigns and mainstream education efforts can reach many in our service area, getting the word out to diverse audiences about water quality requires additional steps.

“Not only are there language barriers, but there are significant cultural differences as well,” said Katie Knoll, Denver Water’s manager of stakeholder relations, and one of the people who organized the tour. “When we reached out to Westwood Unidos, they told us the people in the neighborhood needed to see where their water came from and the other measures we take to make our water safe to drink.”

And see it they did. Denver Water took a group of 30 people to Strontia Springs Reservoir, where Denver Water’s source water is stored after it runs off the mountains. The next stop was the Marston Treatment Plant, so the group could get a first-hand look at how Denver Water treats the water supply before distributing it to customers.

The Westwood Unidos tour group gets an up-close look at their water supply in Strontia Springs Reservoir.

The Westwood Unidos tour group gets an up-close look at the water supply in Strontia Springs Reservoir.

At the end of the day, members of the group said they felt more informed and very grateful for the experience.

“I’m drinking tap water as soon as I get home,” one resident said confidently. “I can’t wait to tell all my friends and family.”

This tour was the first of several planned outreach efforts with culturally diverse groups in our service area.

“It’s up to us to win the trust of our customers by answering their questions and showing them how their water system works,” Knoll said.

And you thought fixing the kitchen sink was tough!

Mechanics replace giant valves at Moffat Treatment Plant

By Jay Adams

 

 

Down in the depths and under the water filters of the 78-year-old Moffat Treatment Plant in Lakewood, Colorado, a team of Denver Water mechanics did some heavy lifting in December — very heavy lifting. The crew replaced 20 large valves that regulate the flow of water in and out of the plant’s water filters. The largest valves weigh 1,850 pounds and are roughly the size of semi-truck tires.

The valves, installed in the 1980s, were showing their age.

“We had to replace them because they were leaking and seizing up,” said Randy Slocum, assistant treatment plant supervisor. “When the valves fail, the plant loses its full capacity to treat water.”

Replacing a valve that weighs nearly 1 ton is no easy task. The work involves disconnecting each valve from the large pipe that carries water into the plant’s filters, and then carefully lowering the valve to the ground with a system of pulleys and chains.

Mechanic Matt Abeyta and his team did the heavy lifting. “It’s fun and it’s challenging work,” he said.

The process required careful planning and teamwork to ensure the valve didn’t fall. After removing the old valves, the mechanics installed 20 new ones.

The new valves and supporting equipment cost $184,000 and will make the plant more reliable. This is the last major improvement project for the Moffat plant, which will be replaced with a new plant in 2023.

Your water bill: Different path, same goals

The good, the bad and the confusing about next year’s water rates

This example shows what a bill would like for a customer in the city of Denver if their average winter consumption was 5,000 gallons and they used an additional 10,000 gallons one month.

This example shows what a bill would like for a customer in the city of Denver if their average winter consumption was 5,000 gallons and they used an additional 10,000 gallons one month.

By Travis Thompson

Imagine if we encouraged people to use as much water as they wanted, instead of only what they needed.

We’d have more money available to invest back into an aging and critical system that more than 1 million people — and counting — rely on for survival every day.

Alas, we don’t have that luxury. Coloradans know better. We can’t simply produce more water, so we will always have to use this precious resource efficiently — a fact recently underscored by the Colorado Water Plan.

But that reality also wreaks havoc on our cost-of-service financial system.

For the past 20 years, the way we’ve charged for water helped drive home the importance of conservation with one simple notion: The more you use, the more you pay.

We kept our fixed monthly charge very low, with a four-tiered consumption charge that increased with the amount of water you used. So a single-family residential customer in Denver paid $6.74 every month and then would pay from $2.75 up to $11.00 per 1,000 gallons, depending on the amount of water they used in each tier.

But a lot has changed in two decades. Our customers have adopted more efficient water use habits (that’s a good thing), cutting their average consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 10 years. And at the same time, our climate conditions have become far less predictable, creating more frequent, extreme weather. That means our revenue is inconsistent, making it harder to plan for and complete repairs and upgrades to our system.

So here’s the good, the bad and the confusing about your new water bill, coming April 2016:

The good: Three tiers, not four

The focus remains on efficient water use — we don’t have a choice in our semi-arid climate — by keeping a tiered structure that charges more for inefficient use.

Because water used indoors is for cooking, bathing, drinking and hygiene, we consider this to be essential for human life and assign this the lowest rate. So we’ll calculate your indoor use by taking your average winter consumption (when you’re not watering your lawn — we hope) to determine how much water you need indoors. Each month, the amount of water you use up to your average winter consumption will be charged at the lowest rate per 1,000 gallons.

That means, if you live in Denver and your average winter consumption is 5,000 gallons, you’ll pay $2.60 per 1,000 gallons up to 5,000 each month.

We also understand the value of having landscapes for gardens or kids and pets to play on. (It’s the reason we provide tools to help with this.) So customers will be allotted an additional 15,000 gallons — what it takes to water an average-sized yard efficiently — for outdoor use, which falls into a second, higher-priced tier at $4.68 per 1,000 gallons.

Anything above that will fall into the third, highest-priced tier at $6.24 per 1,000 gallons, as this is considered inefficient water use, such as over watering your landscape. The more you use, the more you pay. Sound familiar?

The following chart shows how the price per tier compares this year to last. You’ll also notice that the service charge is higher (more on that in a moment).

The average winter consumption (AWC) in the new structure will be determined by averaging the customer’s monthly water consumption on bills dated January, February and March, which is a way of determining essential indoor water use. Chart compares service charge for customers with a ¾-inch meter and tiers for residential customers in the city of Denver.

The average winter consumption (AWC) in the new structure will be determined by averaging the customer’s monthly water consumption on bills dated January, February and March, which is a way of determining essential indoor water use. Chart compares service charge for customers with a ¾-inch meter and tiers for residential customers in the city of Denver.

So does this mean your bill will be higher or lower? Bottom line: With the new individualized bills, it is completely dependent on how you use water.

The bad: Increases

In the past, when water use was low because of a rainy summer or one filled with drought restrictions, we relied on financial reserves to help make up that deficit. But we’re now seeing multiple years with extreme weather swings, causing more frequent dips in revenue. The result is a less reliable revenue stream for us, resulting in more variable rate increases for our customers.

Here’s the reality: The price to collect, store, treat and deliver water is based mostly on fixed costs. No matter how much water is used, we still need to maintain and operate more than 3,000 miles of distribution pipe, 19 reservoirs, 22 pump stations, 30 underground storage tanks, four treatment plants and much more.

That makes it difficult to keep up with these increasingly common revenue swings.

To provide more stability, we’ve raised the fixed monthly charge on residential water bills to $8.79, up from $6.74. This fee takes into account the stress put on the system, and the cost is dependent on meter size. That means larger, commercial users will be billed at a higher fixed monthly charge.

This chart shows that this fixed monthly charge is still among the lowest in the Front Range.

The higher fixed charge will be balanced out by the new tiered structure, where the cost per 1,000 gallons will actually be less than in the current structure (see the rate structure chart above).

This new structure does not change the fact that the cost to deliver clean, reliable drinking water and provide fire protection increases every year. In fact, next year we’ll need an overall 3.8 percent revenue increase. This increase was factored in when we analyzed and created the water charges for 2016.

The confusing: No two customers are alike 

Because the first tier will be based on the amount each individual household uses in the winter, your bill will likely be different than some of your neighbors.

Let’s assume two neighbors both use 15,000 gallons in June. The neighbor with higher outdoor water use (more gallons included in the second tier) will end up paying more for the exact same amount of water. (Remember the emphasis on conservation?)

Even more confusing is that we have different customer classes and types. So when explaining an impact of a rate increase, or a billing structure, we can’t provide a one-size-fits-all number. Everyone is affected differently, depending on your relationship with water.

 

Change is hard. And we’re not alone. The value and price of water is a much-discussed topic across the nation. And, as our good friends at DC Water explained, communication is vital.

That’s why we’ll keep on talking about this as we get closer to April, when the new billing structure kicks in, from informational pieces in your water bills to more information and tools on our website.

Stay tuned.

 

Note: Fixed service charge is dependent on meter size and suburban, commercial and recycled customers will see different charges in each tier. See the full rates chart for treated water here.

Is there enough water for Colorado’s future? That’s the plan.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead tells us where Colorado’s Water Plan hits its target and where it misses the mark.

By Jim Lochhead

Suspicion.

That’s the word I would use to describe the earliest reactions to Gov. Hickenlooper’s 2013 Executive Order to create Colorado’s first state water plan.

Why suspicion? Because Colorado has a century-old tradition of fighting about this very limited resource. West Slope residents don’t want the water there diverted to cities on the Front Range. Agricultural communities don’t want to see their lands dried up to feed urban growth.

State Water Plan

Gov. Hickenlooper announces the final version of Colorado’s Water Plan at a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

And now the governor wants a plan for how we are all going to manage our water future together? There were plenty of people across the state who assumed this plan would be nothing more than a bunch of hidden agendas.

But two years later, we have Colorado’s first state water plan. It’s far from perfect, but no first-time plan ever is. My hope is that it creates a platform for us to collectively manage our water resources going forward. Given the uncertainties we face in our future, we have no choice but to take action now.

You can find out more about Colorado’s Water Plan here and even download the entire document — nearly 500 pages. If that seems daunting, here are my thoughts on why Colorado residents should care about this plan.

Where the plan hits the mark

Those of us at Denver Water who worked on the plan really pushed to include as much flexibility and adaptability as possible, and I think that is reflected in many parts of the plan.

We face tremendous uncertainty in our future with such issues as climate change, land-use planning, a changing regulatory environment and growth. Given these uncertainties, I don’t believe we can have just one strategy for dealing with our water future.

We need to preserve as many options as possible so we can be nimble and adaptable to changing conditions. We can’t rely solely on conservation to fix our water challenges. Focusing only on building new supply sources or relying more on reuse won’t solve our problems, either. We need multiple strategies that involve all of these tactics to create flexibility for dealing with the uncertainty we face.

A good example from the plan of maintaining flexibility is with the controversial issue of transbasin diversions. (Diverting water from one area of the state to another.) While I don’t believe this is the only way to bridge future gaps in our water supply, we need to keep that option available if it’s needed in the future. Working collaboratively with others around the state, we were able to create a framework within the plan for the possibility of future transbasin diversions.

Where the plan falls shortstate water plan quote

When we first started working on the plan, I saw a lot of people building walls rather than bridges — basically protecting their own interests or being satisfied with the status quo. While the plan lays out many lofty ideas for what we “could” do, I believe it still falls short in outlining who is responsible for taking specific actions. That makes it easy for people to focus on why we can’t do anything, rather than how we can take action.

Others seem content with settling on what I call the “lowest common denominator,” which means taking the easiest solution to our problems. I think of the “buy and dry” phenomenon, where urban interests buy up water rights from agricultural land and then leave that land to simply dry up.

That may be an easy solution for some, but it’s not smart or sustainable. If groups who favor those kinds of solutions drive our water strategies going forward, we all lose.

Recognizing the value of water

I hope those who read the plan, including our customers, gain an appreciation for how incredibly challenging it is to bring water to the tap. Utilities like Denver Water have vast, complex systems of infrastructure that have reliably delivered water for nearly 100 years. But those systems must be maintained, and there is a cost to that.

There will be additional costs for investing in those multiple strategies to maintain a sustainable water future. Water will continue to be a tremendous value relative to other necessities in life, but the costs are rising. And as water becomes more and more scarce, people will have to pay more to get it to their taps.

What’s next?

Chapter 10 of Colorado’s Water Plan outlines the next steps. Some actions will fall to the executive branch or the State Legislature to move forward, while others can be done on a more local level. There are difficult conversations ahead, as we struggle with defined objectives around conservation, land-use planning, agricultural productivity, water storage projects and impacts to our environment. Looming over all of these discussions will be the issue of funding.

I hope our customers will follow these issues closely and understand that all water issues in Colorado are interconnected. This isn’t about West Slope vs. East Slope or agriculture vs. urban. It’s about all of Colorado working collectively to develop a sustainable water future.

Final thoughts

As Gov. Hickenlooper first requested, this plan can be a roadmap to vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment and a robust recreation industry. But we must continue to move forward. If we fall back into our long-standing pitfalls of infighting and promoting self-interests, creating this plan will have been a colossal waste of time.

One only need look at California’s current water crisis to get a glimpse of what Colorado’s future could be without proper planning. We can’t wait for a similar crisis to happen here before we take action. If we aren’t prepared, we only have ourselves to blame for the cost to our citizens, to our economy, to our environment and to our future.

Colorado’s Water Plan can point us toward a sustainable water future. Let’s put that plan to good use!

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