Archive for January, 2016

Water we planning, Manning?

The Broncos are the talk of the town, but the next wave of water issues takes center stage in Denver this week.

By Jimmy Luthye

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Peyton Manning is the king of preparation. Colorado is following his lead when it comes to our water future. Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr Creative Commons.

If you’re a Broncos fan (*Internet high five*), you know that many refer to Peyton Manning by three simple letters that enthusiastically underscore the quarterback’s greatness: PFM.

What has made Peyton one of the best for so long? It all comes down to preparation. That’s why I’d like to propose a more family-friendly moniker — PPM — for good ol’ Peyton “Planning” Manning.

Planning is a big deal in the water game, too. That’s why the top water professionals from around Colorado gather every year in the Mile High City to tackle the daunting water challenges facing our state.

The Colorado Water Congress is holding its 2016 Annual Convention through Friday, at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. And it should come as no surprise that this year’s agenda dives into all things Colorado Water Plan and what comes next.

Assuming you won’t make it to the conference, here’s our quick guide to this year’s major topics, which are sure to make water news for years to come.

  1. First things first: The plan

Success starts with a good plan, and after several years of work and effort, we have a good, though not perfect, water plan.

Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead, front row center, stands with past winners of the Aspinall Award.

From the Colorado Water Congress’ 2014 Annual Convention: Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead, front row center, stands with past winners of the Aspinall Award after being named 2014 Water Leader of the Year.

The plan is our best chance of achieving a sustainable water future. But plans must be followed by actions, and as Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead said recently, the plan “falls short in outlining who is responsible for taking specific actions.”

What does that mean? Basically, the onus falls on all Coloradans to lead the way, for the betterment of our state and our future.

“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,” Lochhead said.

Let’s hope the Water Congress finds some solid solutions on how we can avoid that kind of an outcome.

  1. Conservation reigns and recycled water is here to stay

    Purple, which has become the international symbol for recycled water, is used on valve boxes, manhole covers, newer sprinkler heads and even the pipes inside our Recycling Plant.

    Purple is the symbol for recycled water. Our Recycling Plant produces an average of 2 billion gallons of recycled water each year.

R-E-C-Y-C-L-E recyclllleeee. C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E conserrrrve.

Channeling Rocko’s Modern Life (you’re welcome, children of the ’90s), conservation and municipal reuse are huge pieces of the Colorado Water Plan, and major topics at this year’s annual convention. They’ve also been, and will continue to be, pillars of Denver Water’s planning efforts for years.

On the conservation side, our customers have done an incredible job by meeting our 10-year goal of reducing use by 22 percent in the last few years. Our job is to make sure those savings are permanent.

Meanwhile, Denver Water produces an average of 2 billion gallons of recycled water each year. Recycled water starts as wastewater that is highly treated and then used for industrial and irrigation purposes throughout our service area. It reduces the need to use potable (drinking) water for those purposes. Recycled water is not going away, and with a sustainable water future at stake, that’s a very good thing.

  1. No more climate debate — time to deal with wacky weather

Climate change is sure to be another hot topic at the Water Congress. The experts will be talking about climate change policy in Colorado, the nation and internationally, and how those policies all connect. What they won’t be debating is whether climate change is real.

Changing weather patterns and a more volatile climate have enormous implications on everything we do at Denver Water, and a direct effect on our customers.

A recent study found that, in general, climate change might impact the water we receive from mountain snowpack, as warmer temperatures limit how long snowpack lasts into the summer months. And that’s just one of the many unknowns.

Our dry years are becoming drier, our wet years are becoming wetter, and either way, it’s becoming tougher to predict. These are the facts we have to deal with as we work to maintain our system, our infrastructure, and make sure we keep clean, safe drinking water flowing to our customers.

  1. Scaling the legislative “Great Divide”

Water rights, West Slope water issues and land-use planning are also some of the major topics this year.

Great Divide at DU

“The Great Divide” premiered Aug. 6, 2015. Photo credit: Havey Productions.

Regardless of your level of expertise about these critical, yet highly complex issues, Havey Productions’ “The Great Divide” is an absolute must-watch. It really does a masterful job balancing different sides of a very complex subject, telling a comprehensive story about Colorado’s water past, present and future. It sets the framework for the legal discussions coming in the near future.

Haven’t seen it? You can request a screening. And after you watch, compare Denver Water employee reactions with your own.

 

  1. Where will we put the water?

We can’t make more water, so we have to keep looking for new ways to store it. The state water plan calls for an additional 400,000 acre-feet of water storage by 2050.

Denver Water is looking at creative solutions to long-standing water supply challenges. Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), for example, may be part of Denver Water’s all-in approach to prepare for the future.

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

Bob Peters, water resources engineer at Denver Water, leads our ASR testing efforts.

The process involves pumping treated water underground into aquifers during wet years and pumping it back up to the surface in times of drought. It’s one part of our long-term planning that will help guide our water decisions over the next 40 years.

And we can’t define our future by keeping with the status quo. Peyton Manning is going to the Hall of Fame when his career is over, not because he played it safe, but because he prepared and took calculated risks. He wasn’t afraid, and neither are we.

“In order to meet the challenges of the future we will need to take some risks,” said Lochhead. “We will never risk the health and safety of our customers, but to meet changing climate conditions, create greater market flexibility and explore new policies, we shouldn’t be afraid to take some risks and even to make mistakes.”

OK, you can go back to thinking about Super Bowl 50 now. Go Broncos!

Ending a Rocky Mountain ‘Family Feud’

New environmental alliance aims to let no voice go unheard in protecting the Grand County waterways.

By Jimmy Luthye

Not so long ago, it looked like the water feud between the Front Range and the West Slope might carry on forever — a Rocky Mountain version of the Hatfields vs. McCoys, or the Montagues vs. Capulets.

Williams Fork Reservoir in Grand County.

“The traditional approach was for the West Slope and the East Slope to just fight with each other,” Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead recently told Lance Maggart of Grand County’s Ski-High News. “We would litigate and argue. But there is no benefit to the environment from us just arguing.”

Now, as 2016 kicks off, the conflict appears to be receding, though the issues remain. Water is simply too precious a resource for there not to be concerns over where it all goes, and to whom.

But something has changed. Confrontation is getting shoved aside by collaboration.

In 2013, after more than five years of negotiations, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was formally signed by 18 entities, including Denver Water, Grand County, Summit County and the Colorado River District.

As part of the CRCA, Denver Water, Grand County and other West Slope parties joined together to create the Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort (or Learning By Doing, for short), “to maintain, and where reasonably possible, restore or enhance” the aquatic environment of Grand County.

The members of the Learning by Doing management committee underscore their commitment to collaboration. The committee consists of the following groups:

“Learning By Doing is really a complete paradigm shift,” Lochhead told Maggart.

Paula Daukas, Denver Water’s manager of environmental planning, added that the alliance provides “added flexibility when future environmental needs arise on the Fraser, Williams Fork and Colorado river basins. This new collaborative approach will make sure no voices go unheard when important decisions about the rivers are needed.”

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CDOT crews remove sediment from the recently reconstructed Fraser River diversion pond in Grand County.

Denver Water jumped in early by providing $50,000 to a Fraser River diversion pond project in 2011 and another $50,000 to the Grand County’s Fraser Flats Habitat Project, scheduled for this fall.

The group technically becomes official once Denver Water receives the required permits to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, with the greatest benefits coming with the conclusion of the five-year expansion project.

“It’s really a capacity issue,” Daukas said. “Once we have the added flexibility of a larger Gross Reservoir, we will be able to move more water from different areas as needed, depending on the specific needs of the environment at that time.”

Those are the decisions Learning By Doing will make as a group, with Grand County’s best interests at heart. And that’s really the point.

“Grand County is special to residents and visitors alike because of its incredible outdoor quality of life, including its rivers and streams and world-class trout fishing,” said Mely Whiting, Trout Unlimited legal counsel, in the Maggart article. “If we want to preserve that quality of life we have to be good stewards of our rivers. Learning By Doing provides a way to work together toward that community goal.”

Learning By Doing recently launched a new website and created a video, which you can check out below.

 

Keeping up with the Super Bowl flush

How we keep the water flowing when everyone is going.

Denver's water use, presumably in the bathroom, increased by 35 million gallons during halftime of the AFC Championship game between the Broncos and Patriots.

Denver’s water use, presumably in the bathroom, increased by about 26 million gallons during halftime of the AFC Championship game between the Broncos and Patriots on Jan. 24, 2016.

By Travis Thompson

It’s halftime of the AFC Championship game for my beloved Broncos, and oddly enough the score isn’t the only thing on my mind.

I’m also thinking about the toilet. Yep, that’s right. Not the one in my house, but every other bathroom in the Denver metro area.

Weird? Maybe a little. But as a Denver Water employee, I can’t help it after reading Orange flush: Life in Denver — from traffic to toilets — revolves around the Broncos, by Denver Post reporter Kevin Simpson.

The story featured Dario Diaz, one of Denver Water’s distribution system operators, whose job it is to maintain constant water flow to your home. From his unique vantage point running Denver Water’s system, Diaz described how system operators are able to keep a pulse on the game based on water use — like watching it spike at halftime when everyone runs to the restroom.

When you think about all those toilets flushing at once, it makes sense. But it also begs the question: How is Denver Water able to provide a constant flow and pressure to more than 1 million people when citywide water use increases by 35 million gallons in less than 30 minutes?

“Whether it’s a spike during a Broncos’ halftime or people shutting off their sprinklers when a sudden rainstorm hits on a hot summer day, we have to be prepared for major variations in water use every single day of the year,” said Joel Zdechlik, Denver Water’s system operations supervisor. “Our job is to look ahead through a series of calculated averages to determine how much water we expect customers to use.”

Based on information like historical water-use trends, weather patterns, and system maintenance and upgrade projects, Zdechlik and his team work with water treatment plant operators to produce the right amount of water Denver needs.

But what happens when a spike or dip in water use throws off that calculation? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as treating an extra 35 million gallons during halftime or cutting production by 150 million gallons during an unexpected rainstorm on a hot day.

Why? It’s not feasible to just turn off one of our three treatment plants when water use takes a quick plunge. Our treatment plant operators have to maintain a minimum flow at all times because of the energy and effort it takes to start up or shut down a treatment plant. And treating more water to flow through the pipes can require operational changes, like turning on additional sections of a plant.

Don’t worry; we have a plan. To help offset the fluctuations in water use, we send treated water to 30 underground tanks instead of sending it onto your homes. We keep those tanks between 65 percent and 85 percent full, so the extra water acts like a shock absorber, allowing us to withstand the “orange flush” during Broncos games and any other events that might affect water use, such as changes in the weather.

Denver Water is in the middle of a decade-long, $120-million upgrade to many underground treated water storage tanks, like Ashland Reservoir, where the two existing tanks have been demolished and are being replaced. In November 2015, crews placed roughly 1,250 cubic yards of concrete for a new floor slab on tank 1.

Denver Water is investing $120 million for upgrades to many underground treated water storage tanks, like Ashland Reservoir, where the two century-old tanks have been demolished and are being replaced. In November 2015, crews placed roughly 1,250 cubic yards of concrete for a new floor slab on tank 1.

The tanks are actually designed and positioned for the most important demand on our system: fire protection. They help provide firefighters with enough water and pressure to battle a blaze.

Back in system operations, the team also monitors 165 pressure regulating valves and 115 pumps, which react to changes in water use and minimize the fluctuation in flows and pressures through a 3,000-mile network of underground pipes. If a valve doesn’t respond, system operations employees go to that location to manually adjust the valve and maintain a consistent level of flow and pressure in the system.

As the Broncos move on from the AFC Championship game to the Super Bowl, the water used that day will also be moving onto the great #sewerbowl with our friends at the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District.

Now it’s time to send the Carolina Panthers down the drain at Super Bowl 50.

Go Broncos!

Say it ain’t so! Another Waterton blow

The canyon is closing (again) for repairs. To ease the pain, check out all the other places you can play.   

By Travis Thompson and Jamie Reddig

Most of the wood on the High Line Canal diversion structure had already washed away by June 2015.

Most of the wood on the High Line Canal diversion structure had already washed away by June 2015.

This stinks!

One month into 2016 and we’re already picking up right where we left off in 2015: Waterton Canyon is closing again.

Early last year, we closed the canyon for four days to monitor the condition of the High Line Canal diversion dam, located about 1.5 miles up the canyon and spanning the width of the South Platte River. The deteriorating wooden structure, built between 1880 and 1883, threatened to send large pieces of debris down the river.

We knew the repairs would mean another closing, but that doesn’t make this announcement any easier.

Nevertheless, here we go. Beginning Feb. 2, the canyon will only be open one day a week while crews replace the damaged structure. Here’s the detailed release, Waterton Canyon closure.

So, what’s the silver lining?

  • The canyon will be open to the public on Sundays! (As long as visitors promise to stay clear of the worksite.)
  • Technically, during the project the canyon will only be closed from the main entrance to mile marker 2. That means the upper portion of the canyon will be accessible from the Colorado Trail, above Strontia Springs Reservoir.
  • Once the structure is fixed, we’ll have the ability to send water down the High Line Canal again, depending on the availability of water from the South Platte River and irrigation demand by more than 30 users along the canal.

For those who can’t wait until May 15, 2016, when the canyon is expected to fully reopen, don’t fret, we provide lots of recreational opportunities at many different locations. Here are a few of our seasonal faves:

Colorado-Reservoir-Recreational-Activities-Infographic

 

Donald Trump’s hair-raising issue

Donald Trump says high efficiency showerheads don't always accentuate his signature coiffure. (Trump speaking at the 2015 Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner in May 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons. )

Trump speaking at the 2015 Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner in May 2015. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons.)

He recently complained that high-efficiency showerheads mess with his hair. That really raised our dander.

By Steve Snyder

Right away, let’s be clear: This is not a political post.

It’s about water.

And when a prominent person publicly pontificates about a water issue and misses the facts, we feel obliged to set the record straight. (Remember our open letter to Jay Z?)

This time, that person is Donald Trump, and the issue is his hair.

That’s right — his hair! Sometimes, you just can’t make this stuff up!

At a December campaign stop in South Carolina, Trump was asked for his views on water regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. His response, as chronicled by Time magazine:

“I’ll give you one regulation,” Trump said, launching into an example of how strict environmental rules can hurt everyday Americans with great hair. “So I build, and I build a lot of stuff. And I go into areas where they have tremendous water… And you have sinks where the water doesn’t come out…. You have showers where I can’t wash my hair properly, it’s a disaster!” he said, to laughter from the crowd. “They have restrictors put in. The problem is you stay under the shower for five times as long.”

We thought about Trump’s remarks and some of the possible issues they raised, including:

  • How much water does Donald Trump’s hair really use in a year?
  • Is there a higher-efficiency hairdo Trump should consider?
  • What impact will climate change have on Trump’s hair in the next decade?

But we decided to stick to what we know best: water and the efficient use of it. In particular, high-efficiency showerheads are near and dear to our hearts. In 2014, Denver Water supported Colorado Senate Bill 103, which phases out the sale of less efficient faucets, toilets, urinals and showerheads starting this year. The governor signed the measure in 2014.

The new law requires retailers to sell only WaterSense-labeled products (the water equivalent to the well-known EnergyStar label). The bill’s supporters (including us) believe the change could save up to 13 billion gallons of water per year by 2050.

iStock_000002662046Showerhead

High-efficiency showerheads must pass performance tests to meet consumers’ high standards. (Courtesy ©iStock.com/Tihis)

To use a favorite Trump word, that savings is “huuuge.”

Greater water efficiency is also one of the cornerstone recommendations in Colorado’s recently released water plan, a plan Denver Water played a role in crafting. And water efficiency, like conservation, is important in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. It’s why our customers have reduced their per capita water consumption by 22 percent since 2002 (and the terrible drought that year), even though we’ve seen over a 10 percent population increase during that same time.

If this were 1996, we might have a bit more sympathy for Trump’s complaint. (You might remember this little gem from that year.) But today’s WaterSense showerheads have to pass performance tests to ensure the flow meets customers’ expectations, even while using significantly less water.

So Trump’s criticism is slightly outdated, if not obsolete. As for regulation, water-efficient devices are endorsed by public- and private-sector entities and businesses from nearly every area of the economy. Changing to these fixtures is an easy way to save both water and money.

So here’s our bottom line: You can still use water wisely while having amazing hair. And the efficient use of water should, well, trump politics every time.

 

 

They’re coming. Will we have enough water?

More people, record-low demand; What’s going on?

By Jay Adams

Construction cranes fill the Denver skyline, a sign of the city's growing population.

Construction cranes fill the Denver skyline; a sign of the city’s growing population.

Could it be our beloved Broncos? Maybe it’s the great skiing in the mountains, the 300 days of sunshine or perhaps even our new marijuana laws. Whatever the case, Colorado’s population is booming.

The Denver Post reports that more than 100,000 people moved to Colorado from July 2014 through July 2015 — the second-highest population percentage increase of any state in the country, after North Dakota. Colorado’s state demographer, Elizabeth Garner, predicts the state’s population could rise by another 100,000 this year, according to the article.

Whatever their reasons, this much is clear: With all those new people, the pressures on our water system are bigger than ever.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road, but as a water provider, we need to be prepared for a number of different scenarios,” said Greg Fisher, Denver Water manager of demand planning.

Water planning used to be more straightforward, Fisher said. “In the past, planners relied on historical weather and consumption data and paired it with population projections to estimate demand. It’s a little more complicated today.”

Drought in 2013 led to low water levels at Dillon Reservoir in 2013.

Drought conditions in 2013 led to low water levels at Dillon Reservoir.

Planners have to prepare not just for population growth, but also climate change, economic variability, changes in environmental attitudes, changes in water-use patterns, government regulations, new industries, droughts and other factors, Fisher said.

Each of those factors are interconnected, and each play a role in our long-term water planning, he said.

Last year was a perfect example of why it’s so difficult to predict future water consumption. According to Denver Water records, 2015 was our lowest demand for water since 1970, despite a population increase of 400,000 people. We also saw wild weather swings, with record-high precipitation for the entire watering season, followed by the warmest September in Denver Water’s records.

With half a million more people expected in the metro area by 2040, planners are taking an “all-in” approach that includes conservation, water reuse and development of new water supplies.

Here are examples of the strategy:

In conservation, Denver Water is constantly looking at ways to help our customers use water efficiently, said Jeff Tejral, manager of water conservation. After the 2002-2004 drought, Denver Water set a 10-year goal of cutting water use 22 percent from 2007 through the end of 2016. The average use since 2009 has met that conservation goal, and we continue to ensure that level is permanent.

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Denver Water employees spend the summer educating customers about efficient watering.

“Our customers have been doing a great job,” Tejral said. “We’ll keep working with them to maintain that level of savings and always strive for more.” Denver Water’s Conservation staff helps customers become more efficient by offering rebates on water-saving fixtures, fixing leaks and educating customers about water-smart lifestyles.

In terms of reuse, Denver Water produces an average of 2 billion gallons of recycled water each year, which is treated wastewater used for irrigation and industrial uses. Using recycled water reduces the demand on potable (drinking) water and helps keep more water in mountain streams.

Denver Water is seeking a permit to enlarge Gross Dam in Boulder County.

Denver Water is seeking a permit to enlarge Gross Dam in Boulder County.

For new supplies and storage, we continue to seek a permit to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, and develop gravel pits in Adams and Weld counties for additional water storage. We’re even exploring the feasibility of storing water in underground aquifers.

“Planning for the water demands of tomorrow requires constant innovation and an understanding of how customer needs are changing,” Fisher said. “We always need to be thinking about the future and even challenge major assumptions.”

 

They’ve got a thirst for the great outdoors

From the football field to the mountains, connections to the environment are personal at Denver Water.

By Travis Thompson

Like most Coloradans, Denver Water employees are extremely active, spending their free time out in the fresh air and enjoying the unparalleled beauty and adventure found right in our own backyard.

These 30-second videos highlight a few of Denver Water’s connections to Colorado’s No. 1 asset: the great outdoors. Check ‘em out:

Friday night lights: James Walker, conservation technician, spends his days teaching the community about water efficiency and his nights outside coaching some of Colorado’s finest young men on the gridiron — a grassy arena made possible by good ol’ H2O.

 

Passion for the river: CEO Jim Lochhead has dedicated his career to water in the West, and that includes rafting the rapids and sleeping next to river banks.

 

Hitting the slopes: As a climate scientist, Laurna Kaatz knows all about our snowpack, including how to put it to good use on the slopes before it reaches your tap.

 

Here fishy, fishy: Moving water through our reservoirs to benefit the fisheries and environment has a special meaning to an avid fisherman like Dave Bennett, water resource manager.  

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