Archive for February, 2016

Looking out for February’s extra flush

Six tips to help you save water on Leap Day.

By Jay Adams

Woo-hoo! If you want an extra day to get things done, we proudly present Monday, Feb. 29, 2016.

This is a leap year, a day needed to get our Gregorian calendars back on track with the Earth’s revolution around the sun. Roman general Julius Caesar is credited with introducing leap years more than 2,000 years ago.

calendar sheet February 2016

While the extra 24 hours will keep us in sync with the universe, it also will have an impact on our monthly water consumption. Based on water-use data, Denver Water customers will likely use about 110 million gallons more water this February due to the extra day. (Don’t worry, Denver Water has a rolling billing cycle, based on days, not months, so you won’t see an impact from Leap Day next water bill.)

Still, every bit of water savings count, so what can you do to save a few drops? How about going an entire day without water? That’s an idea floated by high school students at the Denver West Campus.

They’re taking part in Denver Public Schools’ Challenge 5280, a competition among high school students to raise awareness about community issues. The Denver West students accepted Denver Water’s challenge to encourage conservation of our state’s most precious resource.

The team created a video showing what life would be like if we didn’t have water: no showers, no toilets and no drinking fountains.

 

 

“Water is precious,” said Misael Espino, Denver West Campus student. “We really wanted to show people that if we don’t start saving water now, that this is what our future could look like.”

The students admit that going completely dry for one day may sound a little extreme, but their video highlights simple steps you can take every day to conserve. Typical Denver Water customers use about 45 gallons each day inside their homes — mostly from toilets, showers and washing machines.

Since shutting off the tap for 24 hours probably won’t work for your lifestyle, use this Leap Day to check out Denver Water’s indoor water- saving ideas:

And in case you were wondering, it takes the Earth approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds to circle the sun. Leap Day adds 24 hours to the calendar every four years to catch us up.

In praise of polar bears

Polar bears have large paws that are partially webbed for swimming. Photo courtesy: Creative Commons.

Polar bears have large paws that are partially webbed for swimming. Photo courtesy: Creative Commons.

And what our furry, arctic friends have in common with water

By Steve Snyder

I love polar bears.

Seriously, I’m borderline obsessed with them. It’s been that way since I was a little kid. How can you not love an animal this majestic and this adorable?

And with Feb. 27 being International Polar Bear Day, what better time to celebrate this marvelous Ursus maritimus?

But I work for a water utility, not a zoo. Our caretakers may encounter bears from time to time, but they’re not exactly polar in nature. So a story about polar bears from a water utility is a stretch, right?

Humor me. Polar bears and water actually have a lot in common:

  • First, there’s the obvious. The main pool in the polar bear exhibit at the Denver Zoo holds 120,000 gallons of water from yours truly: Denver Water.
  • Polar bears, like our water supply, are impacted by climate change. Just as we must account for a changing climate as we plan for our future, polar bears are trying to adapt to a changing environment as well.
  • Water is in short supply, particularly in Colorado and the Western United States. The polar bear population is dwindling, too. So while Denver Water is building partners across state lines to preserve water supplies, scientists across the world are coming together to protect this magnificent species.
  • Finally, polar bears need water just like every other animal, but they don’t get it like other animals. Polar bears get their water from the chemical reaction in their bodies that breaks down fat. Now that’s efficient water use. We dig that!

There you have it. Polar bears and water — they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

If you’d like to learn more about this rare bear, our partner in conservation, the Denver Zoo, is hosting a number of activities this weekend around International Polar Bear Day. You can even act like a real polar bear and take a polar plunge.

I’ll be there. Like I said, I love polar bears. Would I do this to my children otherwise?

As toddlers, the author’s son (left) and daughter dressed in daddy’s favorite costume for Halloween.

As toddlers, the author’s son (left) and daughter dressed in daddy’s favorite costume for Halloween.

Real people, life lessons

Celebrating Black History Month with people who make working in water an honor.

By Dana Strongin

As part of Denver Water’s observation of Black History Month, we’re sharing stories about people who have made a difference in the world of water.

From working in water distribution at Denver Water to running the Environmental Protection Agency, each individual has a rich history and has played an important role.

The Denver Water employees featured here were recently honored as “Denver Water legends” in a Black History Month observance.

Every legend has a lesson to share. Here are theirs.

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

Why we love juicy flakes (and you should, too!)

Not all snowflakes are created equal; some have more love to give.

By Jay Adams and Kim Unger

When the snowflakes begin to fall, we’re guessing the last thing on your mind is moisture content. Isn’t all snow created equal? Turns out, there is a big difference between the type of snowflake and how much moisture it will produce — which makes a difference in filling our mountain reservoirs. Check out our infographic to see why juicy flakes are best.

 

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What lies beneath: Fishing ‘The Fork’

Contestants from across Colorado converge on Williams Fork Reservoir for its first-ever ice fishing tournament.

By Jason Finehout

The frozen Williams Fork Reservoir starts to fill up with ice fishermen at the beginning of a daylong ice fishing tournament.

The frozen Williams Fork Reservoir starts to fill up with ice fishermen at the beginning of a daylong ice fishing tournament.

Every summer, Denver Water’s Williams Fork Reservoir is known as a secluded, peaceful — and free! — spot for boating, fishing and camping. But once winter settles over this tranquil corner of Grand County, only a few ice fishermen brave the intimidating tundra of the place those in the know call “The Fork.”

Those souls know a hidden truth: Swimming beneath the imposing ice is a cornucopia of fish. Northern pike, kokanee salmon and lake, rainbow and brown trout — an ice fisherman’s dream come true.

Against this backdrop, eager fishermen from across Colorado descended on the idyllic town of Parshall to try their hand at Denver Water’s first catch-and-release tournament at Williams Fork Reservoir on Saturday, Feb. 13.

In the days prior, Denver Water caretakers were busy ensuring the reservoir was safe, roads were plowed, bathrooms were ready and dumpsters were positioned. And before the sun was up on the day of the tournament, more staff joined them and scattered across the reservoir to take their places as judges, scouts, and parking and registration reps.

The temperature was a chilly -2 degrees at the 7 a.m. start, but the sun soon came out, bringing the temperature to a relatively balmy 32 degrees by afternoon. Good natured banter among contestants rang across the ice as they picked out their spots and started to drill through the ice.

A lucky fisherman pulls in a beautiful rainbow trout during the Williams Fork Ice Fishing Tournament.

A lucky fisherman pulls in a beautiful rainbow trout during the Williams Fork Ice Fishing Tournament.

The first triumph came at 8:06 a.m. when Roman Piguliak caught a 20.5-inch rainbow trout. Others had more luck as the day moved along.

When the final horn sounded promptly at 3 p.m., the tournament came to a close. As prizes were awarded, the participants talked about the day, including, of course, the “big one” they almost caught.

“This was a great chance to have personal conversations with locals and answer their questions about Denver Water and our commitment to Grand County,” said Katie Knoll, Denver Water stakeholder relations manager. “We look forward to bringing this event back next year.”

Proceeds from the tournament went to Project Healing Waters, an organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and other activities.

Denver Water staff worked every part of the tournament to ensure its success. Pictured here in front of the registration tent is Jason Finehout (left) and Katie Knoll from Public Affairs; and Andrew Stetler and Ryan Rayfield, caretakers at Williams Fork Dam.

Denver Water staff worked every part of the tournament to ensure its success. Pictured here in front of the registration tent is Jason Finehout (left) and Katie Knoll from Public Affairs; and Andrew Stetler and Ryan Rayfield, caretakers at Williams Fork Dam.

El Nino: Helping hand or just a lot of hot air?

Snow in Colorado. Rain in California. Is El Nino the cause, and can it keep the water coming?

By Steve Snyder

Too big to fail.

No, this isn’t about enormous financial institutions. We’re talking about the biggest, baddest El Nino weather pattern we’ve seen in years.

This year’s version of the warming surface water in the Pacific Ocean was supposed to blast much of California and other western states with potentially record-setting moisture. If you’re keeping up with climate news, California in particular could use the water.

This map of a typical El Nino weather pattern shows Colorado right on the edge of moisture impacts. (Courtesy: National Weather Service)

This map of a typical El Nino weather pattern shows Colorado right on the edge of moisture impacts. (Courtesy: NOAA)

And so far, so good, at least in terms of moisture content. But the key words are “so far,” as even this supersized El Nino hasn’t made a huge dent in the Golden State’s decade-long drought.

So why is Denver Water watching the weather in California so closely? One reason is that water resources for Colorado and California are closely linked. Any moisture California gets is good for Colorado and the entire Colorado River Basin.

We’ve seen a lot of moisture in Colorado this winter, too, and it has really helped our snowpack. But how much is our winter wonderland related to our warm-blooded friend in the Pacific?

“It’s difficult to credit El Nino for all of our weather this winter,” said Laurna Kaatz, climate adaptation program manager for Denver Water. “El Nino typically increases precipitation across the southwest, and our Rocky Mountains are right on the fringe of this area. So El Nino can influence our weather, but it’s not the only factor.”

It’s also difficult to predict what the rest of the winter and early spring will bring in terms of moisture for Colorado, as each El Nino pattern is different. But there are some historical patterns to study.

“Past El Nino cycles have usually brought moisture to Southern Colorado,” Kaatz said. “The three-month outlook calls for above-normal precipitation in Colorado, but nothing is certain here in terms of weather, given our location and topography.”

Of course, as long as the snow keeps piling up in our mountains, we don’t care if it’s El Nino or El-Nacho Libre causing the stir. We’ll take all we can get, especially with Colorado’s unpredictable weather.

Why Denver Water loves snow

Snow far, snow good: Winter snowpack off to strong start — where there’s snow, there’s water.

By Jay Adams

 

 

What’s good for skiers is good for reservoirs. If you’ve already hit a few powder days on the slopes this year, you know the winter of 2015-2016 is off to a snowy start in the mountains.

As of Feb. 16, the amount of snow in the Colorado and South Platte river basins stands at 110 and 114 percent of normal respectively for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This is good news for Denver Water, as the mountain snow in these two river basins is the primary source of our drinking water supply.

Denver Water caretaker Per Olsson snowshoes through the woods to access snow-measuring sites.

Keeping track of how much snow is in the mountains is a team effort. From January through May, our crews make a monthly trek into the wilderness and measure snow at 11 locations in Grand, Park and Summit counties. They hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski and ride in snowcats to reach our snow-measuring sites.

“It’s fun to see how much snow we are going to get every year,” said Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker. Olsson has been measuring snow at Denver Water for 25 years, including several locations in Grand County. “We’re hoping for a lot of snow this year, and so far it looks good.”

In late January, Olsson and Conor Peters, a water monitoring specialist, strapped on snowshoes and trudged through the forest for a monthly check of the snowpack at the base of Berthoud Pass near Winter Park.

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Olsson (left), and Conor Peters, measure snow density, depth and weight at the base of Berthoud Pass. Records of snow have been kept at the site since 1936.

Measuring snow requires more than just checking how much is on the ground. Olsson and Peters use a special tube to measure the depth, density and weight of the snow at seven locations on the Berthoud Pass snow-measuring site.

The courses provide water planners with eyes-on-the-ground information to compare 2016 numbers with snowpack levels dating back to 1936.

They use that information to determine the snow-water equivalent: a calculation of how much water is packed into the snow. “A general rule of thumb is that 12 inches of snow equals about 1 inch of water when it melts,” said water resource engineer Nathan Elder.

Denver Water also uses information collected by the Conservation Service’s automated snowpack telemetry weather stations, known as SNOTEL sites. The network of stations was established in 1979 and provides real-time snow information at locations across Colorado and the western U.S.

Olsson has worked at Denver Water for 25 years.

Olsson has worked at Denver Water for 25 years.

The manual and automated readings provide Denver Water’s planners with a picture of how much and what type of snow is in the mountains. They use the information to make predictions about how much water will end up in Denver Water’s reservoirs during the spring runoff.

Despite the strong start to the winter, planners don’t make early assumptions. “This year is looking good so far,” Elder said. “We like to see snow any time of year, but March, April and May are our snowiest and wettest months.”

Elder said it takes patience to see how the snowpack develops. “We don’t want to make any decisions about our supply this early,” he said. “We’ve still got a ways to go this winter and even though we are above normal now, weather conditions can change quickly.”

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