Archive for March, 2016

Entertainment, with a splash of water education

Teaching sixth-graders about water is no small feat. It took a group of talented actors to pull it off.

By Matt Bond

 

A few times a year, I get together with my fellow education managers at two other utilities: Aurora Water and the city of Boulder. We compare notes, toss around new ideas and generally pontificate on the best ways to develop the next generation of water citizens.

We call ourselves The Three Amigos.

At one of our sessions in 2012, we talked about finding new ways of reaching audiences bigger than a classroom. How could we reach students more efficiently? Was there a better way to hold the attention of 300 sixth-graders than standing and talking at them?

After all, just getting them to pay attention at that age, let alone learn anything, can be like herding three-legged, blind mountain lions. Surely it was be possible, but how?

What about learning disguised as entertainment? Aurora and Boulder had been using theatrical elements in their programs for years. But the sing-alongs and puppet shows they provided for sweet third-graders wouldn’t fit the bill for grizzled middle-school veterans.

We needed pros.

Students from MSU Denver perform their skit, “Water Wise Circa 2015,” for Denver Water employees in May 2015.

And we found them, in the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship at Metropolitan State University of Denver. (That’s OWOW for short, pronounced, “Oh Wow!”)

We knew OWOW’s program, newly formed in 2012, offered an interdisciplinary, hands-on Water Studies minor for students from diverse backgrounds and in any major. What if they could help?

So the three amigos trudged over to program director Tom Cech’s office at the Auraria Campus and asked. Absolutely, was his answer, and he soon roped in Dr. Marilyn “Cookie” Hetzel, chair of MSU Denver’s renowned theater department. The three amigos were now five.

After nearly three years of work and a few setbacks, we developed and cofunded a semester-long theater class that would audition and train a dozen budding MSU Denver thespians and teach them about water at the same time. Their assignment: to write, produce and deliver a short skit about water-wise practices in Colorado for sixth-graders in each utility’s service area.

Their challenge: to make it entertaining and thought provoking without using props, for an audience whose attention span can be measured in nanoseconds.

The actors did just that. After a two-session utility-led crash course on water in Colorado, they spent the remainder of the semester putting together a witty, informative, sixth-grader-approved gem they named Water Wise Circa 2015.

They took it on the road and performed it nearly 20 times to more than 4,000 students and adults in Aurora, Boulder and Denver schools, and at water festivals.

Members of the Water Wise project team accept the 2015 Innovative Environmental Education Program Award from the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education on March 18, 2016.

Water Wise Circa 2015 was so popular that the amigos secured matching funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a troupe to deliver the skit again at water festivals hosted by Aurora Water, Boulder and Denver Water this spring.

The cast enthusiastically reassembled, including several members who already have graduated. They also continue to share water-related information via their cast Facebook page.

In March, the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education awarded the Water Wise project its 2015 Innovative Environmental Education Program Award. It’s not exactly a Tony Award, but all involved agreed: Entertaining people is one thing, but entertaining them into learning is really satisfying.

You can’t learn about water without getting a little wet

At the Children’s Museum, the kids are launching geysers, playing with water jets and creating a thunderstorm.

By Kim Unger

Kids running around, squealing with delight, water splashing everywhere. Is this any way for a museum to behave?

It is if you’re the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus. The museum’s new expansion includes an interactive exhibit called, appropriately, “Water.”

Sponsored by Denver Water, the exhibit encourages children to splash around, make objects float and even make music with raindrops — all while learning about what makes water do the things it does.

It’s a delightful experience for kids and their parents, as you can see in this video.

 

Contributing: Jessica Mahaffey and Travis Thompson

Snowpack totals? It’s all part of March Madness

Hammered by this month’s snowstorms, Summit and Grand counties provide a big boost to our water supply.

By Jay Adams

 

 

March in the Colorado Rockies can be as wild as a half-court buzzer beater in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The first week of the month was dry and unseasonably warm. The second week brought a bounty of snow, and some parts of Summit and Grand counties picked up more than 30 inches. Week three saw 70-degree temperatures in Denver, followed by a blizzard and more heavy snow in the mountains.

Call it our own version of March Madness.

That kind of volatile spring weather is why Denver Water’s planning team remains cautious about predicting the snowpack yield until mid-to late-April. “Weather in March is like the basketball tournament,” said Nathan Elder, water resource engineer. “We really don’t know what we’re going to get every year.”

The frozen Snake River east of Keystone is one of Dillon Reservoir's three main tributaries.

The frozen Snake River east of Keystone is one of Dillon Reservoir’s three main tributaries.

The latest storm delivered impressive snow totals at Denver Water locations. Gross Reservoir in Boulder County picked up 20 inches of wet snow, which contained 2.13 inches of water. Strontia Springs Reservoir in Waterton Canyon received 13 inches of snow with 1.43 inches of water and Cheesman Reservoir in Douglas County received 10.5 inches of snow with 1.07 inches of water content.

Mountain snow provides 80 percent of Denver Water’s water supply (rain accounts for the rest), and March and April alone produce an average of 25 percent of the collection system’s annual precipitation.

“The snow we’ve been getting over the past two weeks has been really good for the mountain snowpack,” said Elder. “We’ve definitely seen a nice spike upward on the charts this month.”

It certainly didn’t look that way earlier this year. “Across most of February and early March we had warm temps and dry conditions and melted quite a bit of snow,” said John Blackwell, Dillon Reservoir operations manager. “But now winter’s back, which is creating a bit of madness here in Summit County.”

Snowpack — in the areas of the Upper Colorado and South Platte River basins where Denver Water captures its snow — was above normal in December and January, below normal in February and then back above normal in late-March.

Colorado River March 24 snowpackSP March 24 snowpack

On March 14, snowpack in the Colorado River basin stood at 100 percent of normal and snowpack in the South Platte River basin was 95 percent of normal. After two weeks of snow, the two basins shot up to 109 and 107 percent respectively, on March 24.

March and April are critical months for deciding whether the year’s snow totals will produce a championship season of water, or merely play runner-up to previous years.

While this year’s snowpack is looking good, it will likely fall short of the all-time championship seasons in Denver Water’s collection areas. Snowpack peaked at 166 percent of normal in the Colorado River basin in 1984 and an incredible 203 percent of normal in the South Platte basin in 1997.

Even in an average snow year, it’s common to see ups and downs on the snowpack charts. “Some years you’re constantly hit by small storms, other times you get nailed with one huge storm like we did in the spring of 2003,” Elder said.

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County stood at 93 percent full on March 21, 2016. The historic median for this time of year is 87 percent.

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County stood at 93 percent full on March 21, 2016. The historic median for this time of year is 87 percent.

Denver Water’s reservoir levels are above average for this time of year, and Blackwell hopes more snow this spring will fill Dillon Reservoir this summer. “We’re still cautious, we’re optimistic, and the next couple weeks are critical,” he said.

With more snow in the forecast for the last week of March and the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center showing a 40 percent chance of above-average precipitation for most of Colorado in April, the rest of the snow season is looking good. “We’re getting there,” Elder said. “We can’t say we’re good yet, but we are heading in that direction.”

Breaking the ice, one jab at a time

Crews use old-fashioned muscle to chop sheets of ice and keep water flowing.

By Jay Adams

 

 

Armed with a 15-foot steel pole, Eric Bersell stood on a bridge and stabbed chunks of ice as they floated down the South Boulder Canal. It’s an odd job, but a critical one at Denver Water. “I don’t think most people know we have to do this to get water to their homes,” Bersell said.

Denver Water closed the canal in October to stop water from flowing into Moffat Treatment Plant, which was closed for maintenance. Over the winter, the remaining water in the canal froze.

When the waterway reopened in January, sheets of ice up to 15 feet in diameter floated downstream and wedged against structures in the canal. “If we weren’t out here breaking up the ice, it would jam the canal and water would overflow the banks,” Bersell said.

Breaking up the ice took man and machine. Workers from Denver Water’s Ralston Reservoir and High Line Canal used excavators to drop steel buckets on top of the ice sheets while other crews broke up smaller pieces with ice picks.

“It’s a tough job, it’s a fun job, and it’s an important job to keep the water flowing,” Bersell said.

What?! Coors Light doesn’t always tap the Rockies?

Yes, but never fear: Plenty of beer is still brewed with clean, fresh Colorado water.

By Jimmy Luthye

You know the slogan: “When the mountains turn blue, it’s as cold as the Rockies.” But now it turns out the Coors Light you’re drinking may have been brewed elsewhere.

Bummer.

The Coors Light label reads, “When the mountains turn blue it’s as cold as the Rockies,” but that doesn’t mean it was brewed in the Rockies. Photo credit: Rob Nguyen, Flickr Creative Commons

The Coors Light label reads, “When the mountains turn blue it’s as cold as the Rockies,” but that doesn’t mean it was brewed in the Rockies. Photo: Rob Nguyen, Flickr Creative Commons

A recent Eater article lays out the details of a class action lawsuit filed in Florida, asserting that the MillerCoors brewery in Golden, Colorado is no longer the only source of Coors Light. (This un-Rocky reality actually came to be following a merger between Molson Coors Brewing Company and SABMiller in 2008.)

The lawsuit, filed by Joaquin Lorenzo of Miami-Dade County charges that marketing and advertising messages from MillerCoors use tags like, “Proudly brewed in the Rocky Mountain tradition,” and “Born in the Rockies,” to position the beer as brewed with water from our beloved mountains, and thus justify a “premium price” of $15 for a 24-pack.

We certainly understand Mr. Lorenzo’s concerns. Imagine the uproar if Denver Water provided customers with water from somewhere other than straight from the Rockies. After all, there’s no denying we have phenomenal water.

On the other hand, how many marketing campaigns do we see that, if taken literally, would seem more than a bit misleading?

  • Does Red Bull really make you sprout wings? Nope.
  • Do Skittles taste like actual rainbows? Doubtful.
  • If I sing the State Farm jingle, will an insurance agent pop out of nowhere with my own hot tub? Sadly, nay.
  • Is Budweiser really the king of beers? I didn’t realize beers were still governed under monarchical rule.
Budweiser, the self-dubbed “King of Beers,” is one of countless brands to stretch reality to make a marketing impact. Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, Flickr Creative Commons

Budweiser is one of many brands stretching reality for marketing effect. Photo: Thomas Hawk, Flickr Creative Commons

You get the point. Just because an advertising campaign exaggerates to make a point doesn’t mean the brand is out to deceive.

But what if your advertising is deliberately misleading, allowing you to sell your product at a higher price? This leads us back to Mr. Lorenzo’s lawsuit.

Is $15 really a “premium price” for a case of beer?

Coors Light is an all-American staple, and it’s my go-to at Rockies games and on the Fourth of July. It’s the second-most popular beer in the United States (behind Bud Light) and, seemingly, one of its fundamental appeals is affordability. It’s hard to see Coors Light qualifying in a “premium” price point, no matter where it’s brewed or bought (event price gouging notwithstanding).

Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, where, in 2015, a Coors Light (complete with souvenir cup) went for $8.50. Now that’s a premium price. Photo credit: Al Case, Flickr Creative Commons

Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, where, in 2015, a Coors Light (complete with souvenir cup) went for $8.50. Now that’s a premium price. Photo: Al Case, Flickr Creative Commons

Speaking of the premium stuff, some of our local breweries have been putting a lot of thought into how they use this precious Rocky Mountain water.

Take, for example, our partners Copper Kettle Brewing, Breckenridge Brewery and Tivoli Brewing Co. in Denver. They’ve taken conservation into their own hands, and we’re working with them to establish the most efficient beer-to-water ratio, as well as other ways to save water.

“Working with these breweries helps us understand what our beer industry is doing,” said Michael Thomas, Denver Water conservation specialist. “With nearly 100 breweries in our service area, beer is a booming industry where efficient water use is becoming more and more critical.”

The bottom line is, whether you’re a craft beer aficionado or a Coors connoisseur, we can all agree Rocky Mountain water must be something special if people are willing to sue when they’ve been robbed of the chance to taste it.

Fighting Irish? These days, it’s all about water

Everyone may be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but in Denver we’ll be raising a glass to clean, fresh Colorado water.  

By Jessica Mahaffey

The author’s grandmother, Mary Catherine “Cay” Maguire Coyle, visiting Ireland in 1989.

I grew up in a home that proudly celebrated our Irish heritage. I am short, only 5 feet (and a half inch), but a giant compared to my grandmother, who was 4 feet 10 inches.

When I came home feeling hurt because someone teased me about being short, my grandmother would tell me, quite seriously, that I was kin to the fairy-folk and should never mind what others had to say about me anyway.

My little sister took a different approach, offering to punch my tormentor in the nose.

Yes, the Irish have been known to jump into (and sometimes start) a fight over real and perceived injustices with an infamous temper and stubbornness.

And guess what the Irish are fighting about today? Water.

Unlike Colorado, Ireland has no shortage of water. In fact, we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day in homage to the Emerald Isle, known for its abundance of rain. The Irish water rebellion is not over equitable distribution of a scarce resource; it’s about preserving the human right to fresh water while addressing real risks to a crumbling water distribution system.

It all started with the 2013 Water Services Act, which transferred water and wastewater services for 31 local authorities to Irish Water, a commercial, for-profit, semi-state company governed by the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Before Irish Water, local authorities funded water infrastructure projects through taxes.

The proponents of Irish Water claim that a national water services authority is necessary to focus investment on modernizing aging, at-risk water infrastructure throughout Ireland. They say that water systems dependent on central funds rely too heavily on politicians who are under pressure to defer maintenance and upgrades of water and sewage services in favor of more politically expedient projects.

But a vocal opposition wants to abolish Irish Water, which has levied a water tax on citizens as a way to repay international loans to bail out the country’s economy after the world financial collapse of 2008.  They say the water charges are part of years of austerity measures that hit working class people hardest.

Citizens in Dublin protest water charges at the Right2Water rally on March 21, 2015. Photo courtesy Sinn Féin, Creative Commons.

Citizens in Dublin protest water charges at the Right2Water rally on March 21, 2015. Photo courtesy Sinn Féin, Creative Commons.

The massive public demonstrations that followed may have played a role in the recent Irish elections, in which the ruling party, Fine Gael, lost 26 seats in the Parliament, known as the Dáil.

Citizens who didn’t take to the streets joined the protest by blocking the installation of meters and refusing to pay the new water charges. In fact, only 50 percent of customers have paid their water bills so far. Others claim that the new taxes are an added insult because Irish water consistently fails testing by the country’s environmental agency.

Fighting Irish, indeed.

In Denver, the city founders recognized the tension between the human right to water and the need to invest in a strong water system when they established Denver Water in 1918.

As a public utility, Denver Water is a government entity owned by the people of Denver and funded by water rates, not taxes.  While we are accountable to a five-member Board of Water Commissioners, appointed by the mayor, we operate independently from the city.

That framework gives us the freedom to plan, finance and maintain necessary water infrastructure without being obligated to short-term political interests.

Additionally, as a major water provider in the West, that framework allows us to do the long-range planning necessary to be responsible protectors of the environment — so that our water stays clean and healthy for future generations.

We wish you a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day in the form of an Irish proverb, of one of my favorite traditions:

May you mix your temperance with a little rebellion

Your sunshine with a little rain

And your whiskey with a little water

Sláinte!

Rainbow over bridge and lake in the Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry, Ireland. (Courtesy ©iStock.com/stevegeer)

Rainbow over bridge and lake in the Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry, Ireland. (Courtesy ©iStock.com/stevegeer)

Fix a leak — check your flapper!

Household drips — from toilets and other sources — waste up to 1 trillion gallons of water every year.

By Jay Adams

Drip drop. Drip drop. One by one, those small drops add up to a big waste of water in your home. March 14-20 is Fix a Leak Week — seven days aimed at raising awareness about stopping water leaks inside and outside the house.

Household water leaks across the country every year could fill 12 Dillon Reservoirs.

WaterSense — a partnership program with the Environmental Protection Agency — estimates that household drips waste up to 1 trillion gallons of water every year nationwide. That’s enough water to fill nearly 12 Dillon Reservoirs — Denver Water’s largest body of water.

“The best place to look for leaks is in the bathroom,” said Wale Williams, water conservation technician. “We find them all the time in toilets, faucets and showers, and a lot of times people don’t even know they have a leak.”

Rubber toilet flappers are one of the biggest culprits of leaks in the home.  Flappers — rubber valves that hold and release water from the tank — are prone to mineral buildup and decay over time which allows water to pass through. The leaks cause toilets to run continuously and waste hundreds, even thousands, of gallons of water every year.

Understanding how your toilet works will help you track down leaks.

Understanding how your toilet works will help you track down leaks.

You can identify a leak by placing food coloring or a dye tablet in the toilet tank. If you see color in the bowl after about 20 minutes, the toilet flapper is leaking and needs to be replaced.

Flappers are inexpensive and easy to replace. “They have them at the hardware store and can be installed in a few minutes — anyone can do it,” Williams said. Don’t forget to check the pull chain to make sure it has enough slack.

Another common problem in older toilets occurs when the float arm is not adjusted correctly and water leaks down the overfill/refill tube. These small leaks can waste 100 to 250 gallons of water every day. This problem can be fixed by adjusting the float arm.

Faucet drips are another leading cause of water waste in the home. A leak of 10 drops per minute can waste nearly 300 gallons every year. “Fix a Leak Week is a great time to check every faucet in the house for drips,” Williams said. “If all of Denver Water’s single-family residential households found and fixed a one-drop-per-second leak, we would save about 82 million gallons a year.”

10 drips every minute from a leaky faucet wastes nearly 300 gallons of water every year.

10 drips every minute from a leaky faucet wastes nearly 300 gallons of water every year.

Denver Water offers a checklist for a residential indoor self-audit in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry room.

“We want our customers to educate themselves about how much water they use in their homes, businesses, schools or anywhere so they can learn to use water efficiently,” said Jeff Tejral, water conservation manager. “Water conservation is one of our core goals at Denver Water, and even the most efficient customers need to stay vigilant for leaks, as they can and do happen to anyone.”

 

Other places to check for leaks inside the home include:

  • Showerheads
  • Bathtubs
  • Dishwashers
  • Ice makers
  • Humidifiers
  • Supply lines to washing machines
  • Supply lines to sinks

Tracking down leaks can be a fun family adventure, too. “Give the kids a checklist and have them play detective as they search the house for drips,” Williams said. “It’s a great way to teach them about conservation and why it’s so important to fix a leak.”

Watch Wale Williams show a family how to check if their toilet has a leaky flapper.

 

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