Archive for May, 2016

Eleven Mile Dam passes annual safety checkup

With proper maintenance, this 84-year-old architectural marvel should last well beyond the next century.  

By Jay Adams



A 147-foot high concrete gravity arch dam nestled between two rock walls is an awe-inspiring sight. Just ask anyone who’s driven up Eleven Mile Canyon.

At the end of a winding, dirt road along the South Platte River in Park County, this impressive structure plays a vital role in supplying water to more than 1 million Denver Water customers.

May 31 is National Dam Safety Awareness Day, designated to build awareness of the thousands of dams across the U.S. that, like Eleven Mile Canyon Dam, do their jobs and go basically unnoticed every day.

The day commemorates the worst dam failure in U.S. history. On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, broke after days of heavy rain. The floodwaters killed more 2,200 people in the valley below.

Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir, completed in 1932, is the second largest storage facility in Denver Water’s system and one of the largest bodies of water on Colorado’s East Slope.

Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir, completed in 1932, is the second largest storage facility in Denver Water’s system and one of the largest bodies of water on Colorado’s East Slope.

Denver Water uses dams to store drinking water, but the dams also provide boating and fishing opportunities for the public and produce hydropower. Other dams across the country are used for flood control.

Denver Water has 20 dams, and some are more than 100 years old. The organization conducts its own internal dam evaluations and also takes part in state and federal inspections.

Built in 1932, Eleven Mile had its annual state and internal inspection on May 24. “The inspections are necessary to make sure the dam is safe and functioning properly,” said Darren Brinker, Denver Water’s chief dam safety engineer. “We look for any mechanical issues, cracks in the concrete, and changes in seepage over time.”

John Hunyadi, a dam safety engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said the state inspects dams to make sure people and property downstream are safe. “We go out with dam owners to inspect their facilities and identify problems before they become major issues,” he said.

Hunyadi said 2013 and 2015 proved to be major tests of dams along the Front Range. “We saw near historic levels of high water and flooding and the dams where we have the most stringent safety requirements performed exceedingly well,” he said.

Denver Water’s on-site reservoir managers look for problems every day. “We do maintenance at the dam and look at past work we’ve done to see how it’s holding up and whether something needs immediate attention,” said Mike Kelly, Eleven Mile Dam caretaker. “I’ve been here for 21 years and this dam is holding up well considering it’s 84 years old.”

Hunyadi found no serious problems during his inspection in May and gave Eleven Mile a standard “satisfactory” rating.

Two of Denver Water’s oldest earthen dams (Antero, 1909 and Marston, 1902) are currently undergoing safety upgrades. “Overall, our dams are in good health,” Brinker said. “Concrete dams are expected to last 200 years and with proper maintenance, our goal is to make them last even longer.”

From bubbles to bioscience

Water Festival gives sixth graders hands-on experience with the world of water.

By Steve Snyder

If you want to teach kids about a complex subject like water, you’d better get their attention in a fun, engaging way.

That’s the idea behind the annual Denver Metro Water Festival — a hands-on educational experience bringing water to life for more than 1,200 sixth-graders representing 12 schools across the Denver metro area.

Hosted by Denver Water, the suburban distributors of Denver Water and the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, the festival features more than 60 presenters and performers from 25 organizations across the state.

Check out the students from Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy at this year’s festival:

When it comes to water, this ‘Wells’ runs deep

As a key voice in the state water plan, Patti Wells is shaping the conversation by challenging the norm.

By Steve Snyder

Water in its purest form is devoid of color. But in Colorado, people tend to see water issues in terms of black and white.

That’s where Patti Wells comes in.

“I love punching holes in stereotypes,” Wells said.

In addition to her role as general counsel for Denver Water, Wells was recently reappointed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency tasked with creating policy direction on water issues.

As a member of the conservation board, Wells was an active contributor to the recently completed Colorado Water Plan. In the discussions, she challenged some long-held beliefs and stereotypes about water use, to make sure all voices in the discussions were heard.

Patti Wells (far left) at her reappointment to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Patti Wells (far left) at her reappointment to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“I wanted to make sure we humanized the way people use water,” she said. “Too often, water planners view people as a problem to be solved in a water equation, rather than factoring in the human element of water use. People use water for a variety of reasons.

“We don’t want them to waste it, but we don’t want to make value judgments either. Most of the time, people have good reasons for using water the way they do.”

Wells also took on value judgments that typically come into play when discussing water in the West — especially around the age-old rhetoric pinning urban versus agricultural water use.

“If you simply listen to the stereotypes, you would assume that using water for crops is good and using water for lawns is bad. But the urban landscape has value as well,” she said. “Consider that people are making an investment in their properties by maintaining their landscape, and that adds value to the state’s overall economy.

“It’s really about trying to see things in a different way. We try to avoid stereotypes and gently point out the facts.”

And now the real work begins — shaping actions around numerous ideas put forth in the plan.

Chapter 10 has an entire list of actions directed at the [conservation board]. But I’m looking forward to it. We have a really good group. The board members bring a lot of different ideas to the table, but I think we’ve always risen to the occasion when it came time to get something done. I think the State Water Plan is a great example of that.”

Teens learn the value of water, by teaching themselves

Teams from four high schools took up Denver Water’s challenge to ‘keep the water flowing.’

On April 7, 2016, "The Caring Cowboys" of West Campus took home the Challenge 5280 prize for sustainability.

On April 7, 2016, “The Caring Cowboys” of West Campus took home the Challenge 5280 prize for sustainability.

By Matt Bond and Tom McMichen

Issuing a dare to a teenager is akin to giving a Sharpie to a toddler in a freshly painted room. But that didn’t stop us.

Last September, Denver Water and seven other organizations challenged high school students to tackle some the toughest issues facing their communities. The program, called Challenge 5280, gave 21 high schools nine months to design and produce their programs.

For its part, Denver Water challenged students “to creatively educate your peers about the value of water and inspire fun, water-efficient lifestyles that will keep our water flowing today and far into the future.”

Four high school teams accepted: West Campus High School, North High School, Denver School of the Arts and Career Education Center/Middle College of Denver.

And as is often the case, plans rarely survive their first contact with reality. Factor in overly ambitious scopes, strong personalities, schedule conflicts and shifts in team direction, and each of the four water schools faced some tense moments, testing their burgeoning leadership skills.

But forge ahead they did. Here’s a quick look at their projects:

Teaming up for Trick or Treat

CEC/MCD teamed up with their North High School counterparts to educate the public about water during a community Trick or Treat Street event. The students talked about the healthy advantages of drinking tap water and using water efficiently. They passed out Denver Water-supplied shower timers, refillable water bottles and exchanged inefficient showerheads for high-efficiency models.

The North team collected the old showerheads and gave them to one of their art teachers to use in a class sculpture project. Both teams designed materials with water-saving tips and posted them around their schools. In the end, North and CEC/MCD opted to narrow their focus to their individual schools as primary audiences rather than their dauntingly larger community.

That said, the teams reached over a thousand people.

Clockwise from top left: Denver School of the Arts, CEC Middle College of Denver/North High School and West High School accepted Denver Water’s challenge as part of Challenge 5280.

Clockwise from top left: Denver School of the Arts, CEC Middle College of Denver/North High School and West High School accepted Denver Water’s challenge as part of Challenge 5280.

Going for a younger crowd

Students at the Denver School of the Arts wanted to develop a tech-based water conservation awareness plan, then opted instead for an education program targeting elementary schools. The curriculum they developed taught students about water conservation on a global scale. They focused on science, technology and the social importance of access to water worldwide, particularly as it relates to gender and economic inequality.

The program included hands-on activities like simple experiments around water, as well as written content to educate students on the international significance of water shortages. Focusing on a younger audience invigorated the team and jumpstarted them just as they were starting to stall.

Cowboys go video

There are actually two high schools on the old West High School campus, and they combined into a single team. Calling themselves “The Caring Cowboys,” the students set out to create a water efficiency awareness campaign. They produced a video stylized like a Spanish-language soap opera and hung promotional material around the school building asking their fellow students to think differently about the value of water.


The group faced some logistical issues, including how to balance their different schedules at the two schools. But The Caring Cowboys still found a way to meet, often on their own time. They even found ways to deepen and broaden the scope of their proposal.

They developed a video game about saving water and used social media outlets as channels for their messages. They even entered a second competition called the Think It Up Challenge and won $1,000 to help fund the creation of a nonprofit organization with a mission to replace bottled water vending machines in the school with bottle-filling drinking fountains.

When asked to reflect on the challenge and the process, one Cowboy replied, “We learned that having fresh water come out of our (faucets) is a luxury, and that (many) children in the world do not have that. So even if we are not rich and feel that we might be marginalized, our lot in life is still better than most children in the world.”

On April 7, all 21 Challenge 5280 teams met for a final award ceremony to showcase their projects. The judges, including several members of the Denver Board of Education, visited every team to discuss the projects.

A winner was selected in each of the three award categories: innovation, collaboration and sustainability. The Caring Cowboys of West Campus took home the prize for sustainability and will now attend a leadership summit in Orlando, Florida, with the other two winning teams from the challenge.

First the Broncos, and now Jessica Thompson

Denver Water’s occupational health nurse wins top award for scoring highest on national certification test.

(Left to right) Denise Knoblauch, ABOHN executive director; Jessica Thompson; Wanda Smiling, ABOHN board of directors, at the national conference where Thompson was presented the award.

(Left to right) Denise Knoblauch, ABOHN executive director; Jessica Thompson; Wanda Smiling, ABOHN board of directors, at the national conference where Thompson was presented the award.

By Kristi Delynko

Comparing the achievement of one of our clinic nurses to the Super Bowl champs may seem like we’re bragging. But, it happens to be true — and we can prove it!

Each year, the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses presents its Debra L. Fischer Gibbon Excellence in Occupational Health Nursing Award to the nurse who earned the highest score on the previous year’s certification exam.

And this year’s winner? Denver Water’s own Jessica Thompson, RN, BSN, COHN-S, CEAS, CPCT. (It’s no wonder she has so many initials after her name.)

Thompson has been caring for Denver Water employees for more than three years at the employee health clinic, where she performs wellness checks, as well as drug and alcohol testing; assesses worker’s compensation injuries; provides ergonomic evaluations and coordinates return-to-work programs.

Thompson has a background in oncology, medical and surgical nursing, but she prefers occupational health. “So much of hospital care is focused on treating illness, and I love that occupational nursing focuses on preventative care and wellness,” she said.

“The relationships I’ve been able to develop with Denver Water employees is what makes occupational nursing so rewarding to me.”

Thompson met occupational health nurses from across the country at the organization’s annual conference. The experience gave her a whole new appreciation for the support Denver Water provides to wellness and the health of its employees.

“Not all occupational nurses are able to get certified. I’m lucky to work for an organization where wellness is a priority and career development is supported,” she said.

And all of that makes her a more confident nurse, which benefits all health clinic patients.

“The certification process exposed me to aspects of occupational health I haven’t seen because of Denver Water’s particular work environment, so it expanded my knowledge of the practice,” Thompson said. “I’ve been able to make small modifications in my work to improve processes and make sure I’m providing the best care to my patients.”

Thompson is truly an expert at what she does, and we are very proud to say she’s No. 1.


The Certified Occupational Health Nurse — Specialist (COHN-S) certification exam is administered by the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses, the sole certifying body for occupational health nurses in the U.S.

For the record, it’s about water safety

Landlubbers and mariners alike sport life jackets to spread the word.

By Kristi Delynko


Russia recently shattered the Guinness World Record for the largest swimwear parade on skis.

Admit it, you’ve always wanted to be a world record holder, and now you’re kicking yourself for not packing your suit and booking that flight to Sochi.

Don’t despair. Your dream can still be a reality, and you don’t have to risk hypothermia to make it happen.

Saturday, May 21, is Ready, Set, Wear It! Life Jacket World Record Day, and you can achieve your global celebrity status by attending one of four Colorado events sporting your life jacket.

You may even run into some Denver Water employees. Of course, we’re not in it for the fame, but we love sharing safety messages with our customers.

In 2014, there were 418 drowning deaths in the U.S, and 337 of those people were not wearing a life jacket.

Some of these deaths may have been preventable. That’s why about 60 Denver Water employees last week participated in a boating safety course taught by the U.S. Coast Guard. We want everyone to enjoy the abundant recreational opportunities at seven of our reservoirs and along our many rivers and watersheds.

The Coast Guard training was valuable and potentially life-saving, said John Baker, safety and loss control specialist for Denver Water. “It reinforces the importance of wearing a life jacket at all times when we’re on and around the water,” he said.

While some employees are lucky enough to work near a lake or stream, many of us landlubbers at Denver Water aren’t.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t spread the word about National Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 21 to 27. So, we took a moment to don our life jackets to bring attention to the importance of water safety.

They’re probably not winning any world records here, but we think they look pretty snazzy.

Disclaimer: No employees were harmed during the taking of these photos (other than their pride, maybe). While they do look ready for boating season, most of these employees are not qualified to share safety advice. For the real experts on life jacket safety, visit the North American Safe Boating Campaign website.

A hard act to follow: After tackling a toilet, now what?

‘Use Only What You Need’ campaign turned heads about conservation. Today’s water challenges demand more of the same.

Denver Water’s 2015 campaign, "You Can't Make This Stuff" won for Best Street Furniture/Transit/Alternative Campaign in the 2016 Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s OBIE awards.

Denver Water’s 2015 campaign, “You Can’t Make This Stuff” won for Best Street Furniture/Transit/Alternative Campaign in the 2016 Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s OBIE awards.

By Ann Baker

Maybe it was the time a giant toilet ran across Mile High Stadium to a stunned crowd, getting tackled by a security guard as the scoreboard blared: Stop Running Toilets.

Or maybe it was when professional landscapers and horticulture professors wrote disgruntled letters about billboards and radio spots that joked, “Grass is Dumb.”

At some point in the past decade, Denver Water’s signature orange box asking customers to Use Only What You Need became advertising legend in the metro area, winning countless awards, prompting dozens of requests to buy the rights for the campaign, and even eliciting interest for use on specialty license plates.

The campaign is coming to a close this year, making way for a more broad-range message that will go beyond conservation and focus on other issues, including water quality, recreation and long-range planning, among others. It’ll still be unexpected, clever and fun, but it’ll be more individualized and make better use of the digital world. Think less billboard, more hashtag.

Still, the Use Only What You Need catchphrase will remain one of a kind.

“It’s the best advertising campaign this city has ever seen, in my opinion,” said Trina McGuire-Collier, assistant director of Public Affairs, who oversaw the campaign since its inception. “You didn’t expect a government agency to do and say the things we did.”

The Use Only What You Need campaign began 10 years ago, just as the region was recovering from a debilitating drought. Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners challenged customers to reduce their use 22 percent by the end of 2016, a massive undertaking that required an attack on several fronts, through audits, rebates, rates and, of course, advertising.

“We had to cut through the clutter,” McGuire-Collier said. “The drought had gotten our customers’ attention, and we had to strike while they were watching.”

So every year, Use Only What You Need set out to shock Denver Water customers. (Almost) naked people walked through crowds with an orange sandwich board that read: Use Only What You Need. A taxi stripped down to just what was needed to be street legal — basically headlights, tires and a steering wheel — appeared at community events with the same simple, but prudent, message.

The Running Toilet, pictured here at the 2015 9News Parade of Lights, has been a staple of Denver Water’s Use Only What You Need campaign.

The Running Toilet, pictured here at the 2015 9News Parade of Lights, has been a staple of Denver Water’s Use Only What You Need campaign.

Soon Denver Water started pairing taglines with Use Only What You Need to help customers focus their conservation efforts with tangible actions. “Grass is Dumb. Water 2 minutes less. Your lawn won’t notice.” Or “Man’s Time of the Month: Pick a time every month when you do your man thing and adjust your sprinklers.”

“It created this legacy, that every year the industry and our customers were waiting to see what we’d do next,” McGuire-Collier said.

It was modern, often outrageous, and sparked a conversation throughout the city. It also worked.

Customers reduced their water use by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, despite a 15 percent population increase. “It was the perfect timing for that message,” said Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning, which tracks customer use patterns. “It was just the root of all success we’ve had in conservation.”

It’s impossible to quantify how much of that reduction came from advertising versus rates versus rebates versus the dozens of other methods that encouraged customers to use less. But the campaign certainly had an impact.

Use Only What You Need made people think twice about their water use, said Jeff Tejral, manager of conservation.

“The culture has since changed and water use has changed,” Tejral said. “We need to capture that success and move forward.”

Now the push will be to create a two-way dialogue with customers all year long, instead of only during irrigation season. It’ll help people see Denver Water as experts while teaching them about what their water utility has to offer, said Kathie Dudas, Denver Water’s marketing manager.

At the recent opening of the rail line to Denver International Airport, for example, Denver Water parked its water trailer at Union Station and handed out cups of cool tap water to incoming visitors. Several people cooed about its taste, asking where they could buy it.

“We can’t keep talking with one message, because now the portrait is bigger.” Dudas said. “But you can’t follow Use Only What You Need with corporate speak. We’ve raised the bar for ourselves, and we must set new heights with our future campaigns.”

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