Archive for June, 2016

Saving the frogs of Lake Titicaca — in Denver?

To study the endangered amphibians, Denver Zoo researchers needed to mimic Peru’s famous lake. Enter Dillon Reservoir.

By Tyler St. John

The team shows the Frisco Police Department, Telma, a underwater robot that could become a resource for the department in the future.

The team shows the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Telma, an underwater robot that could become a resource for the Sheriff’s Office to use at Dillon Reservoir in the future.

As a water utility in the dry West, promoting conservation has become a way of life for our employees. So when we heard that our partners at the Denver Zoo were taking on a new conservation effort, we were ready to pitch in.

The zoo, after all, is already saving on average 214 million gallons of water annually compared to levels used in 1999.

But this time, the zoo is tackling a very different kind of conservation project — to help save the critically endangered frogs of Lake Titicaca, high in the Andes Mountains on the border between Peru and Bolivia.

That’s right. Frogs.

As reported in the Denver Post, the frog population has declined by as much as 80 percent, in part because of mine pollution in Lake Titicaca and overly aggressive harvesting of the amphibians, which are valued by Peruvians for their ability to boost fertility and mental clarity.

The Denver Zoo acquired 20 tadpoles for study and to develop a breeding program, and officials believe they are the only Lake Titicaca frogs in captivity in the northern hemisphere.

To help them in their research, the zoo has teamed up with four students from Longmont’s Skyline High School, who built an openROV robot, named Telma. This underwater device can operate at twice the depth of a recreational SCUBA diver and videotape the conditions.

Before sending Telma to Peru, the device needed to be tested in conditions that mimic those at Lake Titicaca.

Alicia Christensen and Craig Rahencamp from the Denver Zoo drop the robot into the waters of Dillon Reservoir.

Alicia Christensen and Craig Rahencamp from the Denver Zoo drop the robot into the waters of Dillon Reservoir.

That’s where Denver Water comes in.

As it turns out, conditions at Dillon Reservoir are the closest to mirroring the environment of Lake Titicaca, according to Axel Reitzig, robotics and computer science coordinator for the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools.

Dillion Reservoir sits at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet, with a water temperature in the 50-degree range, which is similar to Lake Titicaca.

On June 10, the students were ready to put their robot to the test. The team of six took a boat out to the depths of Dillon Reservoir, and dropped it in.

“Though we struggled with controlling the ROV at times, we learned a lot about Telma,” said Reitzig. “Our time at Dillon Reservoir definitely prepared us for this final test before sending the ROV off to Peru.”

Telma will now be delivered to Arturo Munoz, the scientist studying the frog in Peru as part of the Bolivian Amphibian Project. Munoz will use the ROV to study the frog and collect important data he can’t currently collect.

“Our goal now is to create a cheaper design and then work with different organizations for research, education and conservation,” said Reitzig.

Want to see a Lake Titicaca frog for yourself? Visit the Tropical Discovery exhibit at the Denver Zoo where you can meet two of them up close.

A frog of Lake Titicaca. Photo credit: Denver Zoo.

A frog of Lake Titicaca. Photo credit: Denver Zoo.

Floatin’ on the 4th: Making waves on the Blue River

Dillon Reservoir’s water managers help extend the whitewater rafting season while meeting customer needs downstream.  

By Jay Adams

 

 

Nothing says Fourth of July in Colorado like a day of rafting on a mountain river. Paddling through rapids is as much a tradition in our state as fireworks, hot dogs and apple pie.

Our nation’s birthday is one of the busiest days of the year for whitewater rafting. But there’s no rafting without rapids — and that’s where Dillon Reservoir comes in.

With a capacity of 257,304 acre feet, Dillon Reservoir in Summit County is Denver Water’s largest storage site, supplying 30 percent of Denver’s water. Water managers work to balance the demands of Denver customers while supporting the recreational economy on the Blue River and Dillon Reservoir.

“In the spring and early summer, Denver Water carefully manages outflows from Dillon Reservoir,” said Cindy Brady, water resource engineer at Denver Water. “We try to provide reliable and predictable rafting flows on the Blue River below Dillon Dam.”

Whitewater rafting through the spectacular alpine scenery beneath The Eagles Nest Wilderness area on the Blue River. Photo courtesy of Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting.

Whitewater rafting through the spectacular alpine scenery beneath The Eagles Nest Wilderness area on the Blue River. Photo courtesy of Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting.

In years with above-normal mountain snowpack, water planners gradually increase the outflow from Dillon to make room for the spring runoff that fills the reservoir. The approach minimizes high water through the town of Silverthorne and helps extend the rafting season.

“Instead of having a really high flow early on and then having it drop to an unraftable level, Denver Water manages the water so we have optimum flows as long as possible,” said Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting, sending rafters down class 3 whitewater trips on the Blue River for 30 years.

As Dillon Reservoir’s recreational role grew, Denver Water began working closely with Summit County and the rafting community to manage the river flows. “We work with the whitewater industry to understand their flow needs and communicate to them what to expect each year,” Brady said.

The best flows for rafting are when the river is running between 1,100 and 1,400 cubic feet per second, Foley said. “Knowing how much water is coming down is incredibly important when we plan our rafting season,” he said.

Outflows from Dillon Dam into the Blue River reached their highest level of the season at 1,490 cubic feet per second on June 15 and are expected to drop as the runoff slows and outdoor watering picks up in Denver.

“It’s a constant balancing act,” Brady said. “We always try to meet the interests of everyone to enhance the recreational experience.”

A message in a bottle

History behind Perrier’s ad campaign feat highlights some of our favorite messages.

Perrier began advertising in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Photo credit: Erik Charlton, Flickr Creative Commons

Perrier began advertising in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Photo credit: Erik Charlton, Flickr Creative Commons

By Sabrina Hall

Perrier is often synonymous with bottled water, and understandably so — after launching an advertising campaign in the late 1970s, Perrier’s success kicked off a new beverage trend that has only grown since then. It’s projected that by the end of this year or early next year, Americans will drink more bottled water than soda.

So it piqued our interest when we saw a recent article about Perrier’s historic ad campaign, “The ad campaign that convinced Americans to pay for water.” This article highlights some of our favorite messages.

  1. As we’ve explained to Jay Z, and despite the article’s title, water isn’t free. Perrier and other bottled water companies sell bottled water that costs up to 2,000 times more than tap water. Denver Water customers pay an average of less than $3 for 1,000 gallons of water. While tap water is a bargain to say the least, utilities must operate vast collection, treatment and distribution systems to deliver this water. It’s not free.
  2. The bottled vs. tap debate usually includes a lot of misinformation, especially when it comes to water quality and price. Last year, an opinion piece in The Washington Post about the lack of trust in drinking fountains spurred a Twitter chat on the benefits that safe, affordable tap water provide to the community.
  3. Forty-five percent of all bottled water in the U.S. comes from the tap. Every so often a story comes along expressing shock that bottled water companies use tap water as the source. We don’t see this as a scandalous topic, as we proudly supply safe, high-quality drinking water to more than 1.4 million people.
  4. Ad campaigns can change behavior around water. Perrier’s campaign changed how people consume water, and created a massive new market. Denver Water’s Use Only What You Need campaign successfully achieved a goal on the other end of the spectrum — customers reduced their water use by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years.

In the early 1900s, Perrier supplied Buckingham Palace with “the champagne of waters.” At the same time, across the pond, Denver Water was planning and developing a complex water system to serve a growing population. Fast-forward 100 years, and we’d like to think we also are serving the champagne of water. Our source, after all, is champagne powder.

Fillin’ Dillon: Reservoir hits 84-billion gallon mark

Managing our biggest storage site is a balancing act of water needs, recreation and river flows.

By Jay Adams

 

 

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County filled to capacity early Monday morning, a welcome sight on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“Seeing it fill is always a relief,” said Cindy Brady, water resource engineer. “Dillon is a huge part of our water supply, so when it’s full, it means we had a good snow year.”

Dillon is Denver Water’s largest storage reservoir, capable of holding 257,304 acre-feet of water. That’s nearly 84 billion gallons or enough to fill 80 Mile High Stadiums. Dillon has hit its high mark all but nine times since it first filled in 1965.

The Blue River basin, which feeds Dillon Reservoir, also provides an average of 30 percent of Denver’s annual water supply, enough water for 320,000 homes every year.

Ten Mile Creek is one of three tributaries that drain into Dillon Reservoir.

Ten Mile Creek is one of three tributaries that drain into Dillon Reservoir.

The reservoir hit its capacity elevation of 9,017 feet above sea level on June 20, thanks to above-normal snowpack this past winter combined with efficient water use in the Denver metro area. The mountain snow runoff reached its highest point on June 11, when water from the three tributaries poured 2,048 cubic feet per second of water into the reservoir.

To put that in perspective, imagine a wall of 2,048 basketballs rolling into the river every second.

 

Denver Water built Dillon in 1963 to ensure Denver had an adequate water supply for its growing population, but the reservoir’s role has grown in the past five decades.

“Our primary goal is to fill the reservoir every year,“ Brady said. “Over the years we’ve built partnerships with the community to balance mountain snowpack and customer demand in Denver with boating on Dillon and river flows downstream.”

And that makes Dillon one of Denver Water’s most complex reservoirs to manage.

Dillon and Frisco Marinas adjust to Dillon Reservoir's changing water levels every summer.

Dillon and Frisco Marinas adjust to Dillon Reservoir’s changing water levels every summer.

“What happens in Denver has a direct correlation with Dillon’s water level,” Brady said. “If water demand goes up in Denver, more water has to be diverted under the Continental Divide to the Front Range.”

Water managers also try to minimize the impact of high water below Dillon Dam in the town of Silverthorne by regulating how much water they release from the reservoir during high springtime flows.

On June 11, outflow from the dam into the Blue River reached 1,490 cubic feet per second, without any issues or concern along the river.

Coordinating downstream water rights, maintaining a quality fish habitat and providing stable rafting flows are also taken into account in Dillon’s operating plan.

“It’s important to work with the Summit County community,” Brady said. “It’s good for us to understand their needs and it’s important that, if we can’t meet their needs, they understand why.”

Denver Water’s goal is to keep the reservoir as close to full as possible through Labor Day, but maintaining that level is dependent on weather conditions, water use in Denver and other factors.

For example, during the drought year of 2003, Denver Water pulled 162,000 acre-feet of water from Dillon through the Roberts Tunnel. The reservoir dropped to 35 feet below capacity on April 27, 2013.

Frisco Marina in Sept. 2012, shows the impact of drought and demand on Dillon Reservoir.

Frisco Marina in Sept. 2012, shows the impact of drought and demand on Dillon Reservoir.

But in 2015, after a wet spring and summer in Denver, customers let Mother Nature do the watering for them and water managers only needed 19,400 acre-feet of water from the reservoir. The reservoir filled on July 1, and remained full through Sept. 12.

“People think managing water is easy, but’s it’s really a complex matrix,” said Bob Evans, manager of the Dillon Marina. “Tourists from around the world travel here to see this place. That’s why it’s so important to work together to manage and protect this valuable resource.”

Conservation, coming to a neighborhood near you

The Water Savers offer tips and gentle reminders to residents who might be using a bit more than they need.

Water Saver Joel Hernandez, provides a customer with Denver Water’s free Water Wise Landscape Handbook with tips and tools to reduce your water use and maintain a stunning yard.

Water Saver Joel Hernandez provides a customer with Denver Water’s free Water Wise Landscape Handbook, with tips and tools to reduce water use and maintain a stunning yard.

By Tyler St. John

Facing drought conditions, the San Antonio Water Service is taking aggressive steps to conserve water by calling out the area’s top 100 residential water users.

The list shows names, exact water usage and sometimes the neighborhood of the biggest users. Added up, those 100 residences used 108 million gallons last year.

Whatever you think about that approach, the list certainly raises awareness. On top of it, San Antonio runs an array of other programs with tips on how to avoid waste.

Like Texas, Colorado is no stranger to the need to talk to customers about drought. Efforts to limit water waste and enforcement during these dry times date back to the 1930s — when a Special Inspections Division was created.

Fast forward to the drought of 2002, when field technician Jim Rael helped create the 21st-century team who worked tirelessly to write drought violations in an attempt to drastically reduce water use.

“We had to make sure everyone behaved and did what they had to do,” said Rael.

Their efforts worked and customers cut back enough to make it through the drought. Two years later the patrol took on a new name — Water Savers — and adopted a completely different approach.

A 2016 Water Saver vehicle.

A 2016 Water Saver vehicle.

“We are no longer patrolling to catch people,” said Jodi Johnson, who oversees this year’s team of seven Water Savers. “We want to get into the streets and the parks to educate our customers, not punish them.”

Water Savers can issue fines if a customer repeatedly wastes water, but they rarely need to take that step. Despite responding to 400 first-time violations in 2015, the team only had to come back for 28 second violations — without issuing a single fine.

The savers come equipped with the ability to look up individual water consumption history and review irrigation control settings right on the spot. In addition to responding to calls from neighbors and concerned members of the community, they canvas neighborhoods, knocking on doors to provide water-saving tips and tools.

Armed with a smile and a free water nozzle, Joel Hernandez is embarking on this third summer as a Water Saver. In a single day he may provide a water audit, chat with a customer working in her garden and respond to reports of daytime watering, broken sprinkler heads and other violations to the watering rules.

“It’s good to interact with customers and give them little bits of information they didn’t know about,” said Hernandez.

If you notice any significant water waste, or are curious about your own water use, call the Water Savers at 303-893-2444, or use our online form.

5 questions about getting the lead out of Denver

No amount of lead in our water is safe. But replacing potentially hazardous lead service lines is no small task.

By Travis Thompson

Lead service lines, like the one pictured here, were initially installed by builders most likely before or during the mid-1950s and are owned by customers.

Lead service lines, like the one pictured here, were initially installed by builders most likely before or during the mid-1950s and are owned by customers.

You’ve read about Flint, Michigan, a community in crisis after lead levels spiked following a series of water supply and operational changes.

This tragic failure has sparked a national dialogue on the safety of our drinking water and a positive movement to eliminate the risk of lead.

Many communities across the country are now re-examining their approaches and fixing the problem where they find it, including Denver.

Here are five questions – and answers – about getting the lead out of Denver homes:

  1. Is our drinking water safe?

First, no amount of lead in drinking water is safe.

Last year, Denver Water collected more than 35,000 samples and conducted more than 68,000 water quality tests.

Lead isn’t present in the mountain streams and reservoirs that supply our water, or in water when it leaves our treatment plants and travels through our system’s water mains.

Yet, lead can still show up in the water coming out of your home faucet. That’s because, for some homes, the service lines that bring water from the water main in the street to your home are made of lead. Household plumbing fixtures like faucets may also contain lead.

Just because a home has a lead service line, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is leaching lead into the water.

  1. So how can I find out?

The only way to know for certain if you have lead in your drinking water is to have it tested.

Call Denver Water at 303-893-2444 or use this online form and we’ll send you a sampling kit to collect the water. Then we’ll test the samples so you’ll know if you’re at risk. The sampling kit and the test are free.

You also may choose to have your water tested by an independent lab. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides a list of labs and fees.

If your water tests positive for lead, you can protect yourself by using a filter certified for lead removal. A list of filters can be found on The National Sanitation Foundation’s website. Make sure the filter is NSF Standard 53.

You may also have your service line tested to see if it is made of lead. If it is, we encourage you to replace the line. We recommend using an experienced, licensed plumber for service line testing and replacement work.

The most common source of lead in treated drinking water is a customer’s plumbing.

The most common source of lead in treated drinking water is a customer’s plumbing.

  1. Where are the lead service lines?

Pinpointing how many Denver-area properties have lead service lines and where they are is not easy.

In Denver Water’s experience, homes and buildings most likely to have lead service lines are those built before or during the mid-1950s, but we simply don’t have enough information to know exactly when and where lead was used by plumbers and builders in our service area.

We are researching regulations, plumbing codes and policies from prior decades when lead was a commonly used material for a better understanding on where lead service lines may exist in the Denver metro area.

Because Denver Water doesn’t own the service lines, we don’t have records of where the original lead service lines have been replaced with a non-lead material, such as copper.

We’re working with our available data to see if we can glean enough information to better identify homes at risk. You can help us narrow the scope of our research by calling 303-893-2444 to report if you know you have a lead service line.

  1. What’s Denver Water doing?

Long before the Flint crisis thrust lead into the national spotlight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was already working on regulatory changes and rules to guide communities and water utilities on removing lead from private service lines. But those changes are not likely for a few more years.

“We’re not waiting for the new regulations,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “The Flint situation lays bare this simple fact: Our communities will be safer in the long run with no lead service lines in the ground.”

Until new policies are developed, Denver Water has enacted an interim lead replacement plan:

When our construction crews encounter a lead service line during main breaks, pipe rehabilitation or pipe replacement, we will replace that line entirely with copper. We also will provide homeowners with detailed information regarding their water quality.

In addition, we will provide homeowners with a filter and offer to test the water at no cost after we replace the service line, because lead can still be present in internal plumbing fixtures.

  1. Who will pay to replace all those lead service lines?

That’s the toughest question of all. The American Water Works Association estimates there are 6.1 million lead service lines still in the U.S., and the estimated cost to remove them is $30 billion.

“Replacing lead lines involves shared responsibility among utilities, customers, government and other stakeholders,” said Lochhead. “As a community and as a broader society, we need to have a serious discussion on how we get the lead out.”

Those conversations have already started at local, state and federal levels. All options are on the table: changes to plumbing codes, property disclosure requirements and potential sources of funding the cost of service line replacement.

Until those policies are clear, Denver Water will continue to provide sampling kits, offer testing and other resources, and replace lead service lines when we find them as part of our regular construction efforts, Lochhead said.

 

Go to the Denver Water website to learn where water meets lead, how to know if your home is at risk and ways to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water.

Trading snowshoes for hiking boots

Summertime means playtime at Denver Water’s reservoirs, canals and canyons.

By Kim Unger

Now that winter is behind us, it’s time to swap out those parkas and snowboards and replace them with life jackets and hiking boots. This seasonal ritual is one of the many reasons why Colorado ranks No. 1 in physical activity.

Plus, there’s no shortage of opportunities for Coloradans to experience the great outdoors. If you’re seeking a quick getaway to pump-up your heart rate this summer, look no further — it’s as easy as taking a step into our backyard.

Here are four breathtaking locations:

 

Williams Fork ReservoirWilliams_Fork_camper

Disconnect from electronic distractions and reconnect with nature. Williams Fork Reservoir is just the place to take in the beauty of Colorado. Free camping is available for tents, trailers and RVs on a first-come, first-served basis. Enjoy boating, kayaking, fishing and hiking by day; campfire songs and stargazing at night.

 

 

Waterton_Canyon_StrontiaWaterton Canyon

A short drive past Chatfield Reservoir will take you to the trailhead for Waterton Canyon. The canyon offers a 6.5-mile hike to Strontia Springs Dam. It also connects to the Colorado Trail, which continues above the reservoir and all the way down to Durango. This is a great area to get the family out for bicycling, horseback riding and picnicking. Keep your eyes out for wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mule deer and more than 40 species of birds. For the protection of the bighorn sheep, dogs are not allowed in the canyon, so leave Fido at home for this one.

 

High Line CanalHighline

Designated as a National Landmark Trail, the 66-mile-long canal offers opportunities for hiking, biking, jogging, light walks and horseback riding. The canal winds through many parks with picnic tables. You can pick up the “Guide to the High Line Canal Trail” at select local bookstores or their online sites. Check out our online map.

 

 

 

 

 

dillonDillon Reservoir

Just west of the Eisenhower Tunnel sits the Town of Dillon, home to Dillon Reservoir, which is overflowing with recreational opportunities. You can hop in a canoe, kayak, sailboat or motorboat and enjoy water activities on the reservoir. If you don’t own a boat, the Dillon and Frisco marinas offer rentals. Fishing is allowed in the reservoir and the Blue River, and enthusiasts can catch arctic char. Dillon includes 344 campsites, and there are trails for hiking and bicycling. Throw in a few rounds of disc golf at the Lake Dillon course for a great way to enjoy the beauty of Summit County in a day, or even a weekend.

 

No matter what level of activity your family enjoys the many recreational hot spots in the Denver Water system will provide you with a summer bursting with outdoor fun, and adventure.

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