Archive for the ‘Denver Water @ Work’ Category

Faces behind the tap: A photo year in review

Take a journey through the water system and meet some of the 1,100 experts working day and night to keep the water flowing.

Jessica Mahaffey jumping for joy at Williams Fork Reservoir

Jessica Mahaffey, Denver Water’s marketing specialist, back at Williams Fork Reservoir where she grew up as a caretakers daughter.

By Travis Thompson

The best part of my job is going behind the scenes with experts across hundreds of different specialties to help tell the story of Denver Water.

I’ve gone underground with crews upgrading the water distribution system, battled a blaze with first responders during a multi-alarm fire and even hit the slopes with scientists planning for climate change.

While each piece is unique, the one constant is the dedicated and experienced employees behind each story.

With more than 1,100 professionals working around the clock, there’s a good chance you’re more connected to these experts than you think. A parent at your child’s school, someone in your book club or even a relative may be part of the Denver Water family.

As 2016 comes to an end, we’re taking a look back at these water pros in action, working hard to ensure you’ve had a clean and reliable drinking supply this year — and for many more to come.

Who knows, you may even recognize a face or two.

Cheers!

Breaking point: Temperature swings tough on water pipes

With the ups and downs of winter weather in Colorado, repair crews are clamping down on main breaks across Denver.

By Jay Adams

 

 

Denver winters can feel like a rollercoaster ride — cold and snowy one day, mild and sunny the next. All those ups and downs make for interesting weather forecasts, but those temperature swings also take a toll on water mains under city streets.

Through Dec. 20, Denver Water crews had fixed more than 318 water main breaks this year. Of those, nearly 20 percent were linked to dramatic changes in temperature.

Temperature breaks, technically called “shear breaks,” are caused when the ground shifts due to changes in the weather.

Shear breaks occur during prolonged cold spells and fast warm-ups.

When temperatures drop, the ground freezes, causing water molecules inside the soil to expand. The longer the temperature stays below freezing, the deeper the frost layer stretches below the surface. The frozen soil puts stress on top of the pipes and can cause them to crack.

A pipeline mechanic removes dirt from a broken water main to identify the leak.

A pipeline mechanic removes dirt from a broken water main to identify the leak.

Pipes are also prone to crack when the weather warms up quickly after a cold spell. As the ground warms, the water molecules shrink and the ground shifts.

“The ground freezes and thaws all the time during the winter here in Denver,” said Ed Romero, water distribution foreman. “Any little bit of movement in the ground can end up splitting a pipe.”

Crews can identify a temperature break because the crack looks like a line was drawn around the pipe with a marker.

Older pipes are more vulnerable to temperature breaks due to the ongoing stress of the freeze and thaw cycle over time.

Denver Water crews can usually fix a temperature break by digging up the street and placing a stainless steel repair clamp around the crack on the pipe.

Pipeline mechanics bolting on a repair clamp, which is commonly used to fix water mains after temperature breaks.

Pipeline mechanics bolting on a repair clamp, which is commonly used to fix water mains after temperature breaks.

“Repair clamps are very effective ways to fix broken water mains after a temperature break,” Romero said. “The clamp forms a tight seal and will not let any water out of the pipe.”

When pipes are replaced or installed, Denver Water reduces the risk of temperature breaks by putting a sand-gravel mix around the pipes to provide a cushion when the ground shifts.

Temperature swings and ground shifts are just one cause of water main breaks. Other factors include age and material of the pipe, corrosion, the type of soil and the amount of water pressure running through the pipe. All of these factors can weaken sections of the water main and lead to more complicated breaks and repairs.

“We see lots of temperature extremes here in Denver and lots of different types of pipe breaks,” Romero said. “Some breaks are easy to fix, others can take hours, even days to repair.”

All in a day’s — or night’s — work

On the shortest day of the year, the sun sets early, but you still need water. We’ll be there.

By Kristi Delynko

Dec. 21 is the winter solstice, the shortest day — and longest night — of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. And while many of us use an early sunset as an excuse to curl up on the couch with a good book or movie, some Denver Water employees will be hard at work — no matter how short the daylight hours.

Ensuring 1.4 million people receive high-quality drinking water is a 24/7 operation. Here’s a glimpse at what some of our employees will be doing long after the sun sets.

Emergency services conducts night work to repair a leak

A customer calls the emergency services dispatcher to report water bubbling up in the middle of a busy intersection. Even in the dark, members of the Emergency Services team are Denver Water’s first responders. They handle anything from shutting off water so crews can repair pipe breaks, to supporting Denver firefighters during multi-alarm blazes, to assisting customers with water quality complaints.

 

Daniel Ruvalcaba, senior utility technician, works on repairing an underground leak

Water mains burst when they want to, and usually at inopportune times, like when it’s dark and chilly. After Emergency Services responds to a call, a Water Distribution crew — including senior utility technician Daniel Ruvalcaba — fix the problem so customers can have water service restored as soon as possible.

 

Water treatment plant supervisor David Brancio

Long after many of us have gone to bed, staff at our four water treatment plants are hard at work. They gear up overnight when water use is low, to ensure the plants can meet customers’ needs during the day, when demand is higher. Our three drinking water plants and recycling plant are staffed around-the-clock by operators and maintenance personnel like water treatment plant supervisor David Brancio, who monitor the treatment processes and run lab tests to ensure the water we deliver (sometimes at the rate of 350,000 gallons a minute) meets all the federal and state regulations, and even tighter Denver Water standards.

 

Distribution operator Albert Geist monitors our complex water system

Coffee percolates and the dark room glows from monitors that cover entire walls in Systems Operations (also known as Load Control). Distribution operators like Albert Geist work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, scanning various computer screens to make sure our 30 treated water reservoirs, more than 3,000 miles of pipe, 160 pressure zones and 22 pump stations are ready for the morning load as our customers wake and prepare for their day. With a water system as large and complex as ours, pumps, facilities, even entire pipelines occasionally go down for service, maintenance or repair. Operators must constantly respond to alarms that signal potential real-time problems with everything from equipment and instrumentation to water quality and pressure.

We provide customers an average of 64 billion gallons of high-quality drinking water and 2 billion gallons of treated recycled water every year. No small task, but it’s all in a day’s — or night’s — work at Denver Water.

Your water bill is going up (slightly). Here’s why

That small increase helps us make big system upgrades, ensure water reliability and plan for future needs.

By Steve Snyder

 

Nobody likes to pay a bill.

No matter how much you like a service or how essential it may be, handing over your hard-earned money to somebody else — particularly if that bill often increases from year to year — is never fun.

But when it comes to your water bill, the simple fact is the cost of running a complex water system continues to rise. Your bill helps to maintain and upgrade a vast infrastructure that allows us to collect, treat and deliver safe, reliable water, while also providing for essential fire protection services.

You’ll see some slight increases in your water bill starting April 1, 2017. Here are the answers to three questions you may be asking:

  1. Why are you raising my rates?
crews placing concrete for storage tank at Hillcrest

Crews work to place the concrete floor of one of the new Hillcrest treated water storage tanks on Dec. 10. Denver Water is in the middle of a $100 million project to improve the safety and reliability of its Hillcrest facility by replacing two 15-million-gallon underground water storage tanks with three 15-million-gallon tanks, and a pump station.

We have a large, intricate system with a lot of aging infrastructure. With a 5-year, $1.3 billion capital plan, we’re staying on top of the upgrades and new projects needed to keep this system running.

(Watch the video at the top of the page to see the kinds of projects, like replacing failing underground storage tanks and aging pipes.)

To keep up with this necessary work, we are increasing the monthly fixed charge on your bill to help us even out our revenues over the year so we can repair and upgrade our system. This means less reliance on revenues from how much water customers use, which has become increasingly difficult to predict in recent years given the more frequent and extreme weather fluctuations.

  1. How much is my water bill going up?

That depends on the type of customer you are and how you use water. Your bill is comprised of a fixed monthly charge and charges for how much water you use.

Every customer will see an increase to their monthly fixed charge. If you’re like most residential customers who have a 3/4-inch meter, that charge will increase from $8.79 to $11.86 per month.

To help offset the fixed monthly charge, the charge per 1,000 gallons for many customers will see a small decrease in 2017.

Adding up those two elements, if you live in Denver and use 115,000 gallons of water a year in the same way you did in 2016, you can expect to see an annual increase of about $29, which averages out to a monthly increase of about $2.40 a month. (Summer bills are typically higher because of outdoor water use.)

If you live in the suburbs and get your water from one of our 66 distributors, your bill will be higher than Denver resident’s. That’s because the Denver City Charter requires that suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount.

  1. You ask me to use less water and then raise my rates. Am I being penalized for conservation?

We always encourage conservation and the efficient use of water. In fact, rates would be higher without our customers’ conservation efforts; we’d have to build more treatment and distribution facilities to keep up with the demand for water.

For example, your conservation efforts are saving Denver Water an estimated $155 million on a new treatment plant and storage facilities because it doesn’t have to be as big as we originally estimated. That’s $155 million we don’t have to recover through rates and charges.

No one likes paying higher bills, but consider the overall value of water. Most Denver Water customers will still pay about $3 for 1,000 gallons of water.

And while rates are going up, Denver Water is committed to keeping water affordable, particularly for the essential indoor water use that is vital for drinking, cooking and sanitation. In 2017, customers will continue to pay the lowest rate for what they use indoors.

 

If you’d like to talk over your bill with someone, contact Denver Water’s Customer Care team at 303-893-2444, and a representative will help you calculate your individual bill impacts, based on your personal water-use information.

Into the dark, under the Divide and out the other side

Inspecting Roberts Tunnel: What it’s like going through a 23-mile concrete tube thousands of feet underground.

By Jay Adams

 

 

This is not your typical road trip. Twenty-three miles long and more than 4,000 feet underground, navigating Roberts Tunnel is more like driving a convertible through a car wash in the dark.

And for the Denver Water team that inspects this critical piece of infrastructure, it’s a big task, and not for the faint of heart.

Inspection Team left to right: Nate Soule, Lithos Engineering inspector; Tim Holinka, West Slope operations supervisor; Garret Miller, Roberts Tunnel supervisor; Doug Sandrock, safety specialist; Jay Dankowski, mechanic; Erin Gleason, dam safety engineer.

Inspection team (left to right): Nate Soule, Lithos Engineering inspector; Tim Holinka, operations supervisor; Garret Miller, Roberts Tunnel supervisor; Doug Sandrock, safety specialist; Jay Dankowski, mechanic; Erin Gleason, dam safety engineer.

Starting in Summit County, Roberts Tunnel carries water from Dillon Reservoir, under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork of the South Platte River in Park County before heading on to customers in Denver. Completed in 1962, the tunnel took 16 years to build and can deliver more than 480 million gallons of water a day to the Front Range. It’s nearly as long as the Chunnel under the English Channel.

“It’s an impressive piece of engineering,” said Erin Gleason, a Denver Water dam safety engineer. “We inspect the tunnel every five years to check for debris and look for any structural issues.”

On Sept. 21, a six-person inspection team went into the tunnel entrance at Dillon Reservoir and spent four hours driving through the 10-foot diameter passageway to the tunnel’s east portal, near the town of Grant in Park County.

“When we do tunnel inspections, we’re looking for shifts and cracks in the concrete lining,” Gleason said. “We compare notes from past inspections to see if there are any changes that could lead to future problems.”

Before the inspection begins, Denver Water drains the tunnel so the team can go through, but it’s not completely dry — especially at the entry point where the tunnel runs under Dillon Reservoir.

“It’s definitely wet at the beginning,” Gleason said. “Pressure from the water in the reservoir seeps through the rock and concrete and drains into the tunnel.”

The inspection team arrives at the tunnel's eastern portal near Grant in Park County.

The inspection team arrives at the Roberts Tunnel east portal near Grant in Park County.

While the water makes for a soggy ride, Gleason said seepage is not unusual to see inside tunnels and is not considered a major problem. The tunnel is basically dry after the first mile.

“We didn’t find any defects,” said Garret Miller, Roberts Tunnel supervisor. “It was a long ride, but this is something we have to do to make sure the tunnel can deliver water to our customers.”

A tunnel engineering consultant rode with the inspection team and declared the tunnel’s concrete lining to be in excellent condition.

“It’s really a team effort to pull off inspections like this, and we had an outstanding team,” Gleason said. “With regular inspections and maintenance, this tunnel will last well into the future.”

Big drilling rigs in Denver: It’s not what you think

Fracking, new supply, noise? The truth about Denver Water’s effort to look deep underground for new places to store water.

By Jay Adams

 

 

For the past century, Denver Water has looked to our mountain reservoirs to store water. But there may be another way to save our most precious resource for future use — right under our feet.

This fall, Denver Water will drill boreholes at four locations in Denver to test a process known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery, or ASR. The technique involves pumping treated water underground into aquifers during wet years and pumping it back up to the surface in times of drought.

Denver Water drilled four boreholes in 2015, but engineers determined additional samples were needed to gather more information about the rock under Denver.

“There are years when our reservoirs fill and spill,” said Bob Peters, water resource engineer for Denver Water. “Those are the years when we would take water from our distribution system and store that water underground.”

Bob Peters, water resources engineer, at an ASR testing location in Denver.

Bob Peters, water resources engineer, visits an ASR drilling test site in Denver.

Storing water in underground aquifers may provide another option as part of Denver Water’s long-term strategy to prepare for future demand challenges including population growth and climate change.

“We might see very large gaps between our supply and demand as we look into the future, so we need to look at all possible water storage options,” said Peters.

Crews are drilling down into the Denver Basin, a collection of aquifers that can stretch more than 2,000 feet under the surface, to investigate the basin’s water-bearing and storage capacity. The basin covers an area of roughly the size of Connecticut, stretching from Greeley to Colorado Springs and from Golden to Limon.

The tests are necessary because few details are known about the rock formations under Denver.

Geologist Cortney Brand, vice president of strategic growth at Leonard Rice Engineers, is working with Denver Water on the project. He compares the rock underground to a sponge. “We know the rock can hold water. We want to know if it’s economically feasible to put water in and take it out,” Brand said.

Aquifer water storage is a more sophisticated version of what people have been doing for centuries. Projects are currently in use or under study by several communities along the Front Range, including Colorado Springs, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock.

There are two misconceptions about the big rigs people in Denver may see this fall:

The drilling tests are needed to determine the feasibility of storing water in the Denver Basin.

The drilling tests are needed to determine the feasibility of storing water in the Denver Basin.

No. 1: This is not fracking. While rigs may look similar to oil and gas rigs in northern Colorado, Denver Water is not fracking. “All we’re doing is collecting data on the groundwater aquifers that are right below our feet,” Peters said.

No. 2: Denver Water has no plans to tap into the basin for additional water supply. This project is entirely about finding a place to store excess surface water for when we might need it, Peters said.

“There are a number of benefits to underground storage,” Peters added. “You don’t have to build a new dam, it’s comparatively less expensive, there’s minimal impact on the environment and there’s less evaporation.”

The additional findings will help determine if using the aquifer for storing and extracting water is economically feasible. If results of the new bore tests are promising, Denver Water will decide whether to build a pilot well facility to continue studying the feasibility of ASR. This facility could be operational by 2019.

“This is future water supply planning in action,” Peters said. “There are always uncertainties that we need to deal with. We have to leave no stone unturned. We’re just looking to make sure our customers always have water.”

Why is all that water pouring into the street?

Flushing stagnant water out of our hydrants, all in the name of high-quality H2O.

By Steve Snyder

 

Steve Lovato gets the same question all the time.

“Why are you wasting water, especially if we’re in a drought?”

As a system quality supervisor for Denver Water, Lovato is charged with flushing more than 3,000 hydrants and blow-off valves in our distribution system. That means he opens hydrants all around the metro area — letting lots of water rush out onto the streets.

Why?

“These hydrants sit at the end of a water main, so water isn’t constantly circulating like in other parts of the system,” said Lovato. “When water sits in a pipe too long, the quality isn’t as high as when it leaves our treatment plants. Flushing the hydrants brings that water quality back to where we want it.”

So every year from April to October, Lovato and his team open hydrants to get rid of stagnant water, but not without a lot of preparation first.

“We look at the size and length of the water mains before we go out, so we have a good idea of how much water it will take to flush a particular area,” Lovato said.

On average, about 1,000 gallons of water is flushed before the water is back to Denver Water standards. That amount represents a very, very small amount of our total annual consumption — about 0.01 percent.

But as you can imagine, opening hydrants in a busy area tends to draw a crowd, so the crews put up signs and hand out informational pamphlets explaining what Denver Water is doing and why.

And boy, do people love to watch.

“We have kids come up to play in the water,” Lovato said. “We have people who fill buckets to put on their gardens and lawns.”

And yes, people ask him why we’re “wasting” so much water.

“They have a lot of questions, but when we tell them we are making sure they have high-quality water, they are very accepting of what we are doing,” Lovato added.

As the hydrants spew water, Lovato watches for clarity, while testing the temperature and water-quality levels. When everything meets Denver Water’s standards, Lovato seals the hydrant and moves on to the next stop. Each hydrant takes about 10 to 15 minutes to flush. But the impact is more lasting.

“It’s important to make sure people have great quality water,” Lovato said. “That’s the thing I love about my job.”

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