Archive for the ‘Water Management’ Category

Early season turnaround bodes well for water supply

Despite a parched start to winter, snowpack levels are on track thanks to a snowy December and early 2017 storms.

Denver Water's Winter Park crew works around the clock to ensure facilities are accessible during snowstorms.

Denver Water’s Winter Park crew works around the clock to ensure facilities are accessible during snowstorms.

By Travis Thompson

Like carpenters, water supply managers use an assortment of tools to get the job done. But instead of tape measures and hammers, their tool boxes are filled with charts and graphs, computer models and good old-fashioned experience.

With 80 percent of Denver’s water supply coming from snowmelt, no tool is used more during the winter months than the charts showing snowpack levels in the mountains above Denver Water’s facilities.

And this year is proving to be one of the more interesting in recent memory.

With more than half of the snow season still ahead, water managers have already seen near historic lows and highs to kick off the winter.

“Our team was starting to sweat a little bit this fall — literally and figuratively — with the unseasonably warm and dry weather,” said Dave Bennett, water supply manager for Denver Water.

In late November, snowpack levels in areas feeding the streams and rivers that flow into Denver’s mountain reservoirs were only 10 percent to 20 percent of normal.

Denver Water’s reservoirs were still above average because of the good water years carried over from 2014 and 2015, as well as efficient water use in the Denver metro area.

But the dry start to winter had Denver Water planners on edge.

“I knew that a couple of good storms would have us back to normal,” said Bennett. “It was too early to panic — well, that’s what I kept telling myself at least.”

Thankfully, he was right.

On Jan. 5, water supply manager Dave Bennett talked to 9News reporter Colleen Ferreira about the improved snowpack levels in Denver Water's collection area.

On Jan. 5, water supply manager Dave Bennett talked to 9News reporter Colleen Ferreira about the improved snowpack levels in Denver Water’s collection area.

In December, Denver Water’s Colorado River basin collection area received almost double the amount of accumulation than normal, with approximately 60 inches, making it the sixth snowiest December for this area over the past four decades.

Similarly, the South Platte River basin collection area that feeds Denver’s reservoirs received approximately 40 inches of snow compared to the normal 20 inches, making it the fifth snowiest December in this location over the same 40-year time period.

Couple that with the early 2017 snowstorms, and snowpack levels are now 137 percent and 128 percent of normal in the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds — and, it’s still snowing!

It was such a significant turn of events that Bennett was featured on 9News, talking about the importance of the recent snow, not only for water supply but also for Colorado’s greatest asset: outdoor recreation.

“I’ve never seen an early season turnaround like it,” said Bennett. “But we still have a long way to go. A lot can happen between now and spring — the months we rely on the most for snowpack are still ahead of us.”

snowpack-combined-stacked

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.

Why Denver water costs more in the ‘burbs

In 2017, some suburban customers will pay about $100 more for their water. Here’s how it breaks down.

View of mountains looking down Littleton main street.

A section of Main Street in Littleton, Colorado. The city of Littleton has been one of Denver Water’s 66 distributors since 1970. Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Wikimedia Commons

By Travis Thompson and Kim Unger

When it comes to water bills, no two customers are alike. Denver Water bills are highly individualized, based on customers’ overall consumption and how much water they use indoors vs. outdoors, among other factors.

To further complicate the matter, your water rates will be higher if you live in the suburbs and receive Denver Water.

But why?

It comes down to history. Denver Water was formed in 1918 to serve the City and County of Denver. For decades, we only could serve water to the suburbs on a year-to-year basis. In 1959, the Denver City Charter was changed to allow permanent leases of water to the suburbs based on two conditions: 1) there always would be an adequate supply for the citizens of Denver, and 2) suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount.

When determining 2017 rates, which you can read about in “Your water bill is going up (slightly). Here’s why,” we worked with our suburban partners to develop a system that provides those communities with a fair and stable additional charge. It looks like this:

First, the fixed monthly charge on your bill is the same no matter where you live. This part of the bill is determined by the size of your meter. Most residential customers have a 3/4-inch meter and will pay $11.86 each month, suburbs and city alike.

For suburban customers, the full cost of service, plus the additional amount per the city charter is then factored in.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Total Service customers pay the highest rates because they receive the same services as Denver customers. That means Denver Water employees work in these outlying areas to operate and maintain the infrastructure, provide customer service and much more. Next year, a typical customer who uses 115,000 gallons of water will pay an average of $678. In 2017, that’s $106 more than a comparable city-dweller.

Read and Bill customers pay the second-highest rates. They receive Denver water, along with some basic services, like reading meters and sending bills. But we don’t provide system maintenance and repairs; that work is handled by the suburban distributor. A Read and Bill customer that uses 115,000 gallons of water can expect to pay about $573 next year, roughly the same as the city equivalent.

And finally, there are Master Meter customers. These are not residential customers, but cities that buy treated water at a wholesale rate.

Learn more about our relationship with residential customers who receive a Denver Water bill, and what 2017 water rates mean for those receiving a Denver Water bill:

denver and suburbs 2017 rates infographic

 

Hidden underground, and ready to go with the flow

Whatever the demand, 30 storage tanks ensure reliable water delivery. Here’s how we keep them ready.

By Kim Unger

How many times do you turn on the faucet or flush the toilet every day? Is it the same amount, at the same time, every time? Probably not. No matter when or how often you need safe, clean water from your tap, it’s right there waiting. But how?

Underground storage tanks.

Inside a water storage tank

A peek inside one of Ashland’s new storage tanks. Construction is expected to wrap up in June 2017.

You may not realize it, but Denver Water has 30 tanks across our service area. They provide a buffer to allow our treatment plants to operate at consistent flows, while the tanks handle the highs and lows of water demands. This reduces energy costs and strain at the treatment plants, and it means that you never have to wait for treated water.

Just like pipes, dams and treatment plant equipment within our water system, storage tanks need maintenance and repairs to ensure reliability. Over the past few years, Denver Water has been replacing and upgrading the tanks, making sure we can provide water well into the future.

Take a look at this animated video to see how storage tanks work — and preview an upcoming project in southeast Denver.

When Mother Nature flakes out, just add water

Water-sharing agreements provide yearly snowmaking operations for six Summit and Grand county ski areas.

By Jay Adams

 

 

It’s finally starting to look a lot like winter in the Colorado Rockies — just a little later than normal. Mother Nature delivered some much-needed snow at the end of November to boost a ski season that’s been dealing with warmer temperatures and limited snow this fall.

Luckily, ski runs have a solid base waiting for fresh powder, thanks to snowmaking and a helping hand from Denver Water.

Resorts typically rely on early-season snowmaking to cover the slopes. In years when Mother Nature is slow to deliver, snowmaking operations are even more critical to the ski industry.

Snowboarders at Arapahoe Basin

Snowboarders enjoy early-season conditions on man-made snow at Arapahoe Basin.

“If we didn’t have snowmaking right now, we wouldn’t be open,” said Alan Henceroth, chief operating officer at Arapahoe Basin ski area in Summit County. “We can’t make snow without water.”

Enter Denver Water.

Through a water-sharing agreement with Denver Water, A-Basin diverts water from the North Fork of the Snake River and stores it in a small retention pond at the bottom of the ski area. The ski area then pumps the water up the mountain to 20 snowmaking machines.

“When we’re at full capacity, we’re using 1,000 gallons of water per minute,” Henceroth said.

Denver Water has senior water rights in Summit County, but allows A-Basin to borrow 97.4 million gallons of water each ski season to make snow. The ski area returns the water in the spring when the snow melts and flows into the streams and rivers that feed Dillon Reservoir — Denver Water’s largest storage facility.

Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Frisco Adventure Park, Keystone and Winter Park also have similar agreements with the utility, which shares 1.1 billion gallons of water with the ski areas each year.

“Letting them redirect water from the streams onto the mountain is a way to get multiple uses out of every drop,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “The ski areas get their water to make snow, and we catch it after they use it.”

Denver Water has very senior water rights in Grand and Summit counties dating back to the 1920s and 1940s before their resorts were open or made snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

A 1985 agreement with Summit County allowed Denver Water to share water for snowmaking in the county.

The 1992 Clinton Reservoir Agreement and the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided the additional framework for ski areas to borrow Denver’s water rights to divert water from streams in Grand and Summit counties.

“The agreements show that people on both sides of the divide can work together and manage water so it benefits as many people as possible,” Bennett said.

Because 20 percent of the water is lost to evaporation in the snowmaking process, the ski areas have their own additional water rights stored in Clinton Reservoir that would be used to pay back the lost water, if needed, during a severe drought.

“When it comes to water, we’re all connected,” Henceroth said. “We’ll ski on the snow this winter, and next summer they might be drinking it down in Denver.”

Fraser Flats gets ready for environmental makeover

Grand County project aims to bring more bugs, bigger trout and better fishing to a stretch of the Fraser River.

By Jay Adams

 

 

A stretch of the Fraser River in Grand County is on tap for a makeover. It’s a $200,000 environmental endeavor that marks the first river restoration project led by Learning By Doing — a partnership between East and West Slope water stakeholders aimed at restoring, enhancing and improving the rivers and streams of Grand County.

On Sept. 27, members of the Learning By Doing team toured a 0.9-mile section of the river north of the town of Fraser where the restoration project will take place.

The Learning By Doing team included representatives from Trout Unlimited, Grand County, Denver Water and the Colorado River District.

During the kick-off gathering, the group reviewed plans to rehabilitate the river with Freestone Aquatics — a fisheries consulting company specializing in stream restoration.

Members of Learning By Doing tour the Fraser Flats on Sept. 27

Members of Learning By Doing tour the Fraser Flats on Sept. 27.

“The goal of the project is to enhance this stretch of the Fraser River,” said Jessica Alexander, environmental scientist at Denver Water. “The project will improve the habitat for aquatic life and create a better environment for trout.”

Over the years, the health of the river has declined due to diversions to the Front Range and ranching activities.

“This stretch has reduced depth of water over a wide channel, so we don’t have the healthy fish habitat we’d like to see,” said Katherine Morris, Grand County water quality specialist.

Clint Packo, Freestone Aquatics president, said the natural flow of the river has changed, but the size of the channel has stayed the same. “Instead of having a river that’s wide and shallow, we’ll build a channel-within-a-channel, so water can funnel into a narrower section,” he said.

The new channel will include stretches of fast-moving water, pools and other river features designed to benefit aquatic life regardless of changes in river flows. “All of these features create small spaces for aquatic insects to live in, which will give the fish a sustainable food source,” said Alexander.

Next spring and summer, volunteers will plant 4,000 native plants and bushes along the banks to shade the river and keep water temperatures cool.

The stretch of the Fraser River will be reconfigured to have a narrower, deeper stream channel to improve aquatic life.

The stretch of the Fraser River will be reconfigured to have a narrower, deeper stream channel to improve aquatic life during low-flow periods.

There also will be a newly created public fishing access point to a portion of the river. “This is a good project for the county,” Morris said. “The public access will be great for anglers.”

Construction is set to begin in fall 2017 and expected to take about six weeks to complete. Grand County, Learning By Doing partners, a private landowner and a grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife are funding the project.

“This collaborative project ensures that Denver is able to get its water supply and we still maintain a healthy ecosystem,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter. “This will be a healthier stream and one that fishes really well.”

How much water can a reservoir really hold?

With its sophisticated sonar equipment, ‘Reservoir Dog’ presents a clearer picture of our water storage capacity.  

Jason Ellis, survey senior tech, conduct bathymetric survey on Cheesman Reservoir.

Jason Ellis, survey senior tech, conducts a bathymetric survey on Cheesman Reservoir.

By Kristi Delynko

With a likeness to Captain Nemo and his Nautilus submarine, Angelo Martinez expertly steers his vessel — known as “Reservoir Dog” — through Cheesman Reservoir. But unlike Nemo, survey supervisor Martinez doesn’t need a submarine to see what’s at the bottom. Denver Water uses bathymetric surveying, sonar and GPS technology to map the contours of the reservoir floor.

Like the Nautilus — depicted as ahead of its time in Jules Verne’s classic novel — Reservoir Dog houses some pretty sophisticated equipment. The department upgraded its survey instruments this year, allowing the team to more efficiently gather data with a more expansive sonar reach.

In a single day, surveyors can now gather up to 10 million data points — an increase of almost 9 million from previous technologies. This data must then be processed and analyzed. “It’s a lengthy process to work through all the data and ensure it’s accurate before bringing it into GIS software,” said Brad Geist, surveyor.

Angelo Martinez, survey supervisor, explains the remote station the team sets up to ensure a strong signal when Reservoir Dog is out on the water

Angelo Martinez, survey supervisor, explains the remote station the team sets up to ensure a strong signal when Reservoir Dog is out on the water.

Once analyzed, the information can be used by a variety of Denver Water departments, including engineering and planning.

The last time Denver Water surveyed the bottom of Cheesman was in 2013. That bathymetric survey showed evidence of the lasting damage from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and 2002 Hayman Fire, when fires charred the land, creating sediment that washes into the reservoir when it rains.

“With the fires damaging the reservoir’s watershed, a large amount of sediment gets washed into the reservoir, which decreases the storage capacity over time,” Geist said. “The data we gather this year can be compared to 2013 to see how this sediment impacts capacity, and in which areas of the reservoir it tends to accumulate.”

As environmental variables change over time, Denver Water planners want to know exactly how much water the reservoirs can hold. Bathymetric surveying is one way to help plan for future storage.

“I’m not sure of any other water utility in Colorado doing bathymetric surveying at this level,” Geist said.

While no sea monsters have been spotted thus far, the team has made some interesting finds at the bottom of the reservoirs, including roads in Dillon Reservoir and an old railroad grade in Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir.

Take a ride with Martinez on Reservoir Dog.

Reservoir Dog, ready for action, at Cheesman Reservoir.

Reservoir Dog, ready for action, at Cheesman Reservoir.

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