Posts Tagged ‘Denver Water’

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.”

Name that holiday tune

How well do you know your favorite holiday songs? Some Denver Water employees take a crack at crooning the classics.

By Steve Snyder

We’ve all done it at some point.

The radio comes on with a catchy holiday carol, and you instinctively start singing along — until you get to that part you don’t know. Suddenly a singalong turns into a hum-along.

At Denver Water, we’re proud to have people who are considered experts in their field, working in hundreds of jobs across our system. But how does their knowledge of holiday song lyrics stack up? You be the judge.

 

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.

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

 

Two small steps that add up to big water savings

Third-graders hit the streets in their neighborhood to teach adults how to make their homes more water-efficient.

By Jay Adams

 

 

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that can make the biggest difference. Just ask the people who live around Denver Green School.

This fall they opened their doors to third-grade students who taught them two simple and inexpensive ways they could save water.

With a little help from Matt Bond, Denver Water’s Youth Education manager, the students went door-to-door to ask neighbors if they’d be willing to swap out their old sink aerators and showerheads for lower-flow, high-efficiency models.

Matt Bond, youth education manager, explains how faucet aerators and showerheads can save water.

Matt Bond, youth education manager, explains how faucet aerators and showerheads can save water.

“The fixtures are easy to install and can make a big difference in the amount of water people use in their homes,” Bond said.

“It’s fun teaching people about water,” said Ahnika Campagna, one of about 50 third-graders who hit the streets. “I like teaching adults new things.”

At the first home, students found a bathroom sink with a faucet that flowed at 2.2 gallons of water per minute. They installed a new aerator that only used a half-gallon per minute.

The next stop were the showers, each of which had 2-gallon-per-minute showerheads. The group swapped out the old ones for 1.5 gallon-per-minute fixtures.

“Most people don’t even know how much water their faucets and showers use,” Bond said. “By making these simple changes, this homeowner will end up saving hundreds — perhaps thousands — of gallons of water every year.”

Denver Green School teachers Julie Yonkus and Emily Detmer worked with Bond to develop the water education unit for their students. In past years, the kids went around the neighborhood and put up “Use Only What You Need” yard signs.

Students learned how low-flow faucet aerators can save water.

Students gained first-hand experience about how simple steps in the home can reduce water consumption.

“This year, we wanted to do something that was really hands-on and could made an immediate difference in the amount of water being used in our community,” Yonkus said. “This was a great way to take what we learned about water in the classroom and apply it in the real world.”

Homeowner Donna Pate appreciated the water-saving tips. “I had no idea there were so many simple things I could do to save water,” she said.

“We hope the students take what they’ve learned, hold onto that knowledge for the rest of their lives and share it with their family, friends and neighbors,” Detmer said.

Warm weather, wildfires and watersheds

How reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires improves the quality of water flowing into our reservoirs.

By Steve Snyder

Not cool, bro.

Land near Cheesman Reservoir was severely damaged after the 2002 Hayman Fire.

Watershed lands near Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir were severely damaged after the 2002 Hayman Fire.

That’s one way to describe the warm, dry fall we experienced in Colorado this year, not only from a temperature standpoint, but from a broader view of what these conditions mean to our water supply.

Denver Water gets almost all of its supply from mountain snowmelt, so the lack of snow so far is a bit concerning. But weather like this also has a big impact on another part of our system — our watersheds. As melting snow travels downhill, it may pass through forests, farmland and even commercial, industrial and urban areas. This land is called a watershed, and it directly impacts the quality of water that eventually gathers in Denver Water’s reservoirs.

And warm fall weather only increases the risk of wildfires in our watersheds. In fact, a recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the effects of climate change are making forests in the Western United States drier and easier to burn, thus increasing the risk for large, catastrophic wildfires.

“Catastrophic wildfires in our watersheds have impacts on so many levels,” said Christina Burri, a watershed scientist at Denver Water. “They are devastating for communities and the environment, but they also impact our water quality. When water runs through watersheds scorched by catastrophic fires, rainfall picks up sediment and ash which harms the water quality in our streams and reservoirs.”

Climate change makes it even more challenging to protect watersheds against catastrophic wildfires, she said. “This year is a perfect example. The wildfire season is longer, and the risks are greater.”

But Denver Water works with other agencies and local communities to mitigate those risks, Burri said.

From Forests to Faucets, a partnership between Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service, focuses on forest treatment and watershed protection projects in priority watersheds critical to Denver Water’s water supply.

Through the Upper South Platte Partnership, Denver Water works with local landowners, government officials and other community members to manage forests and protect and improve the health of the watershed in counties where our water supplies flow.

And Denver Water planners work directly with communities to ensure public drinking water resources are kept safe from future contamination. Denver Water worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Coalition for the Upper South Platte to create a source water protection plan for the Upper South Platte Watershed and implement that plan with Park, Douglas, Jefferson, and Teller counties.

A restored and thinned forest in Jefferson County in the Upper South Platte Watershed.

A restored and thinned forest in Jefferson County in the Upper South Platte watershed is much less susceptible to catastrophic wildfires.

“Our watersheds are the first filter through which our source waters run,” said Burri. “We have a really good source of water in our system, but if we don’t have a healthy filter for it, it causes more challenges down the line when we treat water. We have to make sure those filters are in the best shape possible.”

Preserving the environment and promoting high-quality water. Now that is cool, bro.

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.”

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