Posts Tagged ‘Denver Water’

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.”

Cyber Monday shopping list: clothes, shoes — and water?

On the web’s busiest shopping day of the year, choose the online option to pay your bill and check your water use.

By Kristi Delynko

Michael Amireh, customer care representative

Michael Amireh, along with all Denver Water customer care representatives, is able to help customers get started with online self-service.

It’s Cyber Monday — Black Friday’s more civil, convenient and efficient sibling. According to Forbes, Cyber Monday could match or beat Black Friday in sales this year, and nearly two in five of those Americans making purchases will use their smart phones.

So whether you’re at work (we won’t tell), or shopping from the comfort of your home, here’s something else you can do online: Pay your water bill.

(You knew we were headed somewhere with this.)

Denver Water launched online self-service in 2015, said Michelle Garfield, customer relations manager for Denver Water. Since then, about 45,000 customers access online self-service each month.

Online self-service is secure and convenient, Garfield said. In addition to paying their water bills, customers can view up to two years of their billing and payment history, as well as their water use.

While many customers (and shoppers) like the online option, others still want to do it the old-fashioned way. In fact, Denver Water customer care representatives answer more than 19,000 calls per month, many of them related to billing.

Jose Valero Jr., customer care representative

With more than 19,000 calls coming into Customer Care each month, Jose Valero Jr. is prepared to help customers with a variety of questions.

During last year’s holiday season, for example, customer care representative Wendy Sutherland answered a call from a customer concerned about a high water bill. Sutherland set up an appointment with a field technician, who discovered a leak in the customer’s home.

Afterward, Sutherland encouraged the customer to repair the leak, and when she did, Denver Water provided a leak adjustment, putting money back in her pocket just in time for holiday shopping.

While your own credit card is at-the-ready for holiday deals this Cyber Monday, why not give online payment a try?

And if you need help getting started, go low-tech: Give our customer care representatives a call at 303-893-2444.

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.”

This ain’t no holiday pleasure cruise

From medicine to mechanic, Navy vet recalls life on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and how he arrived at Denver Water.

By Kristi Delynko

Nick Montez prepares F18 pilot for take-off.

Focused on safety and preparation, Nick Montez helped this F18 pilot get ready for take-off during combat flight operations.

Imagine living on a cruise ship at sea for months at a time.

But instead of an evening buffet with all-you-can-eat shrimp and baked Alaska, there’s a mess deck with roll-away benches seating about 5,000 people. You heap on the Texas Pete hot sauce to give your meal a little flavor.

Instead of a private cabin with an ocean view and in-room bottle service, your berthing accommodations consist of a fold-up rack of coffin-sized bunks stacked three-high.

And instead of elaborate and splashy production shows, your evening entertainment is an F-14 Tomcat screaming toward the deck of your ship, precisely snagging its tailhook on an arresting wire to land.

This is no luxury liner — you are aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, where you must always be prepared for the unexpected.

That was life for Nick Montez on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Just 18 years old when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, he was inspired to put his college schooling on hold to join the Navy.

Montez on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Montez in the flight deck battle station of the USS Theodore Roosevelt during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After boot camp and intense medical training, Montez was deployed as a hospital corpsman. He spent seven months in the Persian Gulf as an aerospace medic, conducting physicals and health safety checks for flight crews and pilots, and providing emergency medical response for flight deck personnel.

“Working on the flight deck is organized chaos, especially at night,” Montez said. “There’s so much going on all the time and you have to stay alert. You have jets taking off just as others are coming in to land — and all of this happening in the confined space of a Navy ship’s flight deck.”

While Montez saw many terrible accidents while working the flight deck, he chooses to reflect on the positive memories. “I have many lifelong friends I met while in the military, and the camaraderie I experienced during my service helped me get through the hard times,” he said.

After five years of service, Montez left the Navy and returned to college to study business management.

In 2007, as the economy began to falter and eventually crash, Montez couldn’t find a job. His military medical skills didn’t translate to the private sector, and he lacked the civilian training and certifications required to be a paramedic. A career change was in order.

Having spent a summer working in Denver Water’s electrical shop prior to his enlistment, Montez returned to Denver Water to pursue a new career. He secured a job in building maintenance and shortly after moved into a trade helper position.

The teamwork and sense of community his co-workers offered made the transition from military life easier. “Finding work was really hard after I got out of the Navy, and I’m lucky Denver Water gave me an opportunity.”

Denver Water recognizes the difficultly veterans can have finding employment after leaving the service and explaining their job skills in a way that translates into the private sector, said Loren Robinson, a talent specialist for Denver Water. With more than 70 veterans currently on staff, Denver Water actively recruits qualified veterans for positions and supports them once they are employed.

“The military produces highly trained individuals in technology, water treatment, engineering, science and many other areas that are a great fit for many of Denver Water’s skilled positions,” said Robinson.

Montez on flight deck during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A brief moment of calm, Montez stands on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the middle of the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Denver Water’s Veteran’s Network offers support during the transition into the private sector and provides the camaraderie that many miss from their military environments, he added.

Now working as a maintenance mechanic, Montez is glad Denver Water gave him a chance nine years ago to show his skills and grow his career.

“The military helped me build many life skills and instilled work ethic, teamwork and dependability in me, which has served me well at Denver Water,” he said. “Those who serve truly make a sacrifice, and I think that’s something to be proud of.”

Reflecting on his own military experience, Montez urges others to honor veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces.

“This Veterans Day, consider what you were doing when you were 18 years old, and remember that many men and women — some very young  — were on a battlefield, or out at sea, in a war, defending our country’s freedom.”

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.”

It’s Halloween. Do you know where your IT guy is?

How one mild-mannered technologist transforms himself into the Crypt Keeper for the scariest night of the year.

By Kristi Delynko

Patrick McCoy in a hand-sewn "Day of the Dead" zombie clown costume.

Patrick McCoy in a hand-sewn “Day of the Dead” zombie clown costume.

You hear a scream, then a door slams and the lights begin to flicker. You’re alone in the dark hallway when you feel a cold draft pass beside you. A moan rises from the floor below as a zombie emerges from the top of the staircase, dead eyes staring into your soul. …

No, this isn’t a nightmare; you’re just visiting the home of Patrick McCoy, IT application developer for Denver Water. McCoy spends his days working with technology — which admittedly, many find terrifying — and his time outside of work pursuing creative endeavors, including his passion for cheesy horror movies.

Every year, McCoy spends countless hours preparing for his favorite holiday: Halloween. As the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to change color, McCoy pulls boxes of decorations out of storage and transforms his 1885 Victorian home into a haunted destination. Complete with a graveyard, fog machines, zombies, demonic children, creepy clowns, and more, hundreds of trick-or-treaters come from near and far to test their courage at McCoy’s home.

“It’s an all-hands production,” said McCoy. “We spend thousands of dollars on candy, and many friends volunteer to help out, including several of my Denver Water co-workers.”

Holly Geist, senior records analyst for Denver Water, loves handing out candy each year to the children — and adults — brave enough to enter. “They go all out on the decorating front,” said Geist. “He brings horrifying to everything he does, including a little boy figure eating human flesh and decaying little girls singing and swaying on a porch swing.” The house does sometimes scare the younger children, she admitted.

As the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to change color, McCoy transforms his 1885 Victorian home into a haunted destination.

As the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to change color, McCoy transforms his 1885 Victorian home into a haunted destination.

So how does a guy who loves art, special effects and costuming choose a career in the field of technology?

In fact, there’s plenty of overlap there. Using technology in creative ways is simply in McCoy’s DNA.

“When I was 5, I built an alarm for my room. At age 8, I created my first stop-motion film of a space fight,” said McCoy.

“Years later, I joined the military. I wanted to write, but the military’s test determined I should go into computers.”

After serving in the Air Force, where he used satellites to find buildings and locations from space, he took a job in finance, staying far away from computers. But about 10 years later, while working on his master’s degree in web design and technologies at the University of Denver, he found a renewed interest in IT. “I was able to find creativity in web design, which helped re-energize me,” he said.

Although IT allows McCoy to tap into his creativity occasionally at Denver Water, he fuels his artistic passion outside of the office sculpting, painting and designing costumes.

In addition to preparing his house for Halloween, McCoy puts even more effort into designing and creating his elaborate Halloween costumes each year, a passion he discovered in 2003. He ran a small video production company and took courses in makeup and costume design to help the business.

Those classes inspired him to learn more about creating masks and special effects, and sparked an interest in sewing and costume design.

It took a year for McCoy to finish this tree dragon costume, made from bark from a tree in his backyard.

It took a year for McCoy to finish this tree dragon costume, made from bark from a tree in his backyard.

He finds inspiration in unusual places. His adopted terrier/border collie, Phil, was the catalyst for a hand-sewn dog/werewolf costume. (“I don’t think people really knew what to make of it,” he said.) And the bark from a tree in his backyard spurred a tree dragon character, a design that McCoy worked on every weekend for an entire year. It comprised 150 custom pieces of molded, hand-painted bark that he sewed to the costume by hand. In the end, it weighed 150 pounds.

When McCoy began working at Denver Water in 2013, he was excited to enter the employee Halloween costume contest.

In 2015, he hand-sewed a 1860s style suit for a “Day of the Dead” zombie clown costume. “It was quite literally custom,” said McCoy. “I’m self-taught, and I don’t know how to create patterns or use a sewing machine, so I actually held the pieces of fabric up to myself and sewed them together that way.” He completed the look using clay to sculpt foam into a handmade mask with a silicone brain to top it off. That hard work paid off, as he landed second place in the contest, coming in right behind the Finance team dressed as a roller-coaster.

McCoy continues to find ways to marry his love of cheesy horror movies and creative spirit with his interest in technology. “My next endeavor is to learn more about animatronics and electronics so I can create moving puppets.”

That will really raise the creepiness threshold at his house this Halloween, for sure.

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