Posts Tagged ‘town of Dillon’

Calling off kindergarten in the name of water supply

Relocating Dillon to build a reservoir looks better now than in 1961, says town local turned Denver Water employee.

By Kristi Delynko

It’s said that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten. But what if you had to skip kindergarten because your school was underwater?

Joel Zdechlik, 1961

Joel Zdechlik in 1961, the year he was supposed to start kindergarten in the Town of Dillon.

While it may sound like one of those unlikely “dog ate my homework” scenarios, Joel Zdechlik spent exactly three days in kindergarten before his school in the Town of Dillon was closed and torn down to make way for Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Building the reservoir was not a popular decision among the residents of Dillon, including his parents, Zdechlik recalled.

Fast forward 50-plus years. Relations between Denver Water and the Dillon community have turned around. And Zdechlik? He’s been a water distribution manager for the past 30 years … at Denver Water.

It all started during the Great Depression, when Denver Water (then called the Denver Water Board) began buying abandoned and foreclosed property at tax sales to prepare for the reservoir.

Soon, Denver Water owned as much as three-fourths of the town, and by the mid-1950s — before Zdechlik was born — began holding public meetings with the community to plan for the town’s relocation to a 142-acre site on a ridge about a mile north.

Joel Zdechlik, 1962

In 1962, Joel Zdechlik got to skip kindergarten and spend the winter skiing and playing outside when the town was vacated to make way for Dillon Reservoir.

In what would become the largest storage reservoir in Denver Water’s system, capable of holding nearly 84 billion gallons of water (or filling 80 Mile High Stadiums), the importance of the Dillon Reservoir was clear from the start. But there were advantages for the town as well, including economic opportunities from the recreation and tourism the reservoir was certain to generate.

On July 1, 1960, Denver Water and the Town of Dillon signed an agreement that the town’s properties would be vacated by Sept. 15, 1961.

That’s when Zdechlik got to live every kid’s dream: After less than a week of school, kindergarten was canceled for the remainder of the year. Zdechlik and seven other children in his class put their academic responsibilities on hold until first grade, while older students in the Town of Dillon completed their school year in Frisco.

At first, the kids thought the school closing was their fault. “We had a mud pie fight one of those first days, and we all thought they canceled school because of that,” Zdechlik recalled. “I spent the year playing in the sandbox, skiing, playing outside and just being a kid.”

The old Dillon School

The old Dillon School, before it was demolished in 1962.

But what was a happy time for Zdechlik was a period of great conflict. With about 500 residents, not everyone in Dillon was happy with the acquisitions, or the promised benefits. Some residents expected more money for their properties, and business owners had to deal with the logistics of relocating their operations.

Resentment toward Denver Water was still simmering in 1986, when Zdechlik accepted a position with the utility.

“My parents threatened to disown me, but it was a job with stability and long-term potential — how could I turn it down?” he said.

Zdechlik is now responsible for strategic decisions for the entire water distribution system. During his career he has watched perceptions of Denver Water shift from a steamrolling “land grabber” to a more collaborative partner.

Demolition of the old Dillon School

The old Dillon School was one of the last buildings demolished in the town.

In its new location along the shoreline of the reservoir, Dillon is a popular spot for boating, fishing, camping, hiking, biking and outdoor events. As predicted, recreation is a vital component to Dillon’s economy, with $3.46 million contributed annually from visitor spending in the region.

Today, recreation in the area is managed cooperatively by the interagency Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee (known as “DRReC), comprised of Denver Water, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco, Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service.

A few people may still carry a grudge from the old days, but Zdechlik said the community’s opinion of Denver Water has certainly changed. “The reservoir is vital to Dillon’s economy and is an important part of recreation and tourism in the area. Although the building of Dillon Reservoir was contentious at the time, I’m very proud to say I work for Denver Water.

“In the end,” he added, “I have Denver Water to thank for a lot — and not just for giving me a year off school.”

New kids on the block — on tour!

I joined my fellow newbies to get a first-hand look at Denver Water’s collection system.

By Kristi Delynko

Employees board a pontoon boat and head out across Dillon Reservoir to see operations from the water.

Employees board a pontoon boat and head out across Dillon Reservoir to see operations from the water.

Did you know the town of Dillon used to be located right underneath where Dillon Reservoir is today? Or that Williams Fork Dam’s hydroelectric plant generates enough electricity to help power the remote mountain communities that surround the reservoir?

These are just a few of the fun facts I learned last week on a tour of Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. Not everyone gets to see the inside of a hydroelectric plant, or go behind the scenes at a reservoir, but as a newbie at Denver Water, I was able to join 41 other employees to get a special look inside Denver Water’s operations.

Denver Water offers training programs and tours to help employees through the onboarding process. And let me tell you, what we do at Denver Water is complex, making the learning curve pretty steep.

“It’s important for employees to see the entire system to understand the role each of them plays in delivering safe, quality drinking water,” said Arleen Hernandez, learning and organizational development coordinator.

My colleagues and I piled onto a tour bus and traveled into the mountains to get a first-hand look at Denver Water’s collection system. Along the way, Dave Bennett, environmental scientist, explained Denver Water’s intricate water collection system and a history that dates back to the mid-1800s.

We discovered how that history continues to influence the business conducted at Denver Water today. “Learning about water rights was particularly interesting,” said finance analyst Emmanuel Lubuye, one of my fellow tour attendees. “Seeing how the actions of earlier pioneers at Denver Water laid the foundation for acquiring water rights early on was fascinating.”

Hydro Operator Rick Geise shares the importance of Dillon Reservoir to our water supply and the vital partnerships Denver Water maintains in the community.

Hydro Operator Rick Geise shares the importance of Dillon Reservoir to our water supply and the vital partnerships Denver Water maintains in the community.

We traveled up winding mountain roads, and with our heads spinning with facts and figures, finally arrived at Dillon Reservoir for a perfectly timed pontoon boat ride. John Blackwell, hydro supervisor; Nathan Hurlbut, utility senior technician; Tim Holinka, source of supply manager; and Rick Geise and Andrew Stetler, hydro operators, took us out onto the reservoir. We peppered them with questions about the day-to-day responsibilities of a hydro operator and learned more about the history of the reservoir.

So what about moving an entire town? Yes, Denver Water actually moved the town of Dillon to build the reservoir, including the local cemetery. There weren’t many questions about the logistics of moving a cemetery — most of us choosing to leave the details to our imaginations — but we did learn a lot about the partnerships between Denver Water and the surrounding community, particularly the cooperation with the Dillon and Frisco marinas and the fishing and water sport industries.

“It was interesting to hear how hard Denver Water works to balance diverse needs, from getting water levels up for the marina to providing free water for snow-making to the ski resorts and getting it back later as snow melt,” said Kate Legg, records and document manager.

We continued to hear the theme of partnership throughout the tour as we headed up to Williams Fork Reservoir, which offers free camping, gold medal fishing, big game hunting and other recreational activities. We met Ryan Rayfield, hydro supervisor at the dam, who shared the challenges of living and working in a remote area, as well as what the three hydro operators do at Williams Fork 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We have a responsibility to take care of the dam and keep the hydroelectric plant running, but we also work hard to engage with the community recreating at the reservoir. It’s important we are good neighbors,” said Rayfield.

Not only does Williams Fork play an important role in recreation, water storage and flow management for Denver Water, it also houses Denver Water’s second highest producing hydroelectric plant, which we toured. Equipped with two generators that can produce an output of 3,700 kilowatts per hour, the hydroelectric plant generates enough power to run the Williams Fork systems, the residences on-site as well as providing power to many of the surrounding mountain communities.

Employees gather in front of the Williams Fork dam after touring the hydroelectric plant.

Employees gather in front of the Williams Fork dam after touring the hydroelectric plant.

“It’s not every day you get to see how water generates electricity,” said my co-worker Julia Keedy, raw water planning engineer.

Keedy’s job at Denver Water involves simulating river and reservoir operations, including Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. “Since I am a visual person, it was helpful to see the areas around both reservoirs and to learn about their operational constraints from the actual operators,” she said.

The tour also helped Kate Taft, sustainability program manager, better understand how her job fits into the Denver Water mission, as well as increasing her passion for conservation. “I have always been a strict conservationist when it comes to water, but now I am even more conscious of the water coming out of my faucet, knowing all the work it takes to get it from the mountains to my glass.”

Of course, getting to know other employees in the organization is one of the advantages of taking part in trainings, and it was great to meet other employees throughout the organization and learn more about how all of our jobs add vital pieces to the Denver Water puzzle.

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