Posts Tagged ‘Water supply’

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

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.

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.

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.

Are we talking about the ‘d’ word again?

Did a hot, dry summer push us closer to drought? Time to check in on the state of our water supply.  

By Steve Snyder

Barely a cloud in the sky at Denver's Cheesman Reservoir. In Colorado, the last few months have been warmer and drier than usual.

Barely a cloud in the sky at Denver’s Cheesman Reservoir. In Colorado, the last few months have been warmer and drier than usual.

Drought.

It’s one of the most doggone depressing and downright dreaded “d” words you can utter at a water utility.

Fortunately, Denver Water and most of Colorado have enjoyed a nice respite from drought recently. In fact, a string of cool, wet months turned last summer’s Drought Monitor map for our state practically monochrome.

But that was then, this is now. And drought is not a novel idea in Colorado.

Of course, there’s a difference between talking about a drought and actually being in one. So as we start a new water year, let’s review some facts about the state of our climate — and our current water supply.

  • So far this year, Denver’s temperature hit 90 degrees or higher on 55 days. The long-term annual average over the past three decades is only 33 days.
  • This year, the Denver metro area received 12.4 inches of precipitation. Compare that to the long-term annual average of 13.3 inches.
  • While those precipitation numbers are similar, consider when the moisture fell. From January through May, precipitation in our service area was 120 percent of normal. From June through September, that precipitation was only 60 percent of normal.
  • The latest Drought Monitor map for Colorado now shows areas of moderate drought in the state, along with much larger areas that are considered abnormally dry.
  • The three-month forecast for most of Colorado calls for above-average temperatures with only average precipitation.

We watch weather patterns closely because Denver Water gets nearly all of its water supply from mountain snowpack. We collect it as it melts in the spring, treat it and then distribute it to our customers, based on demand.

The highest demand comes in the summer with outdoor water use — and the hotter the summer, usually the greater the demand.

The latest Drought Map for Colorado shows the impact of our recent hot, dry weather. (Photo courtesy of United States Drought Monitor.)

The latest Drought Map for Colorado shows the impact of our recent hot, dry weather. (Photo courtesy of United States Drought Monitor.)

Typically, our reservoirs hit peak levels in late spring and early summer and drain to their lowest levels just before the next spring runoff. Then the cycle starts again.

So after weighing all of those factors, should we be discussing the dreaded “d” word again?

“Drought is always in the back of our minds because we live in a semi-arid climate,” said Lindsay Weber, senior demand planner at Denver Water. “But typically during the fall and winter months, we are looking at snowfall. We track our snowpack to get an idea of how much water it might yield in the spring. If we start to see a shortfall, we have a drought committee that will prepare an appropriate response.”

Right now, Denver Water’s water supply is in good shape. Systemwide, our reservoirs are at higher-than-normal levels for this time of year, thanks to cooler, wetter weather in 2015, along with continued efficient water use by our customers.

So while the short-term outlook is encouraging, most Colorado residents know we can never rest on our laurels, or in this case, our reservoir levels. Climate change, a growing population and a strain on our natural resources will only continue to put pressure on long-term planning for a sustainable water supply. The next drought could be right around the corner.

But for now, the “d” word isn’t front and center in most conversations at Denver Water. Unless of course, we are talking about our Denver Broncos defense. That’s a “d” word we know other people truly dread.

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.”

Passion for the river

When it comes to the Colorado River and Denver Water, it’s all connected

By Travis Thompson

Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

This rings true for Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. Even though he has touched every section of the 1,450-mile Colorado River, it’s never from the same perspective. As a river master and scholar, Jim spends much of his free time rafting the rapids and sleeping next to the banks. As a lawyer and water manager, his 30-year career has been dedicated to water in the West, centered upon myriad issues along the mighty Colorado River.

Because the river flows west from the Rocky Mountains, its course doesn’t touch the city of Denver. But with half of Denver Water’s supply coming from the Colorado River Basin, Jim’s connection to the river remains steadfast.

When Jim speaks about his passion for the river, it’s easy to see how it’s all connected:

 

The intersection of professional dedication and personal passion for water persists throughout Denver Water. Like for Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate scientist:

 

And Dave Bennett, water resource manager at Denver Water:

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