@DenverWater scientist earns a rare slot on Congressional commission: The commission will recommend steps to reduce #wildfire threats to #water, land and people

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Todd Hartman):

Watershed scientist Madelene McDonald started at Denver Water as an intern while wrapping up graduate school in 2019.

Just four years later, she’s representing the agency — and utilities across the West — as one of just 18 primary nonfederal members appointed to a nationwide commission advising Congress on reducing the threat of wildfire to land, water and communities. 

It’s a big role.

Denver Water’s Madelene McDonald, one of the utility’s watershed scientists, takes part in a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn near Bailey, Colorado, in 2021. Photo credit: Madelene McDonald.

More than 500 people applied for the federal Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission. Of those, 18, including McDonald, were chosen to team with 11 federal representatives on the commission, a product of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021. 

McDonald is one of the 18 primary, nonfederal members. There also are an additional 18 members assigned as alternates should primary members be unavailable for a commission vote. 

Their task: To spend a single year developing a list of recommendations for Congress to implement as it grapples with the increasing risk of wildfires amid rising temperatures and drought triggered by climate change.

Join people who are passionate about all things water, at denverwater.org/Careers

The commission has been meeting virtually since late summer. This week, (Wednesday and Thursday) one of the commission’s three in-person meetings will be held at Denver Water’s Operations Complex. 

The first in-person gathering was in Salt Lake City in September. McDonald has been leading organizational efforts for the gathering at Denver Water’s Three Stones building this week. 

One big thing going for McDonald during the commission’s competitive application process: Denver Water has carved out a national reputation for its work protecting water resources from the impacts of wildfire via its From Forests to Faucets partnership. And McDonald also was one of very few utility specialists focused almost solely on addressing wildfire risks to water supplies.

Listen to Denver Water’s watershed scientist Christina Burri talk about why protecting forests protects our water supplies:

Asked her reaction when she learned she had been appointed to the commission, McDonald admitted: “I saved that voicemail for sure,” when she was phoned by federal officials last summer with the news.

She’s modest about the achievement, citing Denver Water’s long and high-profile experience with wildfire impacts as a key factor. She also credits her supervisor Christina Burri, who oversees Denver Water’s From Forests to Faucets partnership, with pushing her to apply for the commission and for Burri’s efforts to work across agencies to promote the importance of watershed protection. 

McDonald said her appointment also suggests there’s a new, wider recognition of the threat wildfire poses to water supplies. 

Madelene McDonald at a Colorado State Forest Service project called “Heavens.” The 2019 project was in the Upper South Platte River watershed near Conifer and inside an area that’s above Denver Water’s Strontia Springs Reservoir. The work was funded by the From Forests to Faucets partnership. Photo credit: Madelene McDonald.

Protecting communities, property and people have long been at the forefront of wildfire risk planning. But Denver Water’s own experiences with fires that threatened water supplies on the South Platte River in the late 1990s and early 2000s, along with threats to water in New Mexico and Arizona, have expanded the thinking on reducing wildfire risk.

“The wildfire community does understand now that water needs to be at the table,” she said. 

The commission faces a tall order in developing wide-ranging recommendations in just a year’s time. 

But McDonald, who calls the commission’s work “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape federal wildfire management policy,” is impressed with the resolve and work ethic of her colleagues. 

“Starting with that first gathering in Salt Lake City, I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a meeting more encouraged that a group of people could tackle such big challenges,” she said. “The collective expertise that’s been assembled is outstanding. I do think this group is probably our best shot at solving some of these systemic barriers to more efficient wildfire policies.”

Denver Water’s watershed scientists hosted Denver Water board members and U.S. Forest Service personnel on a half-day tour of a From Forests to Faucets project south of Bailey on Aug. 26, 2022. Pictured from left: Alison Witheridge, Christina Burri, Denver Water Commissioner Craig Jones, Commissioner Dominique Gómez, Madelene McDonald, Commissioner Tyrone Gant.

McDonald serves on three of the 10 work groups that the commission formed to divide up the workload and said those work groups are moving at a “breakneck pace.”

The commission’s focus, she said, is on “sweeping, impactful actions,” that would provide direction for future legislation out of Congress. The commission will issue its first report on its efforts Jan. 31, when it provides recommendations for improvements to aerial firefighting.

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McDonald, herself, is largely focused on recommendations that will take water supplies into greater account when considering federal approaches to fire prevention and post-fire rehabilitation work. She said even today, some federal policies focus solely on communities and property, without sufficient consideration to wildlife habitat, recreation, and reservoirs and the landscapes that impact them. 

“Ensuring these recommendations take water supplies into greater account is one of my top priorities,” McDonald said. 

With the commission nearing its halfway point, “I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet full of water-specific recommendations.”

Denver Water’s Three Stones building will host two major federal wildfire discussions the week of Jan. 23. 

On Jan. 23-24, the Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group, a federal entity established by President Joe Biden in 2021, will meet for a workshop, along with federal, state and local partners from Colorado and New Mexico. The focus will be on learning from post-fire recovery work in Colorado and New Mexico

On Jan. 25-26, the federal Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, the group described in this TAP story, will hold one of its three in-person meetings slated for the commission’s 12-month project. The commission and its sub-groups meet virtually for most of its work but gather in person to take votes and have broader discussion. 

Denver Water’s Madelene McDonald (right), with the group involved in a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn near Bailey, Colorado, in 2021. Photo credit: Madelene McDonald.

Three New Projects to Protect #Water Supplies for Over a Million Coloradans — #Colorado State Forest Service

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado State Forest Service website:

There is a critical connection between clean drinking water and forests. For 80 percent of Coloradans, their water starts in the state’s forests before making its way downstream to their taps.

Given this connection, it is important for Colorado to protect its forested watersheds from the ever-present threat of wildfire to ensure residents and communities have water for drinking, agriculture and other uses. The Colorado Legislature recognizes this need and passed House Bill 22-1379 during the 2022 legislative session to fund projects that reduce wildfire fuels around high-priority watersheds and water infrastructure.

Today, the Colorado State Forest Service announces three projects funded through HB22-1379 that will reduce the risk wildfire poses to water supplies for more than a million Coloradans.

“We are excited to put these funds provided by the legislature to work in high-priority areas where an uncharacteristic wildfire could significantly impact water supplies and infrastructure,” said Weston Toll, watershed program specialist at the CSFS. “All three projects connect to prior fuels reduction work completed by the CSFS and our partners, so we can make an impact on a large scale in our forests.”

The CSFS received $3 million through HB22-1379 to fund forest management in critical watersheds and has allocated $1 million each to three projects in these locations:

Staunton State Park, Colorado. CSFS Photo.

Staunton State Park, Park and Jefferson counties

The project in Staunton State Park will build upon more than 800 acres of prior fuels treatments to reduce the impact a wildfire could have to water resources, communities, outdoor recreation areas and wildlife habitat. Creeks running through the park feed into the North Fork South Platte River, which flows into Strontia Springs Reservoir. Eighty percent of Denver Water’s water supply moves through Strontia Springs Reservoir.

This area, about 6 miles west of Conifer, is noted as a priority for action in assessments by the CSFS, Denver Water, Upper South Platte Partnership, Elk Creek Fire Protection District and in local Community Wildfire Protection Plans. It is also in a focus area for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative.

“This project will allow us to get into areas of the park we haven’t been able to treat yet,” said Staunton State Park Manager Zach Taylor, “to reduce the risk of a wildfire spreading from the park to adjacent neighborhoods. The project also reduces wildfire risk to creeks in the park and the entirety of the drainage.”

Taylor said that the park has worked alongside neighbors in the area, including private landowners and the U.S. Forest Service, to address wildfire fuels since the park was acquired in the 1980s.

“Staunton State Park lies between all of these communities,” he said. “This project could set up the park for the next 5 to 10 years in helping us meet our goals for fuels reduction.”

Teller County, Colorado. CSFS photo.

North Slope of Pikes Peak, Teller County

The project on the North Slope of Pikes Peak will help protect essential drinking water and water infrastructure for the City of Colorado Springs. Reservoirs on the North Slope provide about 15 percent of the city’s drinking water supply. Work there will add to more than 3,500 acres of prior fuels treatments on Colorado Springs Utilities’ municipal lands and fill an important gap in treated areas around North Catamount Reservoir and the headwaters of North Catamount Creek. It will also help protect infrastructure that conveys water from the utility’s Blue River collection system to the reservoir.

The Pikes Peak Watershed is noted as a high priority area in plans by the CSFS, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities. It is also in a focus area for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative.

“Colorado Springs Utilities’ 34-year-long partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service has enabled many beneficial forest management activities that reduce the risks and impacts of wildfire in and adjacent to our watersheds,” said Jeremy Taylor, forest program manager with Colorado Springs Utilities. “Through the Pikes Peak Good Neighbor Authority (GNA), we’ve expanded this collaboration to include the U.S. Forest Service for cross-boundary work, and we’re now embarking on the Big Blue project on the North Slope of Pikes Peak. It’s a valued partnership that prioritizes working together to improve forest health and protect our water resources, public lands and neighboring private lands.”

Sheep Mountain, Grand County, Colorado. CSFS Photo.

Fraser Valley, Grand County

The project in the Fraser Valley will lower the risk of wildfire to water supplies for Denver and the towns of Fraser and Winter Park by reducing fuels on U.S. Forest Service, Denver Water and private lands. It connects to several prior treatment areas to establish a connected, large-scale fuel break that could allow firefighters to engage a wildfire in the event of a fire. During the William’s Fork Fire in 2020, the project area was identified as where a wildfire could spread into the densely populated Fraser Valley.

The Grand County Wildfire Council identified the project area as a high priority through planning efforts by the CSFS, USFS, Bureau of Land Management, Denver Water, Grand County and local fire departments.

“These projects are critical for watershed health and source water protection for Denver Water and our 1.5 million customers. Healthy forests equal healthy watersheds,” said Christina Burri, watershed scientist with Denver Water. “Denver Water is so grateful for the partnerships and collaboration that make these projects possible.”

The CSFS expects work on these projects to begin in 2023 and will monitor the project work in future years to evaluate its impact and efficacy. All three projects allow the CSFS and its partners to achieve goals and enact strategies identified in the 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan and are in areas identified as priorities in the plan.

“Governor Polis and the Colorado legislature have made tremendous investments to protect our watersheds from the increasing threat of wildfires and the Colorado State Forest Service is at the forefront in moving these projects forward”, said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The three projects announced today build on existing efforts to increase resiliency and make impactful investments in key watersheds to create healthier forests and reduce the threat of future wildfires.”

“Thank you to the Colorado Legislature for making the $3 million available for this important work and to our many partners for working alongside the Colorado State Forest Service on these projects,” Toll said. “Together, we are making a landscape-level impact and leveraging our collective resources toward the goal of lowering wildfire risk to water supplies and protecting one of our state’s most precious resources.”

Being in the know about the mountain snow: Tracking the snowflakes critical to the spring runoff and water supply for 1.5 million people — @DenverWater #FraserRiver #BlueRiver #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

When it comes to supplying water to 1.5 million people, the spring runoff is the most important time of the year for Denver Water. 

That’s why having good information about the snowpack is critical. Mountain snow is Denver Water’s primary source of water for its customers.

When the snow that piles up in the mountains over the winter starts to melt, the water flows into rivers and streams that fill storage reservoirs. The spring runoff typically starts at the end of April and wraps up in late June or early July.

But the work to count the snowflakes starts long before that. 

“We keep track of the snowpack through measurements on the ground, from the sky and from automated sensors,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager at Denver Water. “We monitor the snow all winter because it constitutes the majority of our water supply and has major impacts on how we operate.”

In 2022, the snowpack peaked below average in the areas where Denver Water catches the snowmelt. A below-average snowpack affects the amount of water available to capture and store in the spring.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

“We would like to completely fill our reservoir system every runoff season,” said Elder. “In the years when we don’t hit that mark, it makes following the utility’s annual summer watering rules even more critical for the Denver metro area.”  

Watering two days a week should be enough for most landscapes for most of the summer. (Only water a third day, if needed, during periods of extreme heat or dryness.)

Following the summer watering rules will help keep reservoir levels higher, in case next winter’s snowpack is below average. 

The Fraser River south of Winter Park on April 29, 2022. The snowpack in the areas where Denver Water captures snowmelt peaked below average for the 2021-2022 winter season. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The snowpack data, reservoir forecasts and customer water use are some of the key factors used to determine if Denver Water might need to impose additional watering restrictions beyond the regular summer watering rules, which run from May 1 through Oct. 1.

Here’s a closer look at the primary ways Denver Water’s planning team keeps track of Colorado’s snowpack. 


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On the ground

Four times a year from January through April, Denver Water crews strap on boots and snowshoes and sometimes ride snowcats to trek into the forest to measure the snow in Grand, Park and Summit counties, the primary areas where the utility collects its water supply for customers in metro Denver.

Each journey follows a specific, predetermined route called a snow course.

Each snow course has 10 designated stops where workers jab a hollow tube into the snow to capture and weigh a sample of the snowpack. 

At each stop, the crew conducts a four-step process:

  • Collect a sample by dropping the pole into the snow until it hits the ground.
  • Measure the depth of snow in the tube.
  • Get the weight of the snow by weighing the snow-filled tube and subtracting the weight of the empty tube.
  • Calculate the density of the snow using the depth and weight measurements. 

Using these measurements, crews calculate the snow water equivalent, or SWE, to determine the water content. 

For example, if 10 inches of snow has a density of 10%, the snow water equivalent — the amount of water left behind if those 10 inches of snow melted — is 1 inch of water. 

Rob Krueger, facility supervisor for Denver Water, uses a specially designed hollow tube to collect a snow sample near Berthoud Pass. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water shares the data collected on each snow course with the National Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. Denver Water is one of 15 agencies that sends people out to collect snow data at 95 locations across Colorado in partnership with the NRCS.

The information helps the agency develop water supply forecasts and monitor snowpack trends over time. 

The NRCS’s forecasts are used by water provides, dam operators, farmers, ranchers, recreationists and communities to make important decisions about their water supply.

Denver Water’s Rob Krueger (left) and Adam Clark work out of the utility’s Moffat Collection System office in Winter Park. Here they are weighing a snow sample to calculate how much water it contains. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Silent sentries

Along with data collected by hand, Denver Water uses information from snow telemetry sites, or SNOTEL, sites during the winter. 

SNOTELs, basically automated backcountry weather stations, were first installed in the 1970s and are operated by the NRCS. The federal agency currently has more than 900 SNOTEL sites collecting data in remote, high-elevation mountain watersheds across the western U.S.

At each site, a bladder about the size of a queen-sized waterbed and filled with antifreeze monitors and reports the weight of the snow falling on it, providing information about the water content frozen in the snow. SNOTEL sites send data multiple times per day, although some sensors report hourly.

Denver Water uses information from 13 SNOTELs located in its 4,000 square miles of watershed. 

A SNOTEL site on Berthoud Pass in Grand County captures snow measurements throughout the winter. The National Resources Conservation Service manages the SNOTEL sites, which transmit information daily. There are over 900 automated SNOTEL sites across the western U.S. Photo credit: Denver Water.

From the air

Starting in 2019, Denver Water began getting data about the snowpack from the air, using Airborne Snow Observatory planes stuffed with high-tech equipment flying over the snow-covered mountains. 

The plane uses beams of light to measure the depth of the snow fields below and capture reflections from the frozen surface. The equipment pings the snow’s surface at up to 10 locations every square meter, and powerful computers crunch reams of data.

The flights provide an assessment of the amount of water frozen in place in the snow across hundreds of square miles that is more accurate than anything Denver Water has ever had before. 

“The data we get from the Airborne Snow Observatory flights quantifies all of the snowpack in river basin below, rather than trying to build a picture of the snowpack in basin using just a few selected point measurements we get from the SNOTELs and the snow courses,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply. “Imagine trying to watch a high-definition TV that only has 10 of its thousands of pixels working; you just don’t get the whole picture.”

And in the face of increasingly variable weather patterns related to climate change, having better information and more accurate forecasts of the seasonal runoff will be more important in the future, he said.

The view from an Airborne Snow Observatory plane as it flies over a mountainous region to capture data on the snowpack. Photo credit: Airborne Snow Observatories Inc.

Putting it all together 

Elder’s planning team uses data from the snow-measuring methods and combines it with other data such as soil conditions and weather forecasts to determine how much water the winter snowpack will send into Denver Water’s reservoirs. 

“Having people hike into the forests to measure the snow by hand is very important for water planners because they give us the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ information we use to verify the data we get from the machines in the SNOTELs and the Airborne Snow Observatory flights,” Elder said. 

The forecasts — in turn — help determine how Denver Water will manage the water stored in its reservoirs to meet customer demands in the city and determine if additional water restrictions are needed. 

The water supply forecasts are also used to provide information to communities, businesses and other water managers about flooding concerns, water levels for boating on reservoirs, maximizing water rights and how to manage water supplies to benefit the environment.

“Managing water is a very complex business,” Elder said. “The more information and data we can get, the better decisions we can make.”

Ribbon-cutting, blessings, #water bubbles open new Hydro building:  New home for water quality lab opens new horizons for innovation, research and teaching — @DenverWater 

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Hydro building on Jan. 6, 2023, marked the completion of the CSU Spur campus, a center for innovation and learning focused on water, land and life. Photo credit: CSU Spur.

Click the link to read the post on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor):

Colorado State University’s marching band, university mascot CAM the Ram and the enthusiastic clamor of cowbells joined with dignitaries from the city, state and nation on Friday to celebrate the opening of the new Hydro building at the CSU Spur campus in north Denver. 

The Hydro building will be the home of Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art water quality laboratory, replacing a small and outdated facility in southwest Denver that Denver Water had outgrown. 

It’s the third of a three-building research innovation and education complex called CSU Spur built at the heart of the National Western Center, the historic site of the old stock show complex now undergoing a massive redevelopment effort

See inside the Hydro building, which opened on Friday, Jan. 6:

Denver Water is partnering with Colorado State University to be part of the new CSU Spur campus on the National Western Center campus. Learn about Denver Water’s role at the new building.

Prior to cutting the ribbon to open the new building, Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead noted that the building offers far more than laboratory space, which is expected to be fully operational later this spring. 

“Here at CSU’s Spur campus, Denver Water will be the heart of a new research environment where we can work closely with academics and scientists in planning for water demands and challenges of tomorrow,” Lochhead said. 

“Climate change and emerging water quality issues require innovation. Spur provides a collaborative opportunity with all water interests to help Denver Water provide leading solutions to water challenges for our customers, the state and the West in a public and engaging way,” he said. 

One of the exhibits in the Hydro building provides a hands-on demonstration of how moving water, such as a river, shapes the land around it over time. Photo credit: CSU Spur

The utility’s water quality team conducts nearly 200,000 tests every year to ensure the water delivered to 1.5 million people every day is clean, safe and meets all state and federal water quality standards. The new facility provides room for Denver Water scientists to test three times that amount in the future. 

Denver Water’s Youth Education team also will use the site to teach students about their water — where it comes from, how it’s cleaned and how its delivered to their homes. 

“This space also provides us with new ways to connect with the next generation of water leaders and highlight career paths that many students may not have been aware of before. It’s a win for all of us,” Lochhead said. 

The connections created by the people working at the CSU Spur campus will be “a win for all of us,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO/Manager of Denver Water. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Hydro, which is Greek for water, joins two completed buildings at the CSU Spur campus. 

The first building, Vida, which means “life” in Spanish, opened in January 2022. It’s home to a community veterinary hospital for the Dumb Friends League; Temple Grandin Equine Center, which offers equine assisted services; and a 9-foot model of a kitten named Esperanza, quite possibly the largest cat in the West. 

The second building, Terra, which means “earth” or “land” in Latin, opened in the summer of 2022. It features rooftop greenhouses and a teaching kitchen, along with food innovation labs for new product creation, agricultural diagnostic labs and exhibits focused on food and agricultural systems.

The intersection of those three areas — water, land and life — represent the global challenges facing our world. 

“I don’t think we can imagine what will be accomplished in the next 20, 40, 50 years at this campus. But I believe when we think about the human potential that will be unlocked here, the creativity that will be unleashed to make progress around these great global challenges, CSU Spur is something we’ll be incredibly proud to be a part of,” said Tony Frank, the chancellor of the Colorado State University System, at the opening ceremony. 

Terra, one of the three buildings at the CSU Spur campus, focuses on agriculture and has a teaching kitchen. Photo credit: CSU Spur.

The connections the three buildings will foster — between people dedicated to public health and animal care, the land and the food it provides, and the life-giving water that circulates throughout — was noted by several speakers during the ceremony. 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Denver Water’s presence at the building, with its water quality experts, will feature the mission of Hydro — to bring research and innovation to the questions of water resilience and sustainability. 

Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, has been involved in the planning for the CSU Spur campus for years. The end of construction means the start of opportunity and change on a local and international level, he told the crowd. 

“These buildings are not just buildings. They’re not just incredible educational opportunities. They’re not just a place to celebrate the science and arts. They’re not just a place to connect rural and urban,” Vilsack said. 

“This is the center of transformation. This is a center for a brighter and better future, not just for Colorado agriculture, not just for United States agriculture, but for global agriculture. It’s that important what you all are doing here. 

“I hope as you go through here, you understand and appreciate how proud you should be to be connected to a university, to a city, and to a state that is so committed to this endeavor,” he said. 

The Vida building at the CSU Spur campus has a veterinary clinic for professionals, and a learning space for students exploring future opportunities. Photo credit: CSU Spur.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he viewed the campus and the connections it will foster as a place that will drive the state’s economy and sustainability efforts. 

“Water is life in our state, and the challenges that Colorado and the West face around water are really reaching a critical point in less water, more demand, our straining of our streams and our waterways, making the work here, inventing innovative, a future that works for the West, that works for Colorado is more important than ever before,” Polis said. 

“This is a place where we can continue our leadership on water, fostering conversations that lead to local, regional, statewide solutions.”

After the ribbon was cut, all three buildings were open to the public. 

Children, parents and adults walked through Hydro, learning about the importance of water from Denver Water employees who staffed the “Water and Land” hands-on exhibit demonstrating how moving water, such as a river, shapes the land around it. 

On the third floor of the building, they peered through the glass at the new laboratory space that will be set up and operational in coming months. And they gathered around a column of water, watching bubbles rise through the water and using an information table to explore different indicators that scientists look for to determine water quality. 

Interactive exhibits explore the world of water at the Hydro building. Photo credit: Denver Water.

At the Terra building, students explored food options, while at Vida they learned about veterinary care – even trying on lab coats while bandaging a stuffed dog. 

Before the celebration, John Gritts, a member of the Cherokee Nation, blessed the building:

“Creator, as we gather here today to open and celebrate Hydro, the last building in this educational complex, we ask for your blessings upon this sacred ground,” Gritts said. 

“We ask for your blessings for this place where people can learn the importance of the relationship between animals, plants — and how sacred water is to us as human beings. May we recognize and honor those relationships. 

“Thank you for this day that we can celebrate.”

John Gritts, a member of the Cherokee Nation, sought a blessing for the Hydro building prior to its opening on Jan. 6, 2023. Photo credit: CSU Spur.

Guest column: A new water future starts at CSU Spur — @ColoradoStateU

CSU Spur Hydro Building. Photo credit: CSU

Click the link to read the guest column on the Colorado State University website (Jim Lochhead and Tony Frank):

Back in 2017, at the Biennial of the Americas, Colorado State University and Denver Water announced plans to work together to support a new future for water research, policy, education and innovation. This week, that vision comes fully to life with the opening of the Hydro building on the CSU Spur campus at the National Western Center.

Jim Lochhead. Photo credit: Denver Water

Historically, water has been viewed through the lens of starkly different choices. Do we use it for agricultural lands and food production, urban life and expansion, recreation and the environment — or something else?

When CSU and Denver Water announced our partnership, we chose not to view water that way. We didn’t want to focus solely on the water needs of agriculture (a primary concern for CSU), nor just on issues connected to municipal water supplies (where Denver Water is focused). Instead, we approached it as all just water – a life-giving, flexible, finite resource that has to work for all of us, an approach much more closely tied to that of the Indigenous people who relied on the life-giving flows of the South Platte long before there were cities here. And we wanted to bring great minds, experimentation and learning about water together in one place where we could collectively focus on addressing the complex water challenges facing all sectors of our state and the American West.

Hydro is that place, and we’re honored to open its doors to the people of Colorado.

CSU Spur, with funding from the State of Colorado, is a three-building complex at the National Western Center nestled up against the Platte River. It’s a place where people of all ages and education levels can explore learning, research and demonstrations connected to food, water, and human and animal health. The Vida building, focused on human and animal health, opened a year ago. The Terra building, which opened this past summer, spotlights food and agricultural systems.

The partnership between CSU and Denver Water is centered in the third building at Spur, Hydro (named for the Greek word for water), which opens this week in conjunction with the National Western Stock Show.

Tony Frank March 22, 2018. Photo by Ellen Jaskol via CSU.

With its physical connectivity to the Platte, and a backyard space demonstrating the concepts of headwaters and watersheds, Hydro is uniquely positioned as a resource for teaching about the importance of water and how it flows to different users and communities. But for the people of Denver, its importance is even greater. Hydro will be the home to Denver Water’s new water quality lab, dramatically expanding our ability to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the people we serve.

The lab is responsible for ensuring 1.5 million people across the Denver metropolitan area have safe, clean drinking water that meets all state and federal standards. Denver Water currently performs nearly 200,000 tests every year to monitor water quality and the effectiveness of our treatment and distribution systems. Thanks to the expanded capacity and state-of-the-art equipment at CSU Spur, the new laboratory will provide capacity for nearly three times as many tests.

The location at Spur also positions Denver Water to interact more closely with the University’s scientists and students. Planning for the water demands of tomorrow requires innovation and understanding as customer needs and policies surrounding water in our state are changing. It requires that all voices be brought into the mix of how water is discussed and treated. The partnership at Spur will help Denver Water provide leading solutions to water challenges for its customers, the state,and West in a more public-facing and engaging way than ever before.

The quality of the water around us — knowing what it is, how it changes, and how it affects our food, our health and our lives — will be crucial as we address new and emerging issues and uses, from the “forever chemicals” moving from consumer products into our environment to the cutting-edge use of wastewater to heat new buildings at the old Stock Show complex. Water quality also underpins the rehabilitation work underway at the edge of the Spur campus, where the South Platte River is becoming a place for recreation and wildlife habitat.

This is a neutral, science-based campus focused on finding solutions to real-world problems. We are interested in helping bring together people representing agencies and interests across many disciplines to work on challenges common to all of us. And the location at the National Western Center allows us to leverage the entire site to educate the water industry and the many types of visitors to the main NWC campus – starting with the North Denver community. Free educational programming will be a cornerstone of this campus for everyone.

When we announced this partnership back in 2017, we were inspired by the Biennial of the Americas and its mission to create connections, build community and inspire change. With Hydro, that mission is coming into focus in ways that will serve Colorado and its water future for generations to come.

Federal funding providing a big boost to lead service line replacements: Infusion of additional $76 million means thousands more service lines slated for replacement — News on Tap

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor):

Three years after it started, Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program is getting a big boost from more than $76 million in federal funding. 

The funding will help fast-track the program, replacing thousands more old, customer-owned lead service lines in the next few years than had been originally anticipated. 

The state approved allocation of funds to Denver Water in October, and the Denver Board of Water Commissioners formally accepted the funds Dec. 7. 

The money will be spent in 2023 through 2025 and is expected to replace up to 7,600 lead service lines, shortening the 15-year program by 1.5 years. Thanks to the new funding, between 3,000 and 5,000 additional lines will be replaced in 2023 — on top of the nearly 5,000 lines already planned for replacement next year.

Since the program started in January 2020, Denver Water has replaced more than 15,000 lead service lines. The lead lines are replaced with lead-free, copper lines at no direct cost to the customer.

The addition of $76 million in federal funding for the Lead Reduction Program will fast-track the replacement of up to 7,600 old lead service lines. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“This infusion of federal money means we will be able to replace thousands more customer-owned lead service lines at a faster pace than we had originally planned, and ultimately shorten the length of the biggest public health initiative in Denver Water’s history. This groundbreaking program is supported by all our customers across our service area,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager. 

“Removing these lines is the most effective way to eliminate this source of lead exposure, and we are committed to this program until every lead service line has been removed. We’re grateful for the opportunity provided by this funding.” 

The water Denver Water delivers to customers is lead-free, but lead can get into the water as it passes through a customer’s internal plumbing or water service line that contains lead. The service line is the small pipe that connects to Denver Water’s pipe in the street and carries water to the customer’s home. Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters the body, whether from drinking water or other sources

Denver Water’s groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program aims to replace nearly 5,000 customer-owned lead service lines every year. When the program started, Denver Water estimated there were between 64,000 and 84,000 lead service lines in its service area and expected it would take 15 years to remove them all. 

The addition of federal money will help Denver Water exceed its annual target in 2023 by an extra 3,000 to 5,000 lines. For every 4,500 additional lead service lines replaced using the federal funding, the overall length of the program will be one year shorter.

Replacement work will take place in parts of many neighborhoods across Denver in 2023, including Baker, Globeville, Sunnyside, Barnum West, Athmar Park and Capitol Hill. 

An initial map of the 2023 replacement work areas is available at denverwater.org/Pipes. The replacement work prioritizes areas with vulnerable, at-risk populations and disproportionately impacted communities while also taking into account planned construction activities, schools and child care centers.

Lead was a commonly used material for water service lines across the U.S. through the mid-1900s and is frequently found in Denver homes built before 1951.

The replacement work is done by contractors through the Lead Reduction Program and by Denver Water crews, who replace any lead service line found during scheduled pipe replacements or during repair work on a broken water main. 

In total, Denver Water was approved for $76,123,628 from the Colorado Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which will receive money from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021. The funding Denver Water received is a low-interest loan that the utility will repay, with $40 million of the loan’s principle forgiven immediately as allowed by the legislation.

The $76 million in federal funding Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program received comes from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden signed in November 2021. Photo credit: White House.

The state will receive federal funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to address lead in drinking water every year for five years, beginning in 2022. Denver Water intends to apply for funds in the future and, if approved, will be able to accelerate the replacement program even more.

The EPA also has approved a continuation of the Lead Reduction Program, via a variance from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, following a review of the progress made in its first three years. 

“Denver Water’s approach to tackling lead in drinking water has been remarkable and an example for other communities across the country,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker, in an announcement.

“Thanks to new funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law the utility’s customers can expect an even faster lead service line replacement schedule delivering health protections for children and adults across the Denver area.”

Customers enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program receive water pitchers and filters to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead service line is replaced. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Lochhead thanked EPA and Denver Water’s community partners for working with the utility to ensure the successful implementation of the program. 

“Denver Water’s first priority is sustaining our communities by protecting the health of our customers,” Lochhead said. 

In addition to the installation of a new, lead-free, copper water service line at no direct cost, customers enrolled in the program also receive water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead.

Filtered water should be used for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after the lead service line is replaced. The utility also has changed the water chemistry, raising the pH of the water it delivers, to better protect customers from the risk of lead. 

This has been a huge effort involving many areas of Denver Water, and we couldn’t have done it without the support we’ve received from our customers,” said Alexis Woodrow, who manages the Lead Reduction Program for Denver Water.

“Our customers enrolled in the program allow us into their homes to replace their old lead service lines, and they are patient with all the construction work that accompanies the replacement process. We’re also excited that in a recent survey, 83% of customers said that they use the filters we provide to filter water for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula.” 

With the federal funding, the work surrounding the replacement process will touch more homes and neighborhoods in 2023. 

“We’re grateful for all the support we’ve received for this program, from our customers to our community partners and our elected officials,” Woodrow said. 

“We’re all working to protect our customers now and for generations to come.” 

Through a Memorandum of Understanding delivered to the @usbr, the @SNWA_H2O & water agencies in the Upper & Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin affirmed their commitments to implement comprehensive & innovative #water #conservation programs, initiatives, policies & actions within their communities #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

#Water Year whiplash for @DenverWater: An erratic 12 months of feast or famine defined the 2022 water-tracking span #BlueRiver #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water Website (Todd Hartman):

Water Year 2022 started slow, lit up at wintertime, dried up in early spring, leaped back into action in late summer, then got lazy in early fall before one last hurrah.

The erratic spurts over the just-completed “water year,” the 12-month span between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30 that hydrologists use to track water trends, added up to a not-terrible-but-not-great-either result for Denver Water. 

The Blue River, which flows into Dillon Reservoir, Denver Water’s largest reservoir, in April 2022. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The most noticeable events included a very slow start to mountain snowfall through the first three months (bad), a second straight year of healthy summer monsoons in the mountains (good) and a sizable split between the water fortunes of Denver Water’s collection area (the high country and foothills) versus its service area (Denver and parts of five surrounding counties). 

In short, it translated into a reasonably good water year in higher elevations and a far drier one for the 1.5 million people the utility serves in Denver and nearby suburbs. 

One memorable result? Denver’s first snowfall came Dec. 10 — the latest first snow on record for Denver.

“Every water year is different, and Mother Nature throws new challenges at us almost every time,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply. “But timely rains and good customer practices helped us keep reservoir levels in solid shape and we soldiered through an up-and-down year.”

The very best news appears to be the way a second consecutive year of strong monsoon rains and higher humidity replenished dry soils in the mountains. 

Should Colorado enjoy a deeper winter snowpack this year, it would mean more melting snow in the spring could find its way to streams and reservoirs in 2023, rather than vanishing into parched soils as has been the case in recent cycles. 

Dice up the numbers in a different way and zoom out from Denver Water and the picture looked better from a statewide perspective, with summer precipitation levels the best since 2015. 

Precipitation statewide left much of Colorado in less severe categories of drought than the end of the 2022 water year. Most of Denver Water’s collection system finished the water year out of drought or classified as “abnormally dry,” the lowest classification. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor; Colorado Climate Center.

Additionally, soil moisture is at its highest levels in three years, according to climate trackers at Colorado State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service via recent reporting from Marianne Goodland in the Denver Gazette.

While those are positive developments, experts across various agencies agree that Colorado and its water utilities need a string of strong winters, and preferably some wetter/cooler years overall if we’re ever to see longer-term improvements in hydrology. 

But in an era of steady climate change that appears to be unlikely. Colorado’s summer of 2022 was the sixth warmest in the 128-year record maintained by state climatologists.

Denver Water’s supply managers faced some tough conditions in the 2022 water year.

Colorado’s summer of 2022 was the sixth warmest in the 128-year record. It was also the second warmest for minimum temperatures, just behind the summer of 2012. Image credit: Colorado Climate Center.

Ongoing work to expand capacity at Gross Reservoir has limited storage in the facility west of Boulder. At the same time, unusually dry conditions on the South Platte River downstream of Denver left farmers calling on water rights dating all the way back to 1871 (just a decade shy of the oldest water rights on the river).

These rights are senior to all of Denver Water’s South Platte River reservoirs and made it difficult to fill those reservoirs. Cheesman Reservoir’s 1889 right is the most senior storage right in Denver Water’s portfolio.

All of that meant more water bypassed Denver Water’s reservoirs to meet those agricultural calls and there was less ability to make up that water by pulling from Gross Reservoir on the north side of the utility’s system. It also meant higher-than-average flows through the Roberts Tunnel to help supplement South Platte supplies.

Colorado’s summer of 2022 was the 34th-wettest summer in the 127-year record, and 0.56 above average. It was the first above-average summer for rainfall since 2015. Image credit: Colorado Climate Center.

But, in a hat tip to customers and Mother Nature, smart irrigation techniques (like turning off systems in rainy periods) and solid summer precipitation in the higher country (and, at times, in metro Denver) helped keep Denver Water’s reservoirs at just below average levels.

In fact, all that combined to close a storage gap. Reservoirs were 5% below average in July. But by the end of September that deficit fell to just 1% below average.

And there was more good news. Another good summer of monsoons kept wildfires at bay, which was a big relief after the devastating water year of 2020, when record-setting late-season fires extended the burn season into October. 

On the other side of the ledger, another hot September continued a troubling trend

The last month of summer keeps getting warmer. This one set a new record for 90-degree days (10), which — along with other factors — make it the fastest-warming month in the Denver area when compared to the previous 30-year block of records that spans 1981 to 2010.

Conditions improved in late September, when late-season moisture boosted streamflows and dampened soils, especially in the high country, bringing a happy ending to the water year.

After another hot start to September, the unseasonably dry and hot weather gave way to helpful rainfall in Colorado and across the Colorado River Basin, seen in these maps from the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. Tweet credit: Colorado Basin RFC.

Some broader context also is in order. 

The 2022 Water Year for the wider Colorado River Basin was another poor one. One simple metric captures the status of the basin: The amount of water in the two major reservoirs on the river dropped dramatically, with Lake Mead falling 1.8 million acre-feet from a year ago and Lake Powell falling 1.5 million acre-feet in the same time frame. 

Trends in the Colorado River Basin matter a great deal to Denver Water, as the utility gets about 50% of its supplies from the headwaters of the basin. 

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map November 13, 2022 via the NRCS.

The new 2023 Water Year that began Oct. 1 is off to a good start for Denver Water. 

After the nip-and-tuck of the summer months, the utility’s reservoir levels have hit their average mark heading into late fall and winter, just where water managers want to be at the beginning of the snow-accumulation season.

“We hope Mother Nature makes a New Water Year Resolution to provide ample snow and rain fall in the water year of 2023,” said Elder.

It’s he and his team who must now begin planning for the various scenarios winter and spring might bring. 

You, too, can make a resolution for the New Water Year: to reduce your water use. Check out Denver Water’s website for rebates and ways to use water efficiently. 

$500M in new federal funds to give thousands of Coloradans freedom from #lead, #PFAS tainted drinking #water — @WaterEdCO

Denver Water crews replacing a lead service line at 1657 Vine Street. Jan. 12, 2021. Credit: Jerd Smith

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado Website (Jerd Smith):

Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans exposed to drinking water tainted by lead from aging, corroded city pipes or so-called “forever chemicals,” will see clean water faster thanks to a historic infusion of $500 million from the federal government.

The money, largely from the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is being funneled through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over a five-year period and will allow miles of lead water delivery pipes to be replaced in towns across the state much faster than cities with little access to cash could achieve.

It will also be used to remove a set of chemicals known as PFAS, or poly and perfluoroalkyl substances, that are present in household and industrial products, such as Teflon and fire-fighting foam. The substances have been unregulated to date, although states and the federal government are writing new regulations to address the contaminants.

CDPHE officials said the money will double the agency’s capacity to fund its water quality safety work.

“The federal money is big,” said Nicole Rowan, director of the CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division. “It’s a once in a generation opportunity to improve our infrastructure here in Colorado.”

To date, 67 Colorado water districts and communities, including the Academy Water and Sanitation District north of Colorado Springs, Limon, Louisville and Grand Junction, have expressed an interest in and are eligible for the funds, according to documents on file at the CDPHE.

Denver Water has been awarded $76 million to fast-track its lead pipe replacement program. The infusion will allow Denver to shave 1.5 years off the 15-year program, according to spokesman Jose Salas.

The City of Englewood also plans to apply, and will ask for $79 million to replace 8,000 lead service lines, according to Sarah Stone, deputy director of business solutions for Englewood Utilities.

Stone said the federal infrastructure funding will provide a critical boost to its efforts to remove lead from Englewood’s drinking water delivery system, if the city’s application is approved.

“We were extremely worried,” Stone said. “This means we can fund the program.”

Cities across the country, including Denver, Flint, Mich., Pittsburgh, Penn., Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., have been dogged by an increase in lead contamination as service lines age and corrode, allowing the lead to comingle with drinking water supplies, eventually reaching taps.

Denver Water, which is Colorado’s largest municipal water utility, has known lead was present at the tap in some of its customers’ homes since it appeared in routine sampling in 2013. The levels exceeded the benchmarks set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

For several years, the utility ran pilot tests and negotiated with CDPHE and EPA over how best to eradicate the harmful metal. Though the amounts of lead found in Denver’s tap water samples varied, no amount of lead is considered safe to ingest, especially for young children.

The CDPHE issued an order in 2018 requiring Denver to begin adding phosphorous to its water, one of the most effective ways to reduce corrosion in pipes. But phosphorous is also a pollutant and causes problematic algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Adding it to the municipal drinking water supply would also make it harder for wastewater treatment operators to meet their own obligations to keep phosphorous out of rivers and streams.

Due to those concerns, Aurora, Metro Water Recovery, The Greenway Foundation, and eventually Denver, sued the CDPHE in 2018 to stop the order from taking effect.

The dispute was settled after Denver was able to obtain a rare variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act in exchange for agreeing to invest some $68 million over 15 years to replace lead service lines, offer free water filters to residents as they wait for the new lines to be installed, conduct community education programs, and increase the pH of the water supply to also help reduce corrosion in pipes.

Several cities and water districts are hoping the federal funding will allow them to mitigate their ongoing issues with PFAS contamination.

Roy Heald manages the Town of Security’s water utility. The town has been hard-hit by PFAS contamination attributed to Peterson Air Force Base. The PFAS chemicals from fire-fighting foam contaminated its groundwater.

Though the military facility has built a remediation plant for Security, it is considered a temporary facility, Heald said. With $450,000 in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act approved earlier this year, Security is converting the plant to a permanent facility, one capable of operating for the decades it will likely take to clean up the groundwater.

“We’re happy to get it,” Heald said. “This work has to be done, and it’s $450,000 our ratepayers won’t have to pay.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Small but mighty micro turbines crank out clean energy: Unique @DenverWater partnership generates power from a canal’s untapped resource

Denver Water is partnering with Emrgy Inc., to run small hydropower units in the South Boulder Canal near Golden, Colorado

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

Nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Denver sits an old concrete canal that’s been delivering water to the metro area since the 1930s.

Fast forward to 2022, and the South Boulder Canal is still performing its regular job for Denver Water. 

But the canal has now taken on the added role of generating hydropower, with four small turbines spinning inside the concrete waterway and producing electricity. The turbines were connected to the local energy grid in mid-July.

Emrgy crews installed new turbines in the South Boulder Canal in June. Photo credit: Emrgy Inc.

“Denver Water has been producing hydropower at our dams for decades, but this is the first time we’ve generated power from one of our canals,” said Ian Oliver, source of supply director at Denver Water whose team operates the utility’s dams, reservoirs and canals.

The innovative hydropower project began in 2017 when Denver Water teamed up with Emrgy Inc., an Atlanta-based company that specializes in creating clean, sustainable energy using the flow of water through existing infrastructure.

Water flows past four new hydropower turbines on Denver Water’s South Boulder Canal. Four units were installed in June and were connected to the local power grid in July. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The South Boulder Canal is part of Denver Water’s northern delivery system, which brings water from Colorado’s West Slope to the Front Range. The 8-mile canal starts near Eldorado Canyon and ends at Ralston Reservoir north of Golden. 

Ian Oliver, Denver Water’s source of supply director, has been involved with Emrgy on the South Boulder Canal hydropower project since 2017. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water typically runs water through the canal about nine months a year, with flows ranging between 50 and 300 cubic feet per second depending on time of the year and water demands in the city.

Sustainability is part of our mission at Denver Water, so when we met the team at Emrgy and they told us about their turbines for low head applications, we knew it was something we wanted to pursue further,” Oliver said.

In 2017, Emrgy placed an initial array of turbines in the canal as part of a pilot project. 

Since that time, the company has continued to innovate its design and installed four new turbines in June. The new turbines are easier to lift, handle and connect to the utility grid through the same inverters used in the solar power industry. The turbines are located at the end of the canal just before it reaches Ralston Reservoir.

The original Emrgy turbines were placed in the South Boulder Canal just before Ralston Reservoir in 2017 as part of a pilot program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The turbines look somewhat like mixers you’d see in the kitchen to stir cake batter — just a lot bigger, stronger and more advanced. 

As the moving water in the canal flows past the turbines, the blades spin and produce mechanical energy, which is then converted into electrical energy. The electrical energy is then fed to a power conversion system next to the canal and delivered to the local power company’s energy grid.

“The process is unique in that it uses the kinetic energy of the flowing water and doesn’t require a large dam to build up pressure to create hydropower,” said Emily Morris, Emrgy’s CEO. “These turbines will work in any channel with moving water where energy can be extracted.”

From the original pilot study, Emrgy refined the hydro system and made the assemblies more modular, so they are easier to deliver and install. The new design also made the turbines easier to remove for maintenance, according to Morris.

Another enhancement focused on the design of the concrete flume box assembly. The flumes include curves in the concrete structure that direct moving water to pass by the rotors more efficiently.

The new turbine system is also more “plug and play,” using the same onshore power electronics equipment used by the solar industry so it’s easier to connect to the power grid, according to Morris.

Emrgy’s new turbines use the kinetic energy of the water to generate electricity. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Morris said each turbine can produce anywhere from five to 25 kilowatts of instantaneous power depending on the speed and depth of the water in the canal. If running 365 days a year, that would be roughly enough to power around eight U.S. homes each year.

Denver Water’s role in letting Emrgy use the canal to refine the technology has been a win-win for both organizations. For Emrgy, the pilot program helped them develop their turbines and expand them to three other states in the U.S. and into three other countries.

For Denver Water, Oliver says putting water to work to generate electricity is part of the utility’s annual goal of being a “net-zero” organization in terms of the utility’s overall energy consumption. “Net-zero” status is when the utility produces as much electricity through its hydro and solar power units as it consumes through traditional forms of energy.

With the addition of the South Boulder turbines, Denver Water now has 13 hydropower units at its facilities. The hydro program generates an average of 61,000 megawatts of electricity annually.

“Denver Water’s interest in hydropower is really multifaceted,” Oliver said. “We generate hydropower to sell to the local power grid, which helps offset the consumption of electricity at our facilities, and, by doing so, we’re also helping to meet our own sustainability goals.”

Power generated by Emrgy’s South Boulder Canal turbines is distributed to the local power grid. Denver Water receives a credit for the hydropower on its utility bill, which helps offset energy consumption at the utility’s Northwater Treatment Plant and Ralston Reservoir.

Denver Water and Emrgy held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in June to celebrate the installation of new turbines in the canal and their connection to the power grid. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water and Emrgy are now studying the feasibility of adding six more turbines to the canal in the future to create a larger array of power generation, similar to installing a series of solar panels. 

Morris said small turbines in canals help produce clean energy at the local level.

“In order to achieve a truly carbon-free future, we’re going to have to harness the power of the sun, the wind and the power of water,” Morris said.  [ed. emphasis mine]

“Water is one of the only controllable natural resources that we have, and I’m excited about the ability to harvest the natural energy here to improve our environment.”

Participants of the annual Hydrovision International convention toured the South Boulder Canal project in June. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Arvadans to see 12.3% water rate hike in 2023 — The Arvada Press

The downtown Denver skyline from Arvada. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on The Arvada Press website (Rylee Dunn). Here’s an excerpt:

After multiple water treatment plant mishaps over the past year, Arvada’s City Council unanimously approved a 12.3% water rate increase to fund improvements for the city’s aging infrastructure on Oct. 17. The rate hike will increase single-family water bills by roughly $19 per bi-monthly billing cycle on average for single-family homes. The increase will see water and wastewater usage rates increase  by an average of $13 per bi-monthly billing cycle for single-family homes.  It also includes a $4 bi-monthly water service fee increase and a $2 bi-monthly wastewater service fee increase.  Primary cost drivers of the rate hike are a 15% price hike for raw water from Denver Water, the recommended issuance of a $50 million bond later this year that will fund infrastructure upgrades and an expected overall operation cost increase of $4.2 million in 2023. Over the past five years, the average in-city water rate has increased by about 3.55% annually, Gillis said. The bi-monthly service fee was last adjusted in 2022 for the first time since 2009.

Credit: The City of Arvada

At the heart of Arvada’s decision to invest in aging infrastructure are two water treatment plants: the Ralston Water Treatment Plant, built in the 1960s; and the Arvada Water Treatment Plant, built in the 1980s. The RWTP is rated at 36 million gallons per day, while the AWTP is rated at 16 million gallons per day. 75% of Arvada’s raw water comes from Denver Water, while the remainder is provided by Clear Creek. Two recent water line breaks and leaks through an exterior wall at the RWTP over the summer have threatened the city’s water supply, as Arvada Director of Utilities Sharon Israel recounted during a tour of the RWTP with the Arvada Press…

At the Oct. 17 city council meeting, Arvada Mayor Marc Williams summed up the position of many council members, all of whom voted for the rate increase.

“We had two major water line breaks in the last two weeks that cost us well over a million gallons of water, I believe,” Williams said. “We’ve got to take lasting care of our community and this is an appropriate step that we’re taking…That passes 7-0; reluctantly, but necessarily.”

The #ColoradoRiver district kicks in for airborne snow-survey work — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver #Aridification

This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River District this week agreed to contribute $75,000 toward a proposed $255,123 project to more accurately assess snowpack in the upper Roaring Fork River Basin next year to improve the ability to forecast streamflow runoff volumes. The district’s board agreed to help fund the work by Airborne Snow Observatories, Inc., a Colorado public benefit corporation that was initially a program in NASA. The company “combines state-of-the-art remote sensing tools with snowpack modeling and fast data processing to deliver snow measurements of high accuracy, high resolution, and full-watershed coverage,” a river district staff memo to the board says…

The river district has agreed to contribute to the Roaring Fork basin project through Community Funding Partnership funding made possible by voter approval of a 2020 tax measure. The city of Aspen has verbally committed $50,000 for the project, Pitkin County is considering a request for a $77,000 contribution, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. has committed $12,500, and funding is being pursued from other Front Range water entities…

Snow-free data for comparison purposes is required for the airborne approach, and was collected this summer from the targeted region, which includes the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River and one of its tributaries, the Fryingpan River. The plan is for Airborne Snow Observatories to conduct an aerial survey around April 1, near the seasonal peak for snowpack accumulation, with a second survey following around mid-May to early June, potentially coinciding with when snow already has melted at NRCS sites. The collected data would be available for free to any interested stakeholder, according to the river district memo.

“The proposed project, through an accurate and comprehensive accounting of snowpack water resources in the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan watersheds, will provide a novel and unparalleled monitoring capacity for these snowmelt-dependent river systems,” the river district staff memo says. “This new capacity, and the runoff forecasts based on it, will provide an additional decision-support resource for water managers in the basins.”

Whatever happened to the September swoon? — @DenverWater

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Todd Hartman):

Weather forecasters consider September the start of “meteorological fall.” And even without the fancy term, most of us think of the month as the unofficial kickoff to autumn.

School starts, football season is underway, and temperatures begin a welcome cool down.

Well, about that last part: September is not as cool as it used to be. 

A car thermometer registers another hot September day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

And that means customers are watering their yards later into the year, creating more demand for water and making things trickier for Denver Water’s water supply managers. 

Just recall the way September started this year, with a string of days in the mid-to-upper 90s, including back-to-back 99-degree days in the Denver area. (Denver Water’s downtown weather station hit 100.) 

In fact, as 9News meteorologist Chris Bianchi reported on Twitter, Denver broke a record for number of 90-degree days (10) in a single September this year. 

A wave of heat-related records were broken across the West this year, including here in the Denver metro area. Image credit: Chris Bianchi via Twitter.

The phenomenon was also well-documented by 9News meteorologist Cory Reppenhagen in his Sept. 5 report on how unusual heat records in Denver notched during September’s first week are part of the metro area’s rising September heat trend. 

All told, toasty Septembers appear to be one more element of a changing and warming climate.

A screenshot from a Sept. 5, 2022, report by 9News meteorologist Cory Reppenhagen about September’s changing weather patterns in the Denver metro area. Image credit: 9News meteorologist Cory Reppenhagen.

“We have a pretty good idea of what water demand in the summer months will look like, but September is becoming a wild card,” said Nathan Elder, the utility’s water supply manager. 

“We have seen higher demand and increased reservoir releases in recent Septembers,” he added. “But we also know we can see snow during the month, which makes planning for the month and setting up winter operations difficult.” 

Stay up to date on water issues (plus tips to save water) by signing up for TAP’s free, weekly email

Additionally, Elder said, warmer fall temperatures can dry soil in the collection system, which means more snow is needed the following winter to fill reservoirs. 

“This is a trend we are really keeping our eye on because it can have significant impacts on water supply late in the season and going into the next spring,” Elder said.

One other challenge tied to warmer Septembers: a longer fire season, such as in 2020, when the state’s two largest-ever fires exploded late in the year, including the East Troublesome Fire that roared through Grand Lake in mid-October.

Dillon Reservoir is Denver Water’s largest reservoir. It sends water to the Front Range via the 23-mile-long Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Some numbers that tell the story: 

– Denver Water is seeing more demand for water in September. Last year, demand was about 30 million gallons per day above the 30-year average. In 2022, the volume was 15 million gallons over the same average. The difference between the two years can be attributed to the fact that precipitation in 2022 was closer to normal and 2021 was drier.

– September 2022 was Denver’s third-warmest on record, at an average of 69 degrees, surpassed only by 2015 and 2019, according to National Weather Service data highlighted by Bianchi, the 9News meteorologist.

– Flows in the Roberts Tunnel, which delivers water from Dillon Reservoir to the Front Range, are rising in September, with 260 cubic feet per second seen in recent years versus the long-term average of 160 cfs. That’s a sign Denver Water needs to send more water to the metro area to meet the higher September demand. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that Denver Water is pulling more water from its West Slope reservoirs. In fact, overall water movement through the Roberts Tunnel over the course of a year is flat, as lower winter demand and tunnel shutoffs have helped balance out that September bump.

Warmer-than-normal temperatures during the day and at night raise the overall average temperature of the month. Image credit: Chris Bianchi via Twitter.

Overall, September reservoir releases across the system have been higher than average in recent years, a sign that Denver Water must rely more on storage to meet higher late-summer demand.

Cheesman Reservoir on the South Platte River system serves as one example, with average September releases during the last five years of 286 cfs versus the longer-term average of 211 cfs. 

Denver Water’s records show September is warming at a higher rate than any other month during the watering season. And Reppenhagen’s reporting found that “September (weather) is changing the most out of all the months, warming by 1.5 degrees compared to the previous 30-year period of record.”

As Reppenhagen points out, warmer Septembers are extending the summer growing season, a development that he notes was predicted by some of the earliest computer modeling examining the effect of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Denver Water customers are using more water later in the year as Septembers warm. Photo credit: Denver Water.

That is borne out by water use. 

Outdoor demand in September has grown about 23% when comparing the recent-five year stretch of 2017-2021 to the period between 2000 and 2016. In the same five-year span, September use has only been 3% below June levels.

From a practical standpoint, warmer Septembers make work tougher for Denver Water’s planners.

When that extra pull on reservoirs in September is combined with lower soil moisture, it means the utility has to lean even harder on the winter months to provide enough snowpack to fill reservoirs the following spring. 

The shift also means planners are relying less on historical water demand models and focusing far more on data from more recent years to get a better idea of how much water Denver Water customers will need in September. 

Overall, Denver Water customers have been good at conserving. Demand is generally flat or even declining during most months of the year. September is an outlier: as noted above, the five-year average for the month is actually on the rise.

Adjusting your sprinkler control system to account for weather and the time of year can save water. Cooler nights send a signal to your landscape that it’s time to wrap things up for the winter and it doesn’t need as much water. Photo credit: Denver Water.

But a reminder to customers: Even with a warmer September, the need for outdoor watering declines because nighttime is cooler, and grass can get by with less water. 

As Denver Water takes many steps to adapt to a warming climate, it will incorporate these late-summer temperature increases into its many-faceted approach to ensure it can supply the Denver region with water. 

In the shorter term, Elder has a more visceral suggestion: “September should be kicked out of fall,” he said. “Move it permanently to summer.”

Investing $2.3 billion into the system serving 1.5 million people: How @DenverWater is protecting the #water system now — and preparing for the future

Denver Water’s 2023 big projects

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor and Jay Adams):

Ensuring a system that is providing clean, safe water to 25% of the state’s population will continue delivering requires taking the long view when it comes to maintenance and upgrades. 

At Denver Water, projects from replacing water mains to building a new treatment plant are carefully vetted to ensure they will bolster the system as it exists today and for the decades ahead. 

“Our mission is to deliver a clean, safe, reliable water supply to 1.5 million people, and also to sustain our vibrant communities for years to come,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO/Manager of Denver Water.

To do that, the utility expects to invest about $2.3 billion into the system during the next 10 years, from large projects to regular inspection and maintenance programs designed to ensure the system is flexible, resilient and efficient. 

Denver Water’s approach has been recognized repeatedly by its peers in the water industry and others.

Denver Water’s administration building is powered by solar panels. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The American Water Works Association, the largest organization of water supply professionals in the world, named Denver Water the recipient of its 2022 AWWA Innovation Award for the Northwater Treatment Plant, which is under construction north of Golden.

The awards committee specifically called out the utility’s sustainable, scalable and streamlined design approach to the project, which leaves room at the site for future expansions as needed. 

The redevelopment of its Operations Complex near downtown has won several awards since its completion a few years ago, including a LEED Platinum certification for the utility’s Administration Building, just one of many the project received for its sustainable aspects. The building includes solar power panels on its roof and parking structures, a highly efficient radiant heating and cooling system and an on-site wastewater recycling system that treats water for reuse flushing toilets and irrigation. 

Read how customers help invest in their water system.

Here’s an overview of some of Denver Water’s work: 

The graphic shows the existing dam and water level and how high the new dam will rise above the current water level. Image credit: Denver Water.

Water storage

Work on the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, the subject of more than 20 years of planning, got underway in April. Expected to be complete in 2027, the project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet. 

The higher dam will nearly triple the amount of water that can be stored in Gross Reservoir, providing Denver Water with more flexibility to manage its water supply in the face of increasingly variable weather and snowpack patterns. 

The additional storage capacity also will provide a greater balance between Denver Water’s separate north and south water collection areas. 

Much of the work done on the expansion during 2022 and 2023 will be site preparation for the on-site quarry and concrete production plant and removing rock from the sides and bottom of the existing dam to make room for the new concrete. Workers also have been hydroblasting the face of the dam, removing a few inches of concrete, to leave a rougher surface for the new concrete to adhere to. 

At the height of construction, there will be as many as 400 workers on-site and when complete, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado. 

Get more details about the history behind the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

Lead Reduction Program

A major part of Denver Water’s investment forecast is the Lead Reduction Program, which launched in January 2020.

The water Denver Water delivers to customers is lead-free, but lead can get into drinking water as the water passes through old lead service lines that carry water from the water main in the street into the home. 

The program reduces the risk of lead getting into drinking water by replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 old, customer-owned lead service lines at no direct cost to the customer. Households enrolled in the program are provided with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead service line is replaced.

It’s the biggest public health campaign in the utility’s history and through the end of September, more than 14,000 lead service lines have been replaced. 

Learn more about how a higher pH level protects customers from lead getting into drinking water. 

The program aims to replace about 4,500 lead service lines every year, and the utility is working through final approvals to accept federal funding. The money will allow the utility to replace an additional number of lead service lines (at no direct cost to the customer) above the 4,500 currently slated for replacement in 2023. This additional funding will help speed up the replacement program while keeping rates as low as possible for customers. 

In March 2020, Denver Water also raised the pH of the water it delivers to customers to help reduce the risk of lead getting into water as it passes through customers’ internal plumbing that may contain lead.

Northwater Treatment Plant

Work on Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden this year passed a milestone, with 2.5 million hours of work poured into its design and construction since 2016. 

The treatment plant, scheduled for completion in 2024, will include 14 buildings and be able to clean 75 million gallons of water per day. Its design left room for the plant to be expanded to clean up to 150 million gallons of water per day in the future as needed. 

During this last year, roofs have been placed on buildings, allowing workers to start installing electrical lines and HVAC equipment. 

Construction also has continued on the two giant water storage tanks, which will be mostly buried underground when complete. Each tank is capable of holding 10 million gallons of clean, safe drinking water. 

A new water quality laboratory

In early January 2023, the Hydro building on Colorado State University’s Spur campus at the National Western Center north of downtown will open. 

It will house Denver Water’s new water quality laboratory, expected to become fully operational during 2023, and replaces a facility that has been tucked into the Marston Treatment Plant south of U.S. Highway 285 and South Wadsworth Boulevard, on the south side of Denver Water’s service area.

Denver Water’s new water quality laboratory, expected to be operational in 2023, is inside the Hydro building at the CSU Spur campus at the National Western Center north of downtown. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Locating Denver Water’s water quality laboratory in the midst of CSU’s new Spur campus ensures the utility’s water experts will be working near researchers, scientists and others tackling issues surrounding water, agriculture and public health that are important to the metro area, state and region. 

Two other buildings are at the CSU Spur campus, Vida, which opened in January 2022 and focuses on life and public health, and Terra, which opened earlier this year and focuses on land and food. 

With the completion of the Hydro building, the campus will house experts dedicated to exploring how the three disciplines intersect — and interact — with each other. 

Ongoing investments

As the metro area grows and changes, its often an opportunity for Denver Water to upgrade older elements of its system — before new development takes place. 

That was exactly the situation at Loretto Heights in the southwest part of Denver. 

Upgrades to infrastructure that delivers water to downtown Denver took place before development of a new neighborhood at Loretto Heights. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The site is best known for the historic tower built in the 1890s as part of a boarding school and college. But buried under that same hill is a 575-foot-long concrete tunnel, 7 feet in diameter, used to deliver water from the Marston Treatment Plant in southwest Denver to the downtown area. 

Before construction on a new residential development at Loretto Heights began, Denver Water worked with the developer to do needed upgrades and repairs at the site before homes were built — and to avoid disrupting the new neighborhood later. 

Earlier this year, crews dug down to uncover pipes and valves installed a century ago, removed the four original valves, placed new pipes, installed a single new valve and repaired cracks inside the tunnel. 

Watch a video of the Loretto Heights project. 

Denver Water also is continuing its investment in replacing its water mains under streets and installing new ones where needed. The utility has more than 3,000 miles of pipe in its system, enough to stretch from Seattle to Orlando.

The utility is working toward a goal of replacing 1% of its installed water mains every year, or more than 145,000 feet of pipe. 

And in recognition that the drought in the Colorado River Basin affects us all, Denver Water and several large water providers from across the basin have committed to substantially expanding existing efforts to conserve water. 

Among the goals is replacing 30% of the nonfunctional grass in our communities — like that found in traffic medians —with trees and landscapes that have more benefits for our climate, wildlife and the environment.

Parking lot medians are no place for grass. Water-wise landscaping can offer beauty and save water. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water is working with partners — including local governments, fellow water providers, and experts in water use and landscapes — to develop programs that will help transform our landscapes and expand our indoor and outdoor conservation efforts. 

Being financially responsible 

Denver Water has a long been proactive with maintaining and improving its vast network of dams, pipes, canals and treatment plants — and planning ahead for the future.

And that work extends to the financial side of the utility. 

Denver Water doesn’t receive tax dollars or make a profit. Its infrastructure projects, day-to-day operations and emergency expenses, like water main breaks, are funded by a mixture of water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).

And in this area too, Denver Water has received high marks. 

For a recent bond sale, which brought in about $200 million to invest into the system, rating agencies extended Denver Water’s existing triple-A credit rating, the highest available. The agencies cited multiple factors, including the utility’s strong financial management for the rating. 

The rating was just another example of how at Denver Water, sustainability isn’t just a word, it’s embedded throughout the organization, from its long-range planning for a warmer future to the training it provides to inspire its employees to go the extra mile for customers. 

@DenverWater on schedule for lead pipe replacement, awaiting additional federal approval — The #Denver Post

Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

The Environmental Protection Agency said the utility has succeeded in its three-year trial program and should be allowed to finish its 15-year program

Denver Water’s plan to replace tens of thousands of lead pipes connecting homes to the city’s water supply is working well enough to move past the trial phase, federal officials said. Environmental Protection Agency officials gave the utility three years in late 2019 to try its unique approach of replacing lead service lines, home by home, while changing the chemistry of its water supply to keep lead levels low. In that time, Denver Water has replaced thousands of lead service lines and kept levels of the toxic, heavy metal in its water supply at a fraction of the allowable federal limits, Sarah Bahrman, chief of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Branch, said. Bahrman said EPA officials are recommending that Denver Water be allowed to finish the remaining 12 years of its replacement plan, a decision that EPA Region 8 Administrator KC Becker is expected to make in the coming weeks.

Denver Water officials originally estimated that between 64,000 and 84,000 homes received water through lead service lines and that replacing them would cost about $500 million and take 15 years. Considering inflation, supply chain shortages and more, Alexis Woodrow, the utility’s lead reduction program manager, said the new cost estimate for the life of the program is more likely to be $681 million…

Denver Water needed approval from the EPA because CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead pushed back on a mandate from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which originally ordered the utility to inject a nutrient – orthophosphate – into its water system. Lochhead argued that orthophosphate could pose a health risk for metro residents and downstream communities. Instead he proposed to send water filters to homes that might have lead service lines, replace the service lines themselves and to slightly boost the water’s alkalinity to stop the heavy metal from breaking off into the water supply.

Pick your #ColoradoRiver metaphor — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification

On a day in late May [2022] when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

The river is in deep doo-doo, and worse may very well come. So why such a sluggish reaction?

On a day in late May when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It was my first visit.

Turning off the paved highway, I drove about 10 miles around the toe of Sleeping Ute Mountain, past a few irrigation ditches, one carrying water, and a lot of fields and center-pivot sprinklers. I knew the runoff the San Juan Mountains, the source of water for the 7,700-acre farming operations by the Utes, was bad. I didn’t realize just how bad it was.

Unlike many tribal rights in the Colorado River Basin, the water rights of the two Ute tribes in Colorado were negotiated in 1986. The agreement resulted in delivery of water to Towaoc, where I ate at the casino restaurant twice on that trip. Before, potable water had to be trucked in.

Mike Preston, filling in for a Ute leader at the Colorado Water Center conference this week, remembers a time before that delivery of water. “There were stock tanks sitting in people’s yards, and a water truck would back up and fill those tanks, and people would go out with buckets to get their potable water.”

The Utes got other infrastructure, too, including water from the Dolores River stored in the new McPhee Reservoir that allows the Utes to create a profitable farm enterprise. But to get the use of McPhee water, the Utes conceded the seniority of their water rights. It worked well for a lot of years, but now in a warmer, drier climate, it leaves the Utes in a hard, dry place: They got 10% of their full allocation in 2021 and 40% this year.

They have been forced to adapt. Instead of planting alfalfa, they planted corn and other crops that use less water and can be fed to cattle. They culled cattle from their herd of 650. The tribe – as are others in Colorado – is exploring the viability of kernza, a new perennial grain created at The Land Institute in Kansas.

Still, some adaptation is impossible. The agricultural enterprise has laid off about half of its employees. And last year, despite securing all available government grants created to allow farmers to make it through hard times, the operation lost $2 million.

On a day in late May when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Listening to that story related by Preston in a video feed to the conference on the campus of Colorado State University, I wondered whether this was a metaphor for what faces the 40 million people who, in one way or another, depend upon water from the Colorado River.

During this same conference, “Living with the Colorado River Compact: Past, Present and Future,” I heard allusions to hospital emergency wards and over-drafted bank accounts. The latter came from Jim Lochhead, who had several decades of Colorado River experience before arriving at Denver Water as chief executive in 2010.

“No wonder Lakes Powell and Mead are in the condition that they are in today,” he said after accounting the over-drafting of the two big reservoirs, now down to 24% and 26% of storage respectively. “The bank account has been drawn down,” he said, “and we’re looking at a zero balance with no line of credit.”

By now, the 21st century story of the Colorado River has become familiar in its broadest outlines, part of the national narrative of despair. The pivoting reality came on hard in 2002, when the Colorado River carried just 4.5 million acre-feet of water.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

To put that into perspective, as Eric Kuhn, co-author of “Science Be Dammed,” did at this conference, those who framed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 assumed 20.5 million acre-feet as they went about apportioning the river’s flows. In the 21st century, the river has averaged 13 million acre-feet.

Alarm has been sounded but…

Now, scientists are warning that river managers should plan for no more than 11 million acre-feet, a reflection of the new hotter, and in some places, drier climate. Some think that figure is overly optimistic.

The seven basin states – particularly the thirsty states of California and Arizona – have cinched their belts with various agreements. But they have not responded in ways proportionate to the risk they now face. There is a very real danger of the reservoirs dropping to just puddles of dead pool, too little to be released downstream. Imagine the Grand Canyon without water. Imagine no water below Hoover Dam. Do these images leave you dumbstruck?

A public official on the Western Slope recently confided to me that he and others had grown weary of what they called “drought, dust and dystopia” stories. That troubled me, leaving me to wonder how my own stories are being received.

At the conference this week on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, I heard something of the same self-doubt.

“With all due respect to my fellow panelists, I live in an area where some of the topics that are mentioned, we’re not uniformly and broadly received,” said Perry Cabot, the lead researcher at Colorado’s State University’s Western Colorado Research Center near Grand Junction. “I think as researchers, we tend to believe that just more educating is going to change the dynamics of the narrative.”

Other panelists agreed with Cabot’s observation that new narratives, not just information, would better convey the gravity of the situation.

“I think the scientific community has gotten its head handed to itself,” said Brad Udall, who has dome some of the pioneering research that shows that “aridification” – as much or more than drought itself – is driving the reduced flows. Drought ends, but aridification resulting from atmospheric greenhouse gases? Not any time soon.

That has gone against the grain of water managers. A decade ago, there was still skepticism about climate change, and water always has been variable. Surely, good winters would return in the mountains of Colorado and other upper basin states that produce 90% of the river’s flows. Colorado alone is responsible for 60%.

After all, every batter goes through slumps, every best-selling author can tell of rejection slips.

By now, however, a clear trend has become evident. Even in good snow years, the runoff lags.

Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, described various outcomes of a river with continued declines in flows. Photo/Allen Best

At the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction, Brendon Langenhuizen offered no hope for refilling the glass that is now far less than half-full in the coming year. It will be the third La Nina in a row, he pointed out, likely producing above-average temperatures and hence below-average precipitation.

Even so-so precipitation has been coming up as something worse. For example, the snowpack in the Gunnison River watershed last year was 87% of average, but the runoff was only 64%.

Dry soils have sopped up moisture, and then there is the heat. The last year has been among the six warmest in the last century in Colorado, said Langenhuizen, a water resources engineer for the River District. Summer rains the last two years have helped. Still, the reservoir levels drop, the seven basin states so far unable to apportion demand to match supply. After all, there’s money in the bank, and for probably a year more, enough water in the reservoirs to generate electricity.

At water meetings, an element of collegiality has remained, at least until recently. Testiness has crept in, an element of what Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, calls finger-pointing.

Colorado water officials, Mueller included, are doing some of that themselves.

They point out that Colorado and the other upper-basin states get nicked for 1.2 million acre-feet in evaporative losses in their delivery of water to Lake Mead, outside of Las Vegas. California, Arizona, and Nevada do not. “It’s like running two sets of books,” said Mueller.

Mueller was negotiating with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the day of the conference in Fort Collins. His stand-in, Dave Kanzer, explained that the Law of the River —the Colorado River Compact and other agreements – don’t necessarily apply anymore. It is “based on long-term stable water supply, and we no longer have that,” he said.

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. Members of the Colorado River Commission stood together at the signing of the Colorado River Compact on November 24, 1922. The signing took place at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover presiding (seated). (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Renegotiate the compact?

The Colorado River Compact assumed too much water and also used precise numbers when ratios would have been better, Mueller has observed. Instead, those who gathered in Santa Fe in November 1922 apportioned

7.5 million acre-feet to each of the two basins, upper and lower. In practice, the lower-basin states have been using twice as much water as Colorado and other upper-basin states.

Colorado’s average annual consumption from the Colorado River and its tributaries is 2.5 million acre-feet. In terms of the compact, what mattes entirely is when the diversion began, before or after the compact.

About 1.6 million-acre feet- mostly older agriculture rights – are pre-compact, but 900,000 acre-feet came later. This includes water for Western Slopes cities and the nearly all of the 500,000 acre-feet diverted across the Continental Divide to cities along the Front Range and farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys. This water is most imperiled.

Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District, said he does not believe it’s practical to attempt to amend or renegotiate the Colorado River Compact.

“But within a few years, maybe after we have figured out how to get out of the current crisis, we’re going to essentially ignore all of the provisions of the compact except perhaps article one, which defines the purpose and the signatures page.”

Lochhead has much the same opinion about the much-disputed element of the compact about the obligations of Colorado and other upper basin states to deliver water. It really won’t matter, he said. The real problem is that the basin states need to align demand with supply that, during the last few years, has been close to 11 million acre-feet. (Keep in mind, the compact assumed more than 20 million acre-feet).

“We’re literally in a situation of triage,” said Lochhead. “Something needs to be done in the very near term to lay a foundation for actions that can be taken in the medium and longer term to manage the river to a sustainable condition.”

The feds need to step up

Lochhead outlined three possibly overlapping alternatives.

First: involuntary regulations and restrictions. The federal government – although it has been using it with restraint – does indeed have authority to regulate use of water that enters into Mead. The U.S. Supreme Court has characterized its power as such. The Bureau of Reclamation must be seen as delivering a coherent threat.

“That gives the U.S. government enormous authority over what happens in the lower basin,” Lochhead said. This is unlikely to happen until after the November election, he said, but it absolutely must happen.

Voluntary agreements must also occur. The Bureau of Reclamation imposed an August 2022 deadline for agreements. If the deadline had been a hard one, the states would have failed. Lochhead said it came down to finger pointing. Arizona and California “stared across the river at each other, seeing who’s going to blink first.”

The federal government has now put $4 billion on the table – through the Inflation Reduction Act —to “grease” the skids in terms of voluntary agreements. (Think, perhaps voluntary retirement of water rights). “They’re going to have to buy down demands in the lower basin,” said Lochhead, conjecturing on deals involving the Imperial Irrigation District, the giant ag producer just north of the border with Mexico.

We will need to sort through what grasses we want and can afford, both in residential settings and in pubic areas, such as Colorado Mesa University, above. That will extend to grasses grown to feed livestock. Top, the Colorado River at Silt, Colo. on Sept. 17. Photo/Allen Best

Lochhead also described the need for reductions in water use in the municipal sectors. Denver Water and several other water agencies in Colorado – but also in Nevada and California and Arizona—announced an agreement in August in which they will try to pare their consumption. For example, Denver wants to end irrigation of medians along roads and highways and crimp the amount of water used for turf. But Denver and other cities need to continue to have trees, said Lochhead.

More cities will join this pact to reduce water use for residential consumption in coming weeks and months, Lochhead said.

But he said Colorado may need state legislation to ensure that real-estate developers can’t create landscaping in the future that requires lots of water, offsetting these gains.

That brings me back to the Ute Mountain Ute lands that I visited in May. By virtue of their 1986 agreement, reality has smacked them hard. There is pain, but there is also adjustment. They have had to adjust.

Something of the same thing must occur in the broader Colorado River Basin. So far, it’s easier to postpone action. But another so-so year – or worse? While the states are trying to make the cuts necessary for  a river that is delivering 12 million acre-feet per year, Mueller warns that the plans must contemplate a 9 million acre-foot river, as some scientists have said may come to pass.

But in Grand Junction, one of the scientists pointed out to me that it’s just possible the river may deliver 7 million acre-feet – and that could be next year and the year after.

Then, we may need a new metaphor, something worse than an empty bank account.

Cheerful delusions about the #ColoradoRiver — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification #overdrawn22

Sunset on the Colorado River at Silt September 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

We really would rather be getting news about another Super Bowl triumph or the end of the 55-year drought in Denver Nuggets championships. But the Colorado River is rapidly nearing total disfunction. It is the story du jour.

Rivers and streams on Colorado’s Western Slope chattered excitedly with runoff during mid-September after several days of rain, softening landscapes that had turned sullen after another hot summer.

The water was a blink of good news for a Colorado River that needs something more. It needs a long, sloppy kiss of wetness.

Hard, difficult decisions have almost entirely lagged what has been needed during the last 20 years of declining reservoir levels and rapidly rising temperatures. Hope has lingered stubbornly. After all, every batter has slumps. And maybe next winter and spring it will snow hard and long in Colorado, source of 60% of the river’s water, instead of getting unseemly warm come April and May, as has mostly been the case.

This glass half-full hopefulness has left the two big reservoirs, Mead and Powell, at roughly 25% of capacity. To prevent worse, the smaller savings accounts near the headwaters – Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico, Blue Mesa in Colorado, and Flaming Gorge on the Utah-Wyoming border – have been pilfered. Little remains to be tapped.

Even threats from the Bureau of Reclamation this year failed to spur definitive action. “We can’t keep doing this,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, a major water policy agency for the Western Slope.

Difference from average temperature in the top 300 meters (~984 feet) of the tropical Pacific between June 7 and August 1, 2022. A deep pool of cooler-than-average water (blue) spread eastward and will continue rising to the surface in coming months, feeding the current La Niña. Animation by NOAA Climate.gov, based on data from NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Recently at the River District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction, Brendon Langenhuizen offered no hope for recovery this coming year. It will be the third La Nina in a row, he pointed out, likely producing above-average temperatures and hence below-average precipitation.

Even so-so precipitation comes up as something less. Yampa River Valley snowpack last winter was 84% of average; runoff lagged at 76%. The Gunnison River watershed figures were even worse; snowpack of 87% yielding runoff of 64%.

Dry soils have sopped up moisture, and then there is the heat. The last 12 months have been among the six warmest years in the last century in Colorado, said Langenhuisen, a water rights engineer. Summer rains the last two years have helped. Still, the reservoir levels drop, the seven basin states so far unable to agree on cuts that would match demand with supply.

It’s tempting to accuse the states of being caught up in century-old thinking. After all, they nominally operate under provisions of the 1922 Colorado River Compact. They have taken steps but they insufficiently acknowledge the shifting hydrologic reality. Instead of delivering an average 20.5 million acre-feet, as the compact assumed, the river has delivered 13 million acre-feet in the 21st century. In the last few years, it’s been worse yet, about 12 million acre-feet.

How low can it go? Mueller talked about learning to live within 9 million acre-feet, as some climate scientists have warned may be necessary. Climate scientists have built up some credibility as their forecasts have been, if anything, a tad conservative.

A scientist I talked with in Grand Junction suggested potential for an even starker future. What if the river delivers just 7 million acre-feet a year for the next two or three years?

One of my acquaintances, a county official on the Western Slope, recently confided weariness with the now familiar narrative of “drought, dust, and dystopia” on the Colorado River. Understood. We all want to see the Broncos and Avs win. More instructive may be the Denver Nuggets, who are now in a 55-year championship drought.

We will need to sort through what grasses we want and can afford, both in residential settings and in pubic areas, such as Colorado Mesa University, above. That will extend to grasses grown to feed livestock. Top, the Colorado River at Silt, Colo. on Sept. 17. Photo/Allen Best

Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water, likens the situation on the Colorado River to a bank account that has been drawn down. “And we’re looking at a zero balance with no line of credit,” he said this week at the Colorado Water Center conference in Fort Collins.

What is needed? From a perspective in Colorado, Lochhead argues for a stronger, more assertive federal role. Lochhead was for many years a lawyer based in Glenwood Springs who represented Colorado in river issues.

Map credit: AGU

Everybody that depends upon Colorado River water from northeastern Colorado to Los Angeles and San Diego will have a role, he says. Denver for example, wants to crowd out grass from medians and incentivize turf removal.

Lower-basin states use about twice as much as the upper basin states, and there the cuts must be more radical. Lochhead wants to see the federal government, through the Bureau of Reclamation, more assertively force the lower-basin states to make those hard decisions. Federal authority over water entering Lake Mead has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, he points out, and he suggests the agency may use that power after the November election.

The broad theme will be reducing water used for low-value grasses. That takes in suburban lawns but also the water-greedy grasses grown for livestock, including corn and alfalfa. Hard choices, but they must be made. What more warning do we need?

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

#Colorado #Water Congress Summer Conference Day 2: The Airborne Snow Observatory does not replace SNOTEL, in fact we need an expanded SNOTEL network — Taylor Winchell

Sunset August 24, 2022 Steamboat Springs.

Day 2 included a “Rapid Topics” session with moderator Kelly Romero-Heaney, CO Dept of Natural Resources:

RAZORBACK SUCKER The Maybell ditch is home to four endangered fish species [the Humpback chub (Gila cypha), Bonytail (Gila elegans), Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), and the Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus)] © Linda Whitham/TNC

Colorado and San Juan River Endangered Species Program: Julie Stahli, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This map shows the snowpack depth of Castle and Maroon valleys in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement Group: Taylor Winchell, Denver Water

Screenshot from the http://water22.org website.

Water ‘22: Jayla Poppleton, Water Education Colorado

Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Eliminating Lead in School Drinking Water Facilities: Mike Beck, CO Water Quality Control Division

Winchell told the attendees that, “ASO is an extremely powerful #climate adaption tool.”

He’s right, stationarity is dead so Colorado needs to incorporate new strategies for measurement of snowpack and that is exactly what the ASO technology provides.

Major municipal #water providers across #ColoradoRiver Basin announce commitment to significant reductions in water use — @DenverWater #COriver #aridification

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Map credit: AGU

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water Website:

Large water providers from across the Colorado River Basin announced today a commitment to substantially expand existing efforts to conserve water, reduce demands and expand reuse and recycling of water supplies.

The agreement includes water providers in both the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River, stretching from Colorado’s Front Range to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The providers invite other utilities in the basin to join in the commitment to increasing water-use efficiency and reducing the demand for water.

The agreement comes amid a two-decade drought on the river that affects 40 million people who rely on it for drinking water, agriculture, power production, landscape irrigation, recreation and more. Demands for water in the basin have exceeded available supply, reducing storage levels in lakes Mead and Powell to critically low levels.

The water providers are outlining their commitments in a Memorandum of Understanding that was delivered to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton today. Some providers have committed to pursuing the MOU’s intent while awaiting final approval through their various governing boards.

“We are developing prudent municipal water conservation actions that every community that relies on the Colorado River should be using,” water providers said in the letter to Touton. Moving forward, “We will describe the steps our organizations will take now and codify our commitment to continued effort as we work to ensure our river and the communities it serves continue to thrive. We sincerely hope our commitment to action inspires other stakeholders that share the river to do the same.”

Specifically, the agreement will focus on several key areas as pathways to cutting water use, including:

  • Develop programs to replace non-functional or passive cool weather turf grass (grass that serves primarily a decorative role and is otherwise unused) with drought- and climate-resistant landscaping, while maintaining vital urban landscapes and tree canopies where appropriate.
  • Increase water reuse and recycling programs where feasible.
  • Continue and expand conservation and efficiency programs to accelerate water savings.
  • “Achieving the protection storage volumes needed to preserve water and hydropower operations within the Colorado River basin cannot be met by a singular country, basin, state, or water use sector,” continued the letter to BOR. “While municipal water use represents only a small fraction of total Colorado River water use, progress begins with one and then many until we are all moving in the same direction.”

    While not all the conservation strategies under consideration may make sense for each community, utilities say the agreement demonstrates the commitment that municipal water providers have not only to coordinating and collaborating on strategies to conserve and manage water demands, but to also help protect the Colorado River system.

    Links to the letter to the BOR, the MOU and a support letter from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Quotes from signatories to the BOR letter:

    “The water supply challenges we are facing on the Colorado River are accelerating at an alarming pace. Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must take bold and immediate action to reduce their use on this vital water source,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This agreement represents our commitment to working with our municipal partners on the river to come up with innovative, collaborative approaches to better manage our Colorado River supplies and promote a more sustainable future for our communities.”

    “With climate change and aridification affecting the entire Basin, improving the health of the Colorado River system requires a swift and collective effort of all water users — in all sectors — to reduce water use and implement actionable strategies, policies and programs to protect this vital resource and balance water supplies with demands,” said John Entsminger, Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager.

    “Climate change and overuse of the Colorado River have put us squarely within the crisis we long saw coming. The bottom line now: We all need to work on solutions, no matter our individual impacts on river flows,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “While we have long been a conservation leader, Denver Water has consistently said it is prepared to do even more, and the commitments contained in this agreement reflect our readiness to take further important steps to keep more water in the Colorado River Basin.”

    “Water issues in the arid west are accelerating,” stated Aurora Water General Manager Marshall Brown. “Aurora is embracing these conservation pathways through Colorado’s largest potable reuse system, an aggressive turf replacement rebate program and a new ordinance that prohibits nonfunctional turf in new developments. We’re doing what needs to be done to ensure a reliable water supply for our community in unpredictable times and we challenge other municipalities to do the same.”

    “Colorado Springs Utilities is committed to conservation programming that ensures a clean, reliable water supply for years to come. Building on our customers’ successful 41% reduction in per capita use since 2001, we continue to pursue and implement water efficiency and reuse initiatives that support our vibrant community and make wise use of this valuable resource,” said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin.

    “The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District supports the efforts of the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), the State of Colorado, and municipal and agricultural water providers in the basin, to collaborate in bringing the system into balance,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the district.

    Using #water to fight lead in drinking water: How #Denver Water engineered a permanent solution to a legacy problem — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor and Jay Adams):

    Protecting people from hazards that can lurk in their drinking water is the day-in, day-out job for water industry engineers, utilities and regulators.

    And at Denver Water, efforts to protect people from the health risks posed by lead from old, lead service lines getting into drinking water, has been part of the job for decades.

    There is no lead in the water Denver Water delivers to customers, but the utility regularly tests for lead in the drinking water of homes that are known to have lead water service lines, the primary source of lead in drinking water.

    Rachel Himyak, water treatment lead, collects a sample of water that’s been run through old lead service lines as part of ongoing studies at Denver Water of pH adjustment. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In the first half of the 20th century, lead was a common, cheap and easy-to-work-with material to use when forming small pipelines that carry drinking water from utility pipelines in the street into customers’ homes. But these old lead service lines, which in Denver Water’s experience are more often found in homes built before 1951, pose a threat in the community, particularly to children, infants and pregnant women.

    Denver Water has tested for lead in customers’ drinking water for decades under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule. In 2012, the routine monitoring indicated the utility needed to investigate whether it could adjust the chemistry of the water it delivered to customers to better protect them from the risk of lead getting into drinking water.

    Read this 2019 story to learn about Denver Water’s efforts over the years to combat lead in drinking water, which culminated in the 2020 launch of its groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program.

    In short, the results of tests on customers’ drinking water launched Denver Water into years of study centered on one question: What more could it do to better protect at-risk customers?

    The first step was more testing.

    “For a utility of our size and the number of lead service lines we have, you can’t just test something by putting it into the distribution system that’s delivering water to 1.5 million people every day. That’s not acceptable to us,” said Ryan Walsh, manager of the water treatment engineering section at Denver Water.

    “We had to test things at a pilot scale, by doing the pipe loop study, before we could move forward.”

    Walsh’s team was in charge of testing various treatment options via the pipe loop study and later planned, designed and executed the treatment plant systems involved in increasing the pH level.

    Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    To build the pipe loop study, Denver Water used old lead service lines its crews removed from customers’ homes (replacing them with lead-free lines) as the crews found the old lines during their regular work on water mains across the utility’s service area.

    Denver Water plumbers connected the decades-old pipes together on racks and its treatment engineers ran water through them for hours, days and years. They tested different treatment methods to find out which worked best to reduce the risk of lead from the old pipes getting into the water passing through them.

    Watch this video to see Denver Water’s pipe loop study, which is still underway today.

    “That testing was so critical because we used the water that had been treated by our treatment plants, Moffat and Marston, the water that was going into our system to customers. The pipe loop study allowed us to test the adjustments we might do to the water to keep people safe,” said Patty Brubaker, a water treatment plant manager.

    Aaron Benko, water treatment lead, pulls a sample of water from the rack of old customer-owned lead service lines that Denver Water crews dug up from customers’ homes and researchers continue to study. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “We tried different pH levels, we tried different phosphate levels, and we tried all of them on the actual lead pipes that had been taken from our system,” Brubaker said.

    “There were so many people involved in putting this together. We had the crews who went out and pulled those lines, the plumbers that put them together on the racks, the people who made the adjustments and tested the water as it ran through the pipes.

    All of us were studying the impacts to figure out which would be the best method to use to protect our customers from those old lead pipes.”

    Decision time

    In March 2018, based on Denver Water’s studies, state health officials told Denver Water it had two years — until March 2020 — to get ready to start using a food additive called orthophosphate to tamp down the potential for lead to get into customers’ drinking water.

    The decision worried many people inside and outside of Denver Water.

    The concern wasn’t whether orthophosphate would reduce the potential for lead to get into drinking water. They knew it would.

    Denver Water treatment engineers and operators (from left) Ryan Walsh, Aaron Benko, and Rachel Himyak at the pipe loop rack, which continues to have water running through the old lead service lines for ongoing studies. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water’s years of tests on the old pipes had shown orthophosphate would work, and other water utilities use orthophosphate to reduce the risk of lead getting into their drinking water.

    But Denver Water, environmental groups and other water and wastewater utilities downstream of Colorado’s capital city worried about the widespread, long term — and expensive — consequences of adding orthophosphate to such a large system, including the increased potential for environmental impacts in and downstream of the Denver metro area.

    Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, had been hired at the utility few months before the state’s 2018 decision on orthophosphate. From previous jobs involving water and wastewater treatment plants, she’d seen what orthophosphate could do at the plants and in the environment.

    Hector Castaneda, a water treatment technician, and Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, at the Marston Treatment Plant filter beds, where water is filtered through tiny pieces of sand and anthracite coal as part of the treatment process. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “I’d seen the algae, which can grow faster when there are higher levels of phosphate in the water. I’d seen it coating the valves coming into the treatment plant so we couldn’t bring water in. I’ve seen how the taste and odor problems with the water were so bad that people bought and used bottled water instead of tap water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.

    “And in Colorado’s dry, arid environment, with our long, sunny days and the UV light, adding orthophosphate to our system would have created a primordial soup. Plus, after the expense of adding it to the water at the drinking water treatment plant, it’s hard, expensively hard, to get phosphorous out of the water when it arrives at the downstream wastewater plants,” she said.

    About half of Denver Water’s residential water use is outdoor water use used on lawns and gardens. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    On top of the expensive work that would be required at wastewater treatment plants, there simply was no way to recapture all the orthophosphate that would be added to Denver’s drinking water due to the way water is used in the metro area, she said.

    About half of Denver Water’s residential water use is outdoor water use, tied to the irrigation of lawns and gardens. That means some of the orthophosphate-treated drinking water was bound to run off of lawns, down the gutter and end up in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and rivers.

    Water used for irrigation of lawns and gardens often ends up in urban creeks and streams that flow throughout the Denver metro area. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The groups worried that under the right conditions, that additional phosphate could accelerate the growth of algae not only downstream of the city, but also in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and reservoirs.

    There had to be another way, they said.

    Alternative path

    “We went back to the data from the years of tests we’d run. We saw that if we raised the pH level of the water, instead of adding orthophosphate, we could protect people from the lead service lines,” Poncelet-Johnson said.

    “And if we combined a higher pH with replacing those lead service lines with new, lead-free copper lines, then the lead levels would drop to the point where the tests couldn’t detect anything.”

    In 2019, Denver Water formally proposed an alternative approach to state and federal regulators.

    Denver Water’s proposal, at its core, called for raising the pH of the water delivered to customers from 7.8 to 8.8 on the pH scale, and keeping it there with relatively little variance as it flowed from the treatment plant to the customers’ homes and businesses.

    Raising the pH of the water delivered to customers strengthens an existing protective coating inside lead service lines, which reduces the risk of lead getting into drinking water. Image credit: Denver Water.

    The higher pH level would strengthen an existing protective coating inside the lead service lines, reducing the risk of lead getting into the drinking water as it passed through the lead pipes.

    And that — combined with significantly accelerating the replacement of the old lead services lines — would 1) lower the risk faster than relying on orthophosphate alone, and 2) do so without the cost and environmental concerns posed by adding the phosphate.

    This graphic (not to scale) portrays how a higher pH level creates a stronger protective coating (shown in white and brown on the left) inside a lead service line (shown in grey), separating the water (blue) from the lead pipe and reducing the risk of lead getting into the drinking water. Image credit: Denver Water.

    “It was a better solution, a permanent solution to the problem of old lead service lines, which are the primary source of lead in drinking water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.

    “Because instead of a Band-Aid approach, instead of just adding chemicals to the system and then dealing with the widespread economic and environmental consequences of that decision for decades, we went the other way and proposed permanently removing the problem by raising the pH of the water and replacing the lead service lines,” she said.

    Listen to Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, discuss Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program:

    Denver Water’s alternative proposal focused on five areas:

    Raising the pH of the water it delivers to 1.5 million people to 8.8, and keep it fairly constant, with very little variance, as the water flowed from treatment plant, through the distribution system, to customers’ homes and businesses.

  • Mapping the location of the customer-owned lead service lines in its service area and sharing that map with customers.
  • Replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines in its service area with new lead-free copper lines at no direct cost to the customer.
  • Providing customers enrolled in the program with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use until six months after their lead line was replaced.
  • Launching the largest public health communication effort Denver Water had ever done to educate its customers about the risks of lead, the importance of using filtered water until the old lead service lines could be replaced, and the process for replacing those lead pipes.
  • Watch this video to learn more about lead service lines.

    Breaking new ground

    The proposal broke new ground in the water industry in two main ways.

    It attacked the legacy issue posed old lead service lines from all sides — by raising the pH level, replacing customers’ old lead service lines, providing water filters to customers enrolled in the program to use until six months after their line was replaced, and educating those customers about the program.

    And Denver Water said it would tackle all those steps on a scale and at a speed never before seen in the water industry.

    Communicating with customers enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program is one of five elements of the biggest public health initiative in Denver Water’s history. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Other cities had aimed to replace a few thousand lead service lines.

    But Denver Water proposed replacing up to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines estimated to be in Denver Water’s service area, doing it at no direct cost to the customer, and doing it in 15 years.

    And, the utility proposed sending water pitchers and filters to more than 100,000 households enrolled in the program to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead line was replaced.

    More than 100,000 households enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program were supplied with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead line is replaced. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In December 2019, health officials at the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment agreed to Denver Water’s alternative proposal.

    Weeks later, in January 2020, Denver Water launched its Lead Reduction Program — and immediately faced a crucial deadline.

    The utility’s engineers, treatment plant operators and monitoring teams now had to implement the systems and processes that would raise the pH level of the water and maintain that level as the water flowed across more than 3,000 miles of pipe to 1.5 million people. And they had less than 90 days to do it.

    Hard choices for the #ColoradoRiver — Writers on the Range #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (Quinn Harper and Mark Squillace):

    The seven Colorado River states – Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming – face a daunting mid-August deadline. The federal government has asked them to come up with a plan to reduce their combined water usage from the Colorado River by up to 4 million acre-feet in 2023.

    That is a massive reduction for a river system that currently produces about 12.4 million acre-feet. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Colorado River, warned that it will “act unilaterally to protect the system” if the states cannot come up with an adequate plan on their own.

    The seven states have worked cooperatively over the past two decades to identify solutions to a shrinking river. But their response now, much like the global response to climate change, seems far from adequate to the enormous challenge.

    In a recent letter to BuRec, the Upper Colorado River Commission, speaking for the four Upper Basin states, proposed a plan that adopts a business-as-usual, “drought-reduction” approach. They argue that their options are limited because “previous drought response actions are depleting upstream storage by 661,000 feet.”

    The Commission complains that water users “already suffer chronic shortages under current conditions resulting in uncompensated priority administration, which includes cuts to numerous present perfected rights in each of our states.”

    This leads the Commission to conclude that any future reductions must come largely from Mexico and the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, because they use most of the water.

    But the Lower Basin states have already taken a significant hit to their “present perfected rights,” and if BuRec makes good on its promise to act unilaterally, they will face another big reduction. The cooperative relationship among the Basin states will not endure if the Upper Basin refuses to share the burden by reducing its consumption.

    The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project involves raising the height of the existing dam by 131 feet. The dam will be built out and will have “steps” made of roller-compacted concrete to reach the new height. Image credit: Denver Water

    A good place to start might lie with two Colorado projects to divert water from the Colorado River basin to the Front Range. Both began construction this summer. The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will triple the size of one of Denver Water’s major storage units. Denver Water’s original justification for this project – to serve Denver’s growing urban population – seems odd given that water demand in their service area over the past two decades has shrunk, even as its population rose by nearly 300,000.

    Outflow from the dam across the Colorado River that forms Windy Gap Reservoir. Taken during a field trip the reservoir in September, 2017.

    Similar questions have been raised with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project, which plans to store Colorado River water to support population growth in Front Range cities.

    These two projects suggest that Colorado is prepared to exacerbate the current crisis when the opposite response is so desperately needed.

    Abandoning these two projects would signal that Colorado is serious about giving the Colorado River a fighting chance at survival. It might also jump-start good-faith negotiations over how Mexico, the states, and tribes might work to achieve a long-term solution to this crisis.

    The homestead laws of the 19th century attracted a resilient group of farmers to the West who cleverly designed water laws to secure their water rights against all future water users. “First in time, first in right” became the governing mantra of water allocation, because, except for Tribal Nations, the farmers were first.

    That system worked well for many years. As communities grew, cities and water districts built reservoirs to store the spring runoff, ensuring that water was available throughout the irrigation season.

    Climate change and mega-droughts have upended that system. Nowhere have the consequences been as dire as in the Colorado River Basin. America’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead – key components of the Colorado River’s water storage system – have not filled for more than two decades. They now sit well below 30% of their capacity.

    Hotter temperatures, less mountain snowpack, and dry soils that soak up runoff like a sponge have brought us to this seven-state crisis. All seven states must now share the pain of addressing this crisis.

    The Upper Basin Commission’s anemic response to BuRec’s plea is not a serious plan. We can do better and we must.

    Mark Squillace and Quinn Harper are contributors to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. Mark Squillace is the Raphael J. Moses professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School. Quinn Harper is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in natural resource policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    Take a bow ‘Use Only What You Need,’ you’re in the hall of fame!: @DenverWater’s decadelong campaign played pivotal role in creating culture of #conservation in the metro area — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor):

    Do you know you should “Use Only What You Need”?

    If yes, then you’re familiar with Denver Water’s decadelong campaign, launched a few years after the 2002 drought, that urged customers to reduce the amount of water they used in their everyday lives.

    Denver Water’s decadelong Use Only What You Need campaign found humor in conservation. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The occasionally cheeky campaign showcased images like a park bench with only room for one person, water from a broken sprinkler head cascading onto a giant billboard and suggestions for using less water — like showering with a friend.

    And it worked. By the time the campaign — created by Denver’s Sukle Advertising & Design — ended in 2015, water use by Denver Water’s customers had dropped 22% compared to usage before the drought.

    The “Use Only What You Need” campaign has been recognized repeatedly over the years for its effectiveness and memorability, and on May 17 the Out of Home Advertising Association of America inducted it into the OBIE Hall of Fame, a group dominated by advertising campaigns backed by national and international brand names.

    See how one Denver Water employee transformed his northwest Denver yard to make it more attractive and use less water.

    “Denver Water’s signature orange box asking customers to ‘Use Only What You Need’ became advertising legend in the Denver metro area,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager.

    “In a light-hearted and at times outrageous way, the campaign led the charge for our conservation programing where we had a critical call to action: Reduce water use by 22%. Eight years after achieving that goal, Use Only What You Need has remained a one-of-a-kind catchphrase that has continued to help Coloradans embrace a culture of conservation, which is so vital in the arid West where water is such a precious resource.”

    Tip for using less water? Showering with a friend was part of a conservation campaign that reduced water use among Denver Water customers by 22% compared to usage before 2002. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Out-of-home advertising is visual advertising outside of the home, such as billboards, indoor and outdoor signs, ads on bus shelters or benches, in airports or train stations, and in a stadium or movie theater.

    Previous OBIE Hall of Fame winners include the insurance company Geico (2021), entertainment giants The Walt Disney Co. (2007) and Universal Studios (2019), brewer MillerCoors (2018) and technology company Apple Inc. (2005).

    Get simple strategies to save water inside and outside your home.

    Competition for the 2022 Hall of Fame award put Denver Water up against international heavyweights — and household names — Google, Netflix, Procter & Gamble Co., Pepsi and Samsung.

    In the 30-year history of the OBIE Hall of Fame awards, Denver Water’s award is only the second time a regional brand has won the judges’ nod. The first was the San Diego Zoo in 1995.

    “This is one of the highest creative honors in our industry, and we are immensely proud to be recognized by OAAA and our peers,” said Mike Sukle, owner of Sukle Advertising & Design.

    “Creating and managing the campaign for a decade shaped how we approach every campaign we create. It cemented our philosophy that work must be both smart and creative to generate exceptional results. And while mass media including out of home was critical, the campaign spread almost as much through word-of-mouth. Our audience became our media. That’s an important lesson for all brands. And if you can make people like you, they may also listen to you,” he said.

    The campaign encouraged customers to take a hard look at how much water they — and their lawns — truly needed. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Anna Bager, president and CEO of the association, called Denver Water’s campaign “truly brilliant and entertaining.”

    “Denver Water has achieved legendary out-of-home status with a sustained level of creative excellence over many years. Their commitment to the ‘Use Only What You Need’ headline came to life in a seemingly endless number of creative solutions,” she said.

    And while Denver Water’s message that water is precious and should be used wisely hasn’t changed, the utility’s campaign around water has evolved into a simple main message: Water is everything.

    Denver Water’s latest campaign focuses on what water brings to our lives under the tagline “Life Is Better With Water.” Image credit: Denver Water.

    Using the tagline “Life Is Better With Water,” the utility’s current campaign with Denver advertising agency Pure Brand celebrates the importance of water as a precious resource in our everyday lives and one that plays a vital role in Colorado’s unique lifestyle.

    “It’s about elevating the value of water in our daily lives. Together, we all can help create a ripple effect that ensures our Colorado lifestyle continues for generations to come,” said Kathie Dudas, manager of brand and marketing at Denver Water.

    Battling #ClimateChange with #solar, #hydro and a shifting fleet Denver Water is cutting its carbon footprint, while preparing for a drier, hotter future — News on Tap #ActOnCLimate

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Todd Hartman):

    Denver Water sits on the front lines of climate change.

    Rising temperatures, long-term drought and less dependable snowpack are all making the job of providing water to 1.5 million people tougher.

    Denver Water’s administration building is powered by solar panels. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In response, the utility is preparing for a future with a less consistent water supply for its customers, through innovations including greater efficiency, One Water and new storage projects such as the Gross Reservoir expansion.

    Learn more about how the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project makes us more resilient in the face of climate change with greater water security.

    The utility also is moving aggressively to cut its own carbon footprint, striving to meet goals for producing renewable energy and reducing dependence on energy sources tied directly to warming temperatures.

    In 2020, Denver Water met an organizational goal for “net zero” annual energy consumption. That’s a fancy way of saying it produced as much or more energy than it consumed, and that its energy was generated using carbon-free sources: hydropower and solar power.

    To be precise, the utility produced roughly 1.5 million more “kilowatt-hour equivalents” than it used in 2020.

    The utility’s solar power panels and hydropower generators produced enough clean energy to account for not only its electricity use but also the natural gas it uses for heat. Natural gas burned to supply heat is an energy category that’s not always factored into “net zero” calculations, but Denver Water made a point of including it to create a stretch goal for its effort.

    Denver Water’s solar panels generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. Photo credit: Denver Water

    “Several years earlier, we had set a goal to hit ‘net-zero’ as a benchmark for our sustainability efforts,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s sustainability manager. “Hitting that in 2020 was the result of a lot of focused, dedicated work across the organization and represents an important milestone in the utility’s long history of environmental progress.”

    Net-zero is a big deal in the era of climate change.

    Learn more about how Denver Water has leaned into the challenge of climate change and how its work to track emissions has been recognized by outside experts.

    Many major corporations are striving to attain the status, including companies such as Coca-Cola and General Motors. Many companies and governments have set net-zero goals for 2030 and 2040, for example.

    Denver Water got there sooner. Though, to be sure, Denver Water benefits from — wait for it — water in this endeavor.

    Water spills from Williams Fork Reservoir in 2019. The power of moving water is a major source of emission-free electricity for Denver Water. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Hydroelectric power is generated at seven locations in Denver Water’s 4,000-square-mile collection area. That includes power generated at reservoirs but also at places like Roberts Tunnel, where the energy of water moving downhill through a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide creates electricity.

    All told, Denver Water’s hydropower operations generate about 65 million emission-free kilowatt-hours per year. That translates to about the amount of electricity consumed by 6,000 homes for a year.

    While Denver Water generated hydropower for decades and is continuing to look for additional opportunities to generate power from moving water, including at its Northwater Treatment Plant currently under construction near Golden, the addition of solar power to its renewable energy portfolio is more recent.

    At the utility’s newly redeveloped Operations Complex, completed in 2019, solar power panels on the roof of the Administration Building and atop parking structures generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. That offset the Administration Building’s use with more than 300,000 kilowatt-hours to spare.

    Crews install solar panels on top of Denver Water’s administration building in 2019. Photo credit: Denver Water

    That’s extra clean electricity that can go back into the grid for use by others.

    And in Denver Water’s new sustainability goals issued in 2021, the utility set a new target for itself: to increase its capacity to generate renewable energy by 1 megawatt and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from a 2015 baseline.

    How much is that 1 megawatt? Roughly, it would be like adding another solar array about the size of the one at the Operations Complex. Or, like adding the hydropower capacity that now exists at Strontia Springs Reservoir, situated 6 miles up Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver.

    Even as it works to add more green power, Denver Water may not always be able to meet its net-zero goal, at least in the short term.

    That’s because maintenance projects at times take hydroelectric facilities off-line or reduce their capacity. For example, for the next five years, Gross Reservoir will generate less power because its storage space for water will be cut by about one-third while a dam-raising project proceeds.

    Students learn about the hydroelectric plant at Hillcrest water storage facility in southeast Denver. Hydroelectricity at Hillcrest and six other sites is key to the utility’s ability to meet its net zero energy goals. Photo credit: Denver Water

    However once that project is completed, and the capacity of the reservoir is tripled, the location is expected to be a greater source of clean energy, increasing its production capacity by nearly 15% compared to its capacity before the project.

    In 2021, too, Denver Water fell short of its goal due in part to work on the hydroelectric facility at Roberts Tunnel. Work to upgrade the hydro facility at the tunnel kicked off in 2019.

    Finally, while Denver Water focuses on offsetting electricity and heat generated by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, its net-zero calculations don’t currently count gasoline burned by its fleet vehicles or propane needed at some remote sites.

    “As we make a long-term shift to cleaner energy sources, there will be bumps in the road,” Taft said. “We still, inevitably, will depend on more traditional sources at times and in certain locations. But we are relentlessly pushing to generate more of our own green energy and cut emissions associated with natural gas, coal and vehicles.”

    Learn more about how Denver Water has constructed a low-energy heating and cooling system and its long history of environmental stewardship.

    As part of its effort to cut emissions, Denver Water is beginning the long transition to electric fleet vehicles.

    The utility already has six Ford F-150 hybrid trucks and hopes to test the use of some all-electric pickups in 2023, pending supply chain challenges.

    And as the utility continues to look at other electric vehicle options, it is partnering with analysts at Drive Clean Colorado and Xcel Energy’s Fleet Electrification Advisory Program to help guide the process.

    “Getting this right will take time and a constant push forward,” said Brian Good, Denver Water’s chief administrative officer. “But it is the right thing to do. We are a water utility, and providing reliable, safe, clean water isn’t possible without protecting the natural environment from which it flows.”

    Starting a water-wise garden that glows in hot, dry conditions: In 2021, #Denver-area Garden In A Box customers planted 100,000 sq. ft. of low-water gardens instead of grass — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

    Do you recognize these plant names? Moonbeam coreopsis. Autumn joy stonecrop. Blonde ambition.

    They may not be well known among most homeowners, but they are examples of water-wise plants gaining popularity in Colorado every year.

    Water-wise plants mostly rely on what Mother Nature provides, requiring either no additional water or only a few inches during the growing season.

    Plant Select, which promotes low-water plants that thrive in Colorado’s climate, describes this plant as an “impressive, highly ornamental form of Western native grass with tall, upright stems.” We think it lives up to its name: Blonde Ambition. Photo credit: Denver Water

    The plants are an alternative to thirsty Kentucky bluegrass and thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. Water-wise plants also offer additional benefits such as low maintenance and added color. Many also attract birds, bees and butterflies.

    Denver Water promotes water conservation efforts in customers’ yards and encourages them to learn about incorporating water-wise plants into their landscapes.

    Check out stories and advice from Denver Water customers who have added Garden In A Box kits to their landscapes.

    Good sources of information include Resource Central, which offers the popular Garden In A Box program, and Plant Select, which promotes plants that need less water and thrive in the high plains and Rocky Mountain regions.

    Elie Zwiebel and his partner, Laura, stand in front of their home in Denver’s Athmar Park neighborhood showing off results of their Garden In A Box. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Resource Central

    Since 2012, Denver Water has regularly supported Resource Central, a nonprofit organization based in Boulder that promotes water conservation programs.

    One of its programs, Garden In A Box, offers a variety of water-wise plants along with plant-by-number garden designs from landscape professionals. The kits also come with information about the care and maintenance needs of the plants.

    A Garden In A Box, after a few years, will delight homeowners and those who pass by. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Customers can choose from gardens with names like “Naturally Native” and “Painted Shade,” indicating the kind of plants in each garden and the type of conditions they thrive in.

    Programs like Garden In A Box are important to Denver Water because among its customers, outdoor water use accounts for about 50% of single-family residential water use. Converting a section of lawn into a water-wise garden is one way to reduce a home’s outdoor water footprint.

    “Garden In A Box started in 2003 and we’ve sold more than 41,000 kits through fall 2021,” said Elisabeth Bowman, conservation engagement manager at Resource Central.

    “Interest in the gardens has grown every year in the metro area so we’re happy to see so many people looking for water-wise landscapes.”

    Between 2003 through 2021, Resource Central estimates it’s helped plant 3.1 million square feet of low-water landscapes, saving 228.6 million gallons of water over the lifetime of the gardens sold to customers across the Front Range.


    A homeowner near Denver’s City Park removed grass from his front yard and planted a Garden In A Box. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Denver Water pays Resource Central more than $15,000 a year to set up four garden pickup events in Denver every spring, so customers who live in and near Denver Water’s service area don’t have to go far to get their gardens.

    More than 10,000 gardens have been sold to Denver-area residents since 2014.

    Garden In A Box offers water-wise plants and professional designs in each kit. Image credit: Resource Central

    “Denver Water is a huge partner for us, the support they provide makes it easy for Denver residents to pick up their kits. Over 1,000 of our gardens go to Denver residents every year,” said Melanie Stolp, manager of Resource Central’s Garden In A Box and its water efficiency Slow the Flow programs.

    And the results of the customers’ purchases are amazing.

    Just take a look at Resource Central’s 2021 numbers for Denver Water:

  • 1,834 Garden In A Box kits sold to customers who live in Denver and the surrounding suburbs of Centennial, Edgewater, Greenwood Village, Lakewood, Littleton and Wheat Ridge.
  • 100,000 square feet of low-water gardens planted, according to Resource Central’s estimates.
  • 9.5 million gallons of water saved over the lifetime of those new gardens, according to Resource Central’s estimates.
  • A Resource Central employee loads a Garden In A Box kit during the spring 2021 pickup event. Photo Credit: Denver Water

    “The Garden In A Box program helps people start small, converting a section of the lawn from turf to low-water plants,” said Jeff Tejral, Denver Water’s former water efficiency manager who guided the partnership with Resource Central.

    “It helps people learn about these plants, how to care for them and the beauty they can bring to their home. From there, they often convert more sections of grass to water-wise landscapes.”

    Customer surveys indicate about two-thirds of Garden In A Box buyers have little or no experience with water-wise plants, according to Tejral.

    The Garden In A Box kit comes with a plant-by-number guide for a landscape designed by professionals using water-wise plants. Photo credit: Denver Water

    That’s why each garden comes with a guide that helps customers through the planting and early years of the garden’s life.

    Gardens have been sold in the spring and typically sell out quickly. Resource Central continues to increase the number of kits available each year to meet the growing demand. The organization has also conducted a fall sale for about four years and in 2021 increased its offerings by 35%.

    Plant Select helps gardeners find water-wise plants that thrive in Colorado and the retailers that sell them. See their Top 10 plants from 2020.

    The fall 2021 sale sold out. Another fall is planned for 2022.

    Bowman encourages anyone interested in purchasing a Garden In A Box to check out Resource Central’s website and sign up for their newsletter.

    A Garden In A Box kit planted in southeast Denver’s Hampden neighborhood. Photo credit: Denver Water

    In addition to Garden In A Box, Resource Central also offers other water conservation programs through its water utility partners, including:

  • Lawn Removal Service program.
  • Slow the Flow consultations to improve water efficiency inside and outside.
  • Free webinars on water-wise landscaping held in the spring.
  • Simple strategies can cut #water use and save money: From faulty flappers to sunken sprinklers, how small things can add to your water bill — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Jay Adams):

    As summer is typically a time of higher water use (and higher monthly bills), Denver Water wants to remind customers that making changes to indoor and outdoor water use can help save water and save money.

    “The best way to save money on your water bill is to become more efficient at using water,” said Jeff Tejral, a former water efficiency manager at Denver Water.

    Denver Water and the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program have several resources available to help save water and money.

    From fixing leaks inside and outside to turning off the water when brushing your teeth, some of the following water-saving ideas are free or inexpensive and can be done quickly. Others, like revamping your landscape or replacing appliances, may require a more long-term approach.

    A constantly dripping faucet won’t only drive you crazy but it will freak Mother Nature out, too. Even a small faucet leak can waste up to three gallons of water each day. Photo credit: Delta Faucet

    Fixing leaks indoors

    Across the U.S., Americans waste about 1 trillion gallons of water every year through water leaks and spend about 10% of their water bill on wasted water, according to the EPA.

    “If you’ve got a leak, you are spending money on water that you’re not even using,” Tejral said. “Leaking toilets are often the biggest culprits for water waste. Some leaks are almost undetectable, while others are easy to spot.”

    The biggest cause of toilet leaks are worn-out flappers. These are the rubber parts that seal off the tank from the bowl. Over time, the flappers decay and allow water to slowly leak into the bowl.

    This toilet has a small, almost undetectable leak through its pink, circular flapper on the bottom of the tank. Some leaks can be detected by listening to hear if water is coming into the tank after it’s done filling. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Another common cause of leaks is a float arm that is not set properly, causing water to constantly flow down the overflow/refill tube.

    The EPA reports that an average leaking toilet can waste about 200 gallons of water every day.

    For Denver Water customers, a leak of 200 gallons per day can add around $415 per year on your water bill.

    Here’s how to check if your toilet is leaking.

    Listen to hear if the toilet continues to run after a flush. Or, drop dye tabs or a few drops of food coloring into the toilet tank. If there is a leak, color will show up in the bowl after a few minutes depending on the size of the leak. Just make sure to flush after the test to prevent stains.

    Fixing flappers and float arms are relatively simple and inexpensive repairs. Replacement parts can be found at hardware and home improvement stores and there are many resources online to help guide you through the fix.

    Placing a few drops of food coloring in a toilet’s tank will leak into the bowl if there is a leak in the flapper. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In addition to checking toilets for leaks, Tejral also suggests inspecting all water sources in your home, including faucets, showers, and water supply lines for dishwashers, washing machines, swamp coolers and ice machines.

    Denver Water has tips for conducting a self-audit of your home’s plumbing on its website.

    And remember, small leaks can add up over time. A leak of 10 drops per minute can waste 300 gallons of water per year.

    Not only can these leaks again add to your water bill, they can damage your home.

    Fixing leaks outdoors

    Spring is a great time to inspect your irrigation system and outdoor hoses for leaks as you turn the system on in preparation for the summer irrigation season. Be sure to wait until it warms up to turn on the system, the last freeze in the metro area is typically around May 4, according to the National Weather Service.

    Inspecting your sprinkler throughout the watering season is a good way to spot problems. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Outdoor water leaks can be found in sprinkler heads, pvc pipes, backflow preventers, irrigation system valves, sprinkler heads and drip systems. Not only do leaks raise your water bill, they lower the performance of your entire sprinkler system.

    Let’s run the math on how leaks can hit you in the wallet.

    Irrigation system experts say it’s not uncommon for a sprinkler zone to leak one gallon per minute. If you run that zone for 18 minutes, three times per week, that’s 216 wasted gallons of water per month and roughly an additional $1.22 on your Denver Water bill.

    If there are similar leaks on multiple sprinkler zones in your yard, and those leaks continue all summer and over many years, that’s a lot of wasted water that adds onto your utility bill.

    And if you use a manual sprinkler, remember to check your hose connections for leaks too.

    Wet areas around sprinklers can be a sign of a leak in a supply line or connection underground. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Watering rules can save you money

    The EPA reports that 50% of water put on lawns nationwide is lost due to wind, evaporation and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods.

    That’s why following Denver Water’s rules for outdoor water use can help save money on your water bill.

    “The summer watering rules are in effect from May 1 through Oct. 1. They can really help customers save money by encouraging them to water efficiently,” Tejral said. “We see a lot of inefficiencies with sprinkler systems and small problems that can add up.”

    One basic rule is to water between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. This avoids watering in the heat of the day when water can be lost to evaporation before it ever lands on the grass.

    It is also best to avoid watering when it’s windy, so water doesn’t blow off your yard.

    Also, check to make sure sprinklers are not aiming onto the street, driveway or sidewalk.

    Homeowners should also check the weather forecast and look for rainy days when they can skip irrigating and let your lawn soak up Mother Nature’s rain.

    Check to make sure your sprinklers aren’t accidentally watering the sidewalk or street. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Setting the control clock

    The watering rules can help your lawn by providing guidelines for how long to run sprinkler zones based on various types of sprinklers. Denver Water recommends watering only two or three days per week.

    Tejral reminds homeowners to check their irrigation system’s control clock throughout the watering season, avoiding the “set it and forget it” approach.

    Common problems with control clocks include sprinklers going off in the middle of the day, zones not running for an appropriate length of time and run times that are not adjusted during the watering season as weather conditions change.

    roperly programming your irrigation control system will improve the efficiency of your sprinklers and improve the health of your yard. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “Understanding your control system is one of the most important things you can do to make sure you are watering efficiently and not wasting water,” Tejral said.

    Tejral also recommends setting controllers to “cycle and soak.”

    This means splitting the total run time for each sprinkler zone in half. For example, instead of running each zone for 18 minutes all at once, run each zone for nine minutes and then wait a bit before running the same zone for another nine minutes.

    “Cycle and soak practices give the ground more time to absorb water like a sponge,” Tejral said. “If the sponge is full, it can’t absorb any more water. The ground works the same way.”

    When customers do not follow these guidelines, they often think using more water is the best way to get a greener yard. But that often adds to the bill and does not help the grass.

    “Cycle and soak” is a watering technique used to break up sprinkler run times to give water time to soak into the ground. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Another tip is to monitor each sprinkler zone because some zones need less water than others.

    For example, grass in a backyard that has several trees will need less water than grass in a front yard with no trees that is in the full sun all day.

    The watering rules also provide guidance for adjusting sprinkler zone run times throughout the watering season. Less water is needed in May and September, when the weather is cooler, than in June, July and August, when the weather is warmer.

    Avoid overwatering

    A common mistake that leads to higher water bills is overwatering the yard when brown spots or dry areas appear.

    “Often, homeowners see brown spots and immediately think they need to run their sprinklers longer, when in fact the brown spots could be due to a variety of problems,” Tejral said.

    Sprinkler-related reasons for brown spots include heads that have sunk into the ground, broken heads, sprinklers that are not aimed properly, water pressure issues and poor coverage. Doing a visual inspection when the sprinklers are running is a good way to spot problems.

    Some problems can be easily fixed.