Thornton filed a lawsuit Monday [January 30, 2023] in South Carolina District Court against dozens of companies and people that produce PFAS, or “forever chemicals”, claiming the toxic substances contaminated the city’s water supply. Not only is Thornton suing a slate of high-profile companies, like 3M, DuPont and Chemours, it’s also suing 20 unnamed “entities or persons” that might have “permitted, caused and/or contributed” to the contamination of the city’s water. For decades the companies understood that PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, do not degrade naturally and were accumulating in people’s bodies, according to the lawsuit’s complaint…
Thornton officials announced in July that its water supply exceeded the EPA’s new – sharply reduced – limits for PFAS by more than 1,000 times. The city supplies water to about 160,000 people. At the time, Thornton’s water treatment and quality manager said the source of the chemicals weren’t immediately clear but that the city had stopped using some wells from which they drew water and began treating other water sources with new chemicals to draw out the toxic substances. Now city officials believe the contamination comes from firefighting foam used across the area for training and for actual fires, the lawsuit says. Thornton hired a consultant to help understand how best to clean the contamination. Cleanup and damage is expected to haunt the city “for many years to come,” the lawsuit says. The city is looking for money from the companies for the damage done to its property and for the cost of “investigating, remediating, and monitoring” its drinking water. While Thornton appears to be the first city in Colorado to sue PFAS manufacturers, its legal action follows a similar lawsuit filed nearly a year ago by Attorney General Phil Weiser.
The city of Aurora, in collaboration with American Civil Constructors, will start work Jan. 30 on a multi-use trail to close the gap along the High Line Canal between Colfax Avenue and recent improvements constructed north of I-70.
The High Line Canal Trail construction project, which spans nearly two miles, will include:
A continuous 8-foot-wide concrete trail
Two pedestrian bridges (one to cross over the canal just south of Smith Road and one over I-70 just east of the Tower Road interchange)
An upgraded railroad crossing to promote pedestrian and cyclist safety
Access to the 71-mile High Line Canal Regional Trail within the metro area
Designed with community input, the new trail will provide close-to-home, accessible recreation opportunities within the community and serve a diverse population that may otherwise have limited opportunities to access natural areas. View additional details regarding the community input process, project files and more at EngageAurora.org/HLCT.
The city has been granted federal funds through the Denver Regional Council of Governments to help pay for the trail construction with city capital improvement funding used as a match amount. Additional funding partners consist of the Conservation Trust Fund, Adams County Open Space Grant, and the Adams County Open Space Tax Shareback.
American Civil Constructors will begin work on the project’s south end and between East Colfax and East 19th avenues on the east side of Tower Road and along the canal.
Vehicular and pedestrian travelers can expect intermittent delays in these areas for the first two months. Alternate routes are recommended when possible.
The contractor also plans to start working on the bridge abutment just south of I-70 when the project kicks off.
Traffic impacts will be posted on this page as the project progresses.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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, 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.”
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.”
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.”
More than 3,500 students are expected to get out of the classroom and into the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area after the area received a grant from the National Park Foundation.
The foundation, the nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, awarded a $26,800 Open OutDoors for Kids grant to the national heritage area as part of the foundation’s Youth Engagement and Education Initiative.
The funding will support the heritage area’s Learning in Our Watershed program, providing scholarships to public, charter, home and online schools for field trips to locations throughout the heritage area. Scholarships are available for all grades, but fourth-grade classrooms from Title I schools receive priority.
On-site field trips for the program include the Poudre Learning Center, the Environmental Learning Center, Centennial Village Museum, the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, the Windsor History Museum and Study Outdoors Learn Outdoors. Learning in Our Watershed has initiatives for learners of all ages.
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo wrapped up a multi-day visit to Colorado today, where she highlighted investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act in drought resilience.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over the next five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, protect aquatic ecosystems and fulfill Indian Water Rights Settlements. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing another $4 billion to address the worsening crisis. Combined these two initiatives represent the largest investments in climate resilience in the nation’s history and provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the work of the Interior Department.
Today [January 13, 2023] , she joined Congressman Jason Crow, Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg, and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman to tour the Binney Water Treatment facility in Aurora to celebrate a recent $5 million investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will allow the city to expand the Prairie Waters Project (PWP), securing more clean, reliable water. The funding is part of $84 million announced last month from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to advance innovative drought resilience efforts.
The City of Aurora constructed the PWP after the severe drought in 2002 to improve drought resiliency. The project is an innovative potable reuse system, which captures and treats river water to provide up to 10 million gallons of clean water to Aurora residents per day. With Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, the City will expand the PWP by constructing a second radial well and pump station and increasing the overall water recovery capacity by 4,500 acre-feet annually.
On Thursday, Assistant Secretary Trujillo spoke at the Four States Irrigation Council Annual Meeting to highlight how investments from both laws will support western communities. While in Colorado, Assistant Secretary Trujillo also visited with staff at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center and at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colorado. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $510.7 million over the next five year to advance scientific innovation through integrated mapping of critical minerals that power many household appliances and clean energy technologies and through a $167 million investment for the USGS Energy and Minerals Research Facility in Golden, Colorado.
Aurora is planning an expansion to its innovative Prairie Waters project with the help of a $5 million federal grant, a project that city staffers say could recover enough water to support thousands of homes. The grant, which the federal government says the city is likely to receive, would be used toward the $11.5 million undertaking of digging a new pump station and radial well, which would draw water from below the South Platte River.
“Drought has been something we’re needing to tackle and handle more and more as the years go on, and so having this resource come from the South Platte instead of the mountains is definitely a drought resiliency component,” said Aurora Water staffer Justin Montes, who applied for the federal grant…
Radial wells consist of a single vertical shaft ending in multiple horizontal shafts that radiate outward like the spokes of a wheel. The radial well and pump station would be part of an expansion to the Prairie Waters project including another radial well that the city plans to dig in 2024. Aurora Water representatives say the entire expansion has the potential to double the water recovered by the project, which uses wells dug near the South Platte River to collect water that has been absorbed and naturally filtered by the riverbank. By the time water is collected by the wells, it has already passed through hundreds of feet of sediment beneath the South Platte, filtering out pathogens, organic chemicals and other contaminants. Montes said the process can also filter out debris introduced by wildfires.
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.
See inside the Hydro building, which opened on Friday, Jan. 6:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the Chimney Hollow “E-Newsletter” from Northern Water:
Chimney Hollow Reservoir construction crews made significant progress in 2022. Work started in August 2021 and is scheduled to continue until August 2025. Here are some highlights from this year’s work.
Main Dam Foundation Prep: In November 2022, crews completed the main dam rock excavation, which marked a huge milestone in reservoir construction after 15 months of work on this component.
Hydraulic Asphalt Core: Chimney Hollow construction crews began the asphalt placement in October 2022. For the next two years, the asphalt will be placed in 9-inch increments per lift until the dam reaches a height of about 350 feet. Rockfill and filter/drain construction occur concurrently to complete the embankment construction at any given elevation.
Bald Mountain Interconnect: One of the most time-sensitive aspects of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project was the Bald Mountain Interconnect. A shutdown of the Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) Project occurred from mid-September through mid-December as crews cut into existing infrastructure to tie in a 126-inch diameter section of steel pipe with a 72-inch diameter steel offtake (known as a wye) to add the ability to deliver water into Chimney Hollow Reservoir from the C-BT Project.
Larimer County and Saddle Dam Access Roads: On Nov. 15, the Larimer County and saddle dam access roads were completed. When the reservoir opens to the public, the Larimer County access road will be the entry road to Chimney Hollow’s future public recreation and open space facilities. The saddle dam road is not a public road and extends to the saddle dam for Northern Water maintenance access.
Downstream Tunnel and Valve Chamber: The downstream tunnel portal and excavation of the 26-foot diameter downstream portion of the tunnel, which runs 667 feet to the center of the main dam was completed in October 2022. A 30-foot diameter valve chamber was also excavated to provide room for mechanical equipment installation and maintenance. A 72-inch diameter steel conduit will be placed inside the tunnel to bring water in and out of Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
Click the link to read the article on the KUNR website (Kaleb Roedel). Here’s an excerpt:
In Nevada, more than $1.7 million will pay for Las Vegas Valley homeowners using septic tanks to convert to the municipal sewer system. This recycles water back into Lake Mead, which is fed by the drought-stricken Colorado River, said Doa Ross, deputy general manager of engineering for the Southern Nevada Water Authority…
In Colorado, $5 million will be used to build a collector well in Aurora. On the state’s Western Slope, Deutsch Domestic Water Company is getting $585,000 for storage and efficiency improvements…
In New Mexico, $5 million will go toward a groundwater well in Gallup. Another $1.5 million will help pay for new tools and strategies in regions with acequia water distribution systems, which are gravity-fed earthen canals that divert stream flow for distribution to fields…
Utah is getting the largest chunk of funds among states in the Mountain West. The state has seven different projects receiving a total of about $22.5 million
Editor’s note: Rice Elementary School became the second Wellington school to find elevated copper levels in some of its drinking water sources over PSD’s winter break, according to a district email sent to the school’s staff and families Wednesday. The Coloradoan will continue its reporting on this development.
Poudre School District is investigating the cause of issues with Wellington Middle-High School’s drinking water after two science classes at the school found high levels of copper in it late last year. Following the class tests — which showed levels more than double the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for copper in drinking water at two water bottle filling stations — PSD took its own water samples from around the school Dec. 22, later confirming through a third-party lab that copper levels in several fixtures and bottle filling stations exceeded the EPA’s threshold, according to a district email to the school’s staff and parents Tuesday [January 3, 2023]…
The Town of Wellington also took samples of its own around the same time, ultimately ruling out the town’s water distribution lines as the cause for the elevated copper levels, the town and PSD both said. While PSD hasn’t yet confirmed what’s causing the elevated copper levels, the general contractor who built Wellington Middle-High School believes the issue could be tied to the newly constructed building’s water softener equipment, according to the district.
Fifteen towns, cities and water districts in northern Colorado hope to begin building two dams and other infrastructure in 2025 to deliver enough water to meet needs for a quarter-million people, many of them along the fast-growing Interstate 25 corridor.
Northern Water, the agency overseeing what’s known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), hailed federal approval of a critical permit last month as a milestone. “This action is the culmination of nearly 20 years of study, project design and refinement to develop water resources well into the 21st century,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water. Wind said that NISP will enable the 15 project members, including Windsor, Erie and Fort Morgan, to grow without buying farmland, then drying it up and using its water for growth.
The environmental group, Save the Poudre, hopes to dash those plans. The nonprofit says it will file a lawsuit in an attempt to block the $2 billion NISP. To succeed, the group will have to overcome precedent. It failed to block Chimney Hollow, the dam that Northern Water is constructing as part of a separate project, in the foothills west of Berthoud whose construction began in 2022 after a three-year court case.
“We have a much stronger case against NISP because the project would drain a dramatic amount of water out of the Poudre River, which would negatively impact the river’s ecology, its habitat, and its jurisdictional wetlands — protected by the Clean Water Act — all the way through Fort Collins and downstream,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save The Poudre.
This new court challenge was set up by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcement Dec. 9 that it was issuing a crucial permit under the Clean Water Act. Directors of Northern Water, the overarching agency for the participating jurisdictions, are scheduled on Thursday, Jan. 5, to take up whether to accept the terms of the permit. Staff members have advised them to do so.
The impetus for NISP can be traced to the early 1980s when Northern Water began drawing up plans to dam the Poudre River in the foothills near Fort Collins. Federal agencies balked at Denver’s plans for a similar project on the South Platte River at Two Forks, in the foothills southwest of Denver. Northern shelved its initial plan. But after the scorching drought that began in 2002, Northern developed plans for NISP, which it submitted to federal agencies in 2004.
Two reservoirs are central to NISP. Glade Park, an off-channel reservoir, would be built north of La Porte, bounded by the Dakota hogbacks and a dam that would cross today’s Highway 287. It would have a capacity of 170,000 acre-feet, slightly larger than the 157,000 acre-feet of Horsetooth Reservoir. Northern’s water rights are relatively junior, dating from the 1980s and would only generate water in spring months during high runoff years.
The project promises delivery via pipeline of 40,000 acre-feet of high-quality water annually to the 11 mostly smaller towns and cities and the 4 water districts. Erie is buying the largest amount of water from the new project, claiming 6,500 acre-feet. An acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons.
The second storage pool, Galeton Reservoir, at 45,000 acre-feet, would impound water northeast of Greeley. Unlike the water from Glade, which is to be strictly dedicated to domestic use, Galeton would hold water that will be delivered to farms in Weld County that otherwise would have received water from the Poudre River. This will be done via a water-rights swap with two ditches north of Greeley. Those agreements have not been finalized.
Preservation of agricultural land, costs of water, and water quality figure prominently in the talking points both for — and, in some cases, against — the project.
Northern and its project participants argue that NISP will allow them to grow without drying up farms. It can do so, they say, by delivering the water at a lower cost.
The federal environmental impact statement’s no-action alternative found that population growth would occur regardless of whether a federal permit was issued, said Jeff Stahla, the public information officer for Northern Water. That analysis found that in the absence of NISP, the 15 cities and water districts would look to buy water rights currently devoted to agriculture, ultimately taking 64,000 acres — or 100 square miles — out of production.
The 15 utilities will be able to get NISP’s new water at $40,000 per acre-foot, substantially below current market rates for other regional water sources such as the Colorado-Big Thompson Project shares. Those shares, which constitute seven-tenths of an acre-foot, have been selling for about $75,000.
In some cases, expanding cities will take farmland out of production — and presumably gain access to the water, but not always.
“We do not want to dry up northern Colorado,” says John Thornhill, Windsor’s director of community development.
Thornhill said that Windsor, a town of 42,000 with its 20th Century sugar beet factory still standing, is participating in NISP to improve the resiliency of its water portfolio as it prepares for another 10,000 to 15,000 residents in the next 10 to 15 years.
“The town of Windsor has just as much interest in having a clean, healthy river as anybody else does,” he says. “[The Poudre River] goes right through our town.”
Fort Collins is not participating in the project. In a 2020 resolution, it said it would oppose the proposal or any variant that failed to “address the City’s fundamental concerns about the quality of its water supply and the effects on the Cache la Poudre River through the city.”
Water quality will be at the heart of Save the Poudre’s lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers’ 404 permit. The group’s Wockner says the diversion to Glade Reservoir will reduce peak flows in the Poudre, a river already suffering from E. coli and other pollutants, by up to 40%. “The water quality in the river will worsen because as you take out the peak flows what is left is dirty water,” he says.
Also at issue, says Wockner, will be the impacts to Fort Collins’ wastewater treatment. With reduced flows downstream from its two treatment plants, those plants would have to be upgraded.
On the flip side, Fort Morgan got involved partly because of Glade Reservoir’s higher water quality, according to City Manager Brent Nation.
The city of 12,000 historically relied upon aquifer water heavily laden with minerals for its domestic supply. As the aquifer became increasingly tainted by chemicals used in agricultural production, the city, in the late 1990s, began importing water through an 80-mile pipeline from Carter Lake, a reservoir that stores imported Colorado River water southwest of Loveland.
To use aquifer water for its new population growth Fort Morgan would need to upgrade its water treatment system to use reverse osmosis. That’s a more expensive treatment that also produces a problem of brine disposal.
Both Fort Morgan and Windsor have started working on land-use regulations that will restrict high-quality water for domestic use, at least in some subdivisions, leaving lower-quality water for landscaping.
If NISP as proposed survives Save the Poudre’s legal challenge, it may still need a 1041 permit from Fort Collins. Those regulations have not yet been adopted, however.
Allen Best grew up in eastern Colorado, where both sets of grandparents were farmers. Best writes about the energy transition in Colorado and beyond at BigPivots.com.
Many members of Standley Lake’s boating community saw a huge aspect of their community taken away with the ban of trailered boats in 2019. [Gary] Gambino used to work a graveyard shift and after, went straight to the lake.
“I would come home, hook up my boat, go out onto Standley, take it out in the back bay anchor in and take my four hours of sleep,” he said…
“Northglenn’s water in Standley Lake is irreplaceable, valued at more than $209 million dollars. There is no level of risk that our community is willing to accept when it comes to protecting our drinking water supply,” the letter reads.
Click the link to read “Standley Lake heads toward fifth summer with a firm no to powerboats” on The Denver Post website (John Aguilar). Here’s an excerpt:
But Westminster Councilman Dave DeMott said it’s “not realistic” to operate on a zero-risk basis “as there is no area where zero risk exists in this world.” He’s heard from boating enthusiasts that they are “frustrated” with the ban, which was made permanent in late 2019…
Northglenn — along with Westminster, Thornton and the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company — own the 42,000 acre-feet of water in the lake, which serves as the sole supply of drinking water for both Westminster and Northglenn. Standley Lake, which is fed by three canals diverted off of Clear Creek, accounts for about a quarter of Thornton’s drinking water supply. It, too, is in favor of maintaining the trailered boat ban. Any change in boating policy would have to be agreed to by the three cities…
Northglenn’s decision was likely re-affirmed by the September discovery of a single zebra mussel in Highline Lake State Park, northwest of Grand Junction. In late October, Colorado Parks & Wildlife announced more zebra mussels had been found in Highline Lake, giving the lake an official infestation listing. CPW says Highline Lake is currently the only Colorado body of water infested with zebra mussels. No quagga mussels are known to exist in the state, though Lake Powell in Utah has them.
“We don’t see the value in risking our drinking water supply for the benefit of a small group of people,” said Tami Moon, Northglenn’s environmental manager. “That is the only place we have to store our water.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers have detected the presence of a nonnative invasive plant species in Boulder Reservoir.
The plant, Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM), was detected during a routine inspection at the reservoir in the summer of 2022 and confirmed during a follow-up survey in the fall. The plant is established primarily along the western coves of the reservoir and in areas along the southern and northern shorelines, according to a release from the City of Boulder. It is not harmful to public health and at its current growth levels, there are no impacts to recreation use at the reservoir or its use as a municipal and irrigation supply.
If the growth becomes very dense, the plant could impact swimming and boating and cause taste and odor issues with drinking water.
“While the survey confirmed the presence of EWM at the reservoir, we don’t know how it arrived. It can easily be transported by wind, connected waterways, humans fishing, dogs, watercraft, or wildlife, so we encourage anyone who recreates in the water to be vigilant about checking for aquatic nuisance species,” said Boulder Parks and Recreation Director Ali Rhodes. “The survey did find that there are no other aquatic nuisance or invasive plant species in the reservoir, which is good news.”
According to the city, recreation users will see a continuation of changes put in place in summer 2022. Upon initial detection of the plant, the city adjusted operations to include exit inspections on watercraft, increased education to users and added notification signage.
Russian olive is an invasive species that spreads aggressively and deprives native species of important resources like water, according to Julia Clover Clark, natural resources manager at the High Line Canal Conservancy.
“We don’t want the canal to become a vector for Russian olive to spread throughout open spaces,” she said.
With a recent $41,100 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the High Line Canal Conservancy will continue efforts to rid the canal of the invasive species. Working with the Mile High Youth Corps, they will spend four weeks eliminating Russian olive along the corridor in Greenwood Village and Cherry Hills Village.
“It’s just such an exciting opportunity because not only (does) it allow us to get out there and do this important work of mitigating Russian olive along the corridor, but it really aligns with our values to be able to have a partnership with (the youth corps),” Clark said.
The grant program is implemented in partnership with the Colorado Youth Corps Association, a coalition of eight accredited conservation service corps that employ and train people aged 14-25 in the natural resource sector…Last year, the High Line Canal Conservancy also received the grant, which it used to started Russian olive mitigation along 20 miles of the canal corridor. This pilot project covered parts of the corridor in Denver, unincorporated Arapahoe County, Centennial and Greenwood Village during the summer of 2022. At the end of that project, a 5.5 mile gap between the project areas remained. This year, their work will address the gap.
“After (the corps’) work is completed, there will be 27 continuous miles (with no Russian olive),” Clark said.
For over a century, the U.S. Army has been plagued by the lasting consequences of its negligent use, storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals. As a result, countless troops and dependents residing on contaminated bases regularly came into contact with toxins known to trigger adverse health effects and deadly diseases.
In high-profile cases like North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, nearly 1 million service members and their families were exposed to deadly toxins for over 30 years (1953-1987), including health hazards like benzene, vinyl chloride, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, and per/polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS.
Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are a group of over 12,000 artificial compounds that represent a distinct environmental concern due to their resilient molecular structure, which prevents natural decomposition, allowing them to easily permeate the soil and contaminate drinking water sources. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to testicular cancer, organ damage (liver, kidneys), high cholesterol, decreased vaccine efficiency in children, and impaired reproduction.
On Camp Lejeune and more than 700 army bases across the US, PFAS contamination is directly linked to aqueous film-forming foam used since the early 1970s to extinguish difficult fuel blazes. In 2016, the EPA established a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, the main PFAS compounds.
Although service members and their relatives are the most burdened, contamination originating from military sources plays a larger role in an insidious pattern of discrimination that affects marginalized minority communities.
Due to discriminatory redlining policies, land in minority neighborhoods was significantly undervalued and became a cost-efficient solution to situate army bases, industrial facilities, landfills, traffic routes, and other sources of toxic pollution. The higher toxic burden that vulnerable minority communities experience due to systemic prejudice is better known as “environmental racism.”
A 2021 report notes that Colorado has the highest PFAS footprint in the country, with approximately 21,000 sites suspected of using or storing such compounds. Although industrial activities are the primary driver of PFAS’ prevalence, frontline communities also have to contend with contamination from several military sources.
Nine army bases in Colorado are known to have been affected by PFAS due to aqueous film-forming foam, with the most contaminated including Schriever Air Force Base (870,000 ppt), Buckley Space Force Base (formerly Buckley Air Force Base, 205,000 ppt), Fort Carson (156,000 ppt), U.S. Air Force Academy (72,000 ppt) and Peterson Space Force Base (formerly Peterson Air Force Base, 15,000 ppt). Significantly, PFAS from Peterson has previously contaminated the drinking water sources of downstream communities, with a CDC study finding PFAS compounds in the blood of residents in one exposed community registering concentrations 1.8 to 8.1 times the national average.
While the Air Force and Department of Defense have been involved in some remediation efforts, from distributing bottled water to installing filters and building treatment plants, their contributions are considered limited by Coloradans, given the lack of actual PFAS cleanup projects. Unlike Camp Lejeune, none of the contaminated Colorado bases are listed as Superfund sites.
Frontline communities exposed to higher health risks due to environmental racism’s lingering effects rely on state and federal authorities to establish a legal framework that keeps polluters accountable and protects vulnerable citizens. Since 2020, Colorado has enacted some of the country’s most stringent PFAS laws and adopted a PFAS narrative policy that closely follows the EPA’s 2016 advisories.
Federally, the National Defense Authorization Act will see aqueous film-forming foam phased out by 2024 and finance PFAS cleanup projects on contaminated installations, while the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide impacted communities with crucial investments to address pollution and other causes of environmental injustice. The Honoring Our PACT Act will provide improved health benefits and compensation for veterans and military families exposed to toxins in highly contaminated locations like Camp Lejeune.
Despite these encouraging developments, the DoD has yet to commence cleanup on any of the most affected bases in the country per NDAA’s provisions, and diseases resulting from exposure to PFAS aren’t recognized as presumptive conditions under HOPA. Moreover, while Colorado adopted the EPA’s 2016 guidelines, it falls behind other states that employ even stricter standards.
Still, Colorado has the opportunity to stay ahead of the game by implementing more effective PFAS standards that align with the EPA’s most current efforts to regulate these toxic compounds. With the goal of setting enforceable maximum contaminant levels in drinking water, the EPA has drastically reduced its non-binding advisories for PFOA and PFOS in June 2022 to a paltry 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively, illustrating the dangers these substances represent even at exceedingly low concentrations.
The NISP project in the North Front Range has just received its critical permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The project, which will cost $2 billion and take years to complete, will provide water to a host of cities and agricultural water districts in Larimer, Weld, Morgan, and Boulder counties.
The review by Colorado and federal environmental agencies took 20 years and added millions in additional cost to the project in scientific study and mitigation, including sending more water down the Poudre River through Fort Collins to maintain flows above what currently exist. It also adds major recreational opportunities and flatwater fishing.
Ciruli Associates provided public relations and public opinion research to the project managers to assist in the regulatory compliance.
After years of opposition and delay, some adversaries now threaten lawsuits, their success after these long environmental reviews has been limited. Most recently, they filed lawsuits to stop the Windy Gap project on the western slope and Gross Reservoir in Boulder County and failed in both.
Fortunately, the region’s water leadership maintained a steady and determined commitment to achieving the project’s approval.
The planned $2 billion Northern Integrated Supply Project received a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 Record of Decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday, Northern Water Conservancy District — the group leading the project — announced in a news release, calling this “a major milestone” for the project.This is the final large-scale permit needed for the project to move forward, Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla told the Coloradoan.
“This action is the culmination of nearly 20 years of study, project design and refinement to develop water resources well into the 21st century,” Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind said in the news release. “This Project will also allow participating communities to serve their customers without targeting water now used on the region’s farms.”
NISP will divert water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to store in two new reservoirs — Glade Reservoir north of Fort Collins and the smaller Galeton Reservoir east of Ault — to supply water for 15 growing North Front Range communities and water suppliers, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and others in Weld and Boulder counties.,.Northern Water is still in the design phase for NISP, and Stahla said construction could begin in late 2024 or early 2025 and should be operational four years after that, based on the timeline for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
Arapahoe County may triple the amount of water developers will be made to bring to any new subdivision they build, as a historic drought continues to grip the region and demographers project the county’s population to surge to more than 800,000 by 2050. The stricter limit, which would increase the required groundwater allocation for new development from the state minimum of 100 years to 300 years — known among water managers as the “300-year rule” — will be considered as part of an 18-month, $500,000 water study Arapahoe County is launching this month. Any new regulations or directives from the county’s study, the first of its kind in 20 years, would apply only to unincorporated parts of the county…
The county would join several others in Colorado, like Adams, Elbert and El Paso, that have adopted the 300-year rule as demand on metro area aquifers has shot up over the decades. The population in the Greeley/Boulder/Denver metropolitan statistical area, under which the Denver Basin water table lies, has leaped from less than 2 million in 1985 to nearly 3.6 million last year. It could jump to 4.4 million people by mid-century, according to state demography data. And much of that new development is headed to the eastern periphery of metro Denver, just beyond the E-470 beltway. Sixteen of the top 20 best-selling residential developments in the metro area are in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, which accounted for 76% of all metro area lots under development, according to 2021 data from real estate analytics firm Zonda. But just how much growth is constrained by stricter water supply requirements in Arapahoe County, with a population of 655,000, is not clear. According to state demography numbers, the county’s projected population will increase to just over 800,000 over the next 28 years, which would translate to an additional demand of 21,200 to 53,300 acre-feet of water a year.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 Record of Decision for the Northern Integrated Supply Project. This is a major milestone for NISP, as it reflects the lead federal regulatory agency’s review and approval of the Project.
The Corps’ approval was based on a lengthy and rigorous scientific analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and a host of other environmental laws, including the federal Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, State Water Quality compliance certification, and State Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan requirements.
The Corps has concluded that the Project’s 40,000 acre-foot yield will meet a substantial amount of the 15 Northern Front Range participants’ future water need and that NISP is the least environmentally impactful means of satisfying that need. The Corps considered a range of other potential alternative approaches, including the adverse impacts to the region if no federal action was taken.
“This action is the culmination of nearly 20 years of study, project design and refinement to develop water resources well into the 21st century,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “This Project will also allow participating communities to serve their customers without targeting water now used on the region’s farms.”
Through the federal permitting process, the Project was refined to further avoid and minimize environmental impacts and provide mitigation and enhancements to river-related resources. NISP’s operations will send more water down the Poudre River and through downtown Fort Collins in most months of the year, providing additional flows through the city in late summer, fall and winter than currently exist. NISP will also offer significant new flatwater recreation opportunities to everyone.
NISP includes Glade Reservoir, Galeton Reservoir, and associated project infrastructure to deliver high-quality water to more than 250,000 Northeastern Colorado residents.
Participants in the Project include the Town of Erie, Town of Windsor, City of Fort Morgan, Town of Frederick, City of Evans, City of Fort Lupton, Town of Eaton, Town of Severance, City of Lafayette, Town of Firestone, and City of Dacono, as well as the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, Left Hand Water District, Central Weld County Water District, and the Morgan County Quality Water District.
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.
“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 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.”
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.”
Letter puts kibosh on Westminster’s efforts to bring boating back
Northglenn Mayor Meredith Leighty sent a letter, signed by the eight other council members, declining Westminster’s request to meet regarding bringing boating back to Standley Lake.
“Northglenn’s water in Standley Lake is irreplaceable, valued at more than $209 million dollars. There is no level of risk that our community is willing to accept when it comes to protecting our drinking water supply,” the letter reads.
That means unless Northglenn changes their minds, Westminster will have to wait until 2030 to renegotiate the Intergovernmental Agreement. According to Thornton Spokesperson Todd Barnes, the agreement needs all three cities to agree to amend it. The move comes after Westminster held a study session on Nov. 21 discussing the possibility of reallowing boating on the lake. At the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott, City Councilor Rich Seymour and City Councilor Lindsey Emmons said they wanted to make sure all councilors — for Northglenn and Thornton — understand the entire issue. DeMott emphasized that the decision comes down to risk and the threshold each council is comfortable accepting. Seymour said it’s a complicated subject and takes a long time to understand. In response to the letter, DeMott said he was disappointed.
Two of the biggest current topics in water resources management drew nearly 400 people to the Embassy Suites on Nov. 15.
The Northern Water Fall Symposium offered in-depth panel discussions exploring the ongoing challenges facing users of Colorado River water and the challenges of developing housing with appropriate water-conserving landscaping.
With an overall theme of the event highlighting the physical and sociological adaptations that may be required of Northern Colorado residents into the future, the Symposium brought together water users from across many municipalities, agricultural interests and industries to hear from top experts in their respective fields.
In addition to the in-depth discussions, the Symposium offered the opportunity to meet the new director of the Colorado Water Center – John Tracy, hear about the regional outlook from the state’s climatologist, forest health initiatives and local water projects.
Planning for the Spring Water Users Meeting has already begun, and more information will be released soon.
The increase is part of a long-term plan for the city to be able to meet the funding and service requirements of water operations. In 2017, the city contracted Stantec Consulting to do a rate study.
“The study determined that to meet the funding and service requirements of water and wastewater operations, revenue collections would need to increase approximately 3.6% to 6.7% annually in each of the subsequent 10 years beginning in 2018,” the agenda read.
Future projects are the main drivers of the increase. From 2025 to 2027, there will be $37 million needed in repairs and another $37 million from 2028 to 2031. Rates will slowly increase between Jan. 1, 2023 and Jan. 1, 2027. The first 3,000 gallons will go from $4.24 to $4.59; 3,000 to 10,000 gallons will increase from $5.31 to $5.75; 10,000 gallons to 20,000 gallons will jump from $6.64 to $7.19; and over $20,000 gallons will creep up from $9.96 to $10.78. City Councilor Rich Kondo asked if there were any rhyme or reason to establishing the tiers. Director of Finance Jason Loveland said they were established a long time ago to encourage conservation. The average winter consumption for Northglenn residents is about 5,000 gallons, which will go from costing $66.76 in 2022 to $69.09 in 2023. Summer months are higher: the average usage is 15,000 gallons. The price tag will increase from $125.36 to $128.84.
In the halls of the Colorado State Capitol drinking fountains are in easy reach, and grabbing a quick drink of cool, clear, odorless water is an automatic act.
But just minutes away, in dozens of industrialized neighborhoods in North Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County, many homeowners and apartment dwellers never drink their tap water.
Tens of thousands of people in this area have been exposed to contaminated water over the years. Convincing them finally that their water is now safe to drink is a tough sell.
In a Commerce City bungalow on Kearney Drive, Armando Guardiola and his family are sitting in a small kitchen, eating posole from brightly colored bowls. The water served for this meal did not come from their tap. Instead, it came from a large, pale blue five-gallon jug perched on the edge of the sink.
It has been this way since Guardiola, a retired railway worker, and his parents moved into this bungalow in 1982.
Their tap water, he says, as his brother and sister interpret, is full of minerals that leave a residue everywhere. Sometimes it has an odor or a strange taste. The family’s water comes from the South Adams Water and Sanitation District and meets all the state standards for water quality and safety. But this is no comfort to the people who live here.
“They used to say, don’t drink the water,” Guardiola said. “Then, they came out about 15 years ago and said it was better. But we don’t trust this. A lot of people here have skin rashes. They have lost their hair. It has been a continuous problem.”
Two water bills
Parts of north Denver, south Adams County, and Commerce City have a legacy of water contamination that dates back more than half a century and is tied to aging lead service lines, in Denver, and various industrial activities farther north.
Wave after wave of pollutants have been discovered in this area, from contaminants that leaked from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the 1980s, to contamination from the local oil refinery whose lights dot the skyline at dawn and dusk.
Now, so-called forever chemicals, also known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been discovered in the groundwater in Commerce City and have been linked to firefighting foam used up until 2018 at the nearby Denver Fire Training Academy, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The City of Denver disputes that finding. It declined an interview request, citing potential litigation.
The South Adams Water and Sanitation District (SAWSD) says it must spend $45 million to $70 million to build a new treatment plant to remove this PFAS from its raw water.
Will it ever end, residents ask. They can’t answer that question.
Instead, many opt to pay two water bills: one at the local water filling station, where they often spend $10 to $50 a week to buy water for drinking and cooking, for watering plants and caring for their pets. This is in addition to their monthly water and sewer bills from the local utility, in this case the South Adams Water and Sanitation District. Utility costs vary depending on location and water use.
Armando’s brother Beto says there is little hope in the community that their tap water will ever be drinkable.
“To go back to the tap water we think is risky,” Beto said. “We’ve been told it’s good. We’ve been told it’s bad. We hope what happened in Jackson, Mississippi, doesn’t happen here,” referring to the decades-long problems with Jackson’s water system that finally collapsed earlier this year after it was inundated by flood waters.
Patricia Ferrero heads Protégete, an environmental justice initiative housed within Conservation Colorado.
“Honestly it all comes down to trust” Ferrero said. “I don’t know if there is one thing that would re-establish trust with these communities. Industry is so close to home. There is too much evidence that it is a sacrifice zone.”
Cultivando, another environmental justice group which is focused on Commerce City, recently launched a tap water testing program funded by the University of Denver. It has signed up 30 homeowners in the area, who have agreed to allow specially trained community members to come into their homes and gather water samples to have them privately tested. These residents get their water from various sources, including some from privately owned wells.
Once results are in, the activists will consider what next steps need to be taken. This could mean pushing for better water treatment or new indoor piping, or, if results confirm that the water is, in fact, safe to drink, looking at how they can work alongside the state health department and water providers to reassure residents on this point. In this way, the community organizers hope to begin rebuilding trust in the local water along with the government agencies and water utilities charged with protecting their water and their health.
Mike Wireman, a former national groundwater specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is running the Commerce City testing program for Cultivando.
“We have heard for some time, from residents who live in parts of Commerce City, that their water tastes bad, smells bad, feels bad. Bacteria can cause that. We know they have a problem, but I don’t believe that it is related to the water that leaves the Commerce City treatment plant. It gets back in somewhere between the water treatment plant and the homes,” Wireman said.
The problem may be inside these older homes. “The houses that were built were not constructed with the best materials. They were not $500,000 homes. They were built to accommodate industrial workers,” he said.
In addition to neighborhood activists, lawmakers have also taken note. In 2021, at lawmakers’ request, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created an environmental justice action task force in an effort to forge better relationships with communities whose water quality has been harmed by industrial contamination.
“We take these issues very seriously,” said Nicole Rowan, head of CDPHE’s Water Quality Division.
The state has also begun working with the City of Denver to oversee the removal of PFAS from soils around the Denver Fire Training Academy in Adams County. How long the cleanup might take isn’t clear. But Rowan said some mitigation work at the site has begun.
Generations of distrust
For the South Adams Water and Sanitation District, the legacy of contamination is a powerful, cultural constant. The district has built two treatment plants and is planning a third to deal with the issues, which stem both from industrial activities and naturally occurring minerals present in groundwater.
The discovery of PFAS in its groundwater wells in 2018 added another major item to its long list of industrial woes. The district immediately shut down wells that were too contaminated to salvage at the time, and began aggressively treating its other wells, as well as blending with clean water purchased from Denver, to meet federal PFAS safety standards. According to its 2022 Consumer Confidence Report, the district has been successful in meeting all federal and state water quality standards.
The district has spent millions of dollars and has some of the most sophisticated on-site testing equipment in the state, if not the country, according to Kipp Scott, SAWSD’s manager. Its high-tech labs allow the utility to test its raw water and treated water almost continuously to ensure it is safe. But new PFAS standards that are close to being finalized by the federal government will mean more has to be done.
Scott remains deeply worried that the plume of contamination moving from the fire academy toward his district’s wells won’t be stopped before it gets any closer. In the interim, the district is spending some $8 million a year to buy clean surface water supplies from Denver Water to mix with its own, to ensure it can continue to deliver clean water until the contamination is removed.
Equally distressing is the community’s skepticism about the district’s efforts to deliver clean water to them, Scott said.
“It’s been a public relations nightmare,” he said.
The district is also plagued with naturally occurring hard water, which damages plumbing and can cause skin rashes and hair loss in some. Last year, the district built a $60 million water-softening plant that now delivers water that is much softer to residents.
Many of its customers still don’t know the water has been improved or do not believe it.
Theresa Friess, SAWSD’s public affairs coordinator, was hired to help educate and engage customers.
“It’s been a hard conversation, in part because it’s hard to hear that our customers feel this way,” said Friess. “But we have tried to increase our outreach and we are having more conservations with non-English speaking residents as well.”
The district has hosted tours and open houses, and has had various government officials meet with residents and publicly drink the water that flows from the taps in an effort to prove it is safe.
To date, there is little if any belief among nearly two dozen residents across north Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County interviewed by Fresh Water News that the water won’t make them sick.
“We have been drinking this water for years,” said one woman at a meeting convened by Cultivando in Commerce City last month on the private tap water testing program. Speaking through an interpreter, she said, “They think they can come in here and take one drink of water to convince us it is safe? What does that prove?”
Are your pipes okay?
In Denver’s Elyria, Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods, Denver Water has been working since 2019 to replace tens of thousands of lead service lines to protect its customers from lead contamination. Testing had shown that lead was leaching from the pipes into the water that reached the tap. The work is going on across the city, including such neighborhoods as Hilltop and Washington Park. Lead service lines are more likely to be an issue for homes built before 1951.
The agency replaced the old lead service lines in front of Tony Garcia’s Elyria house two years ago.
Garcia, a well-known historian and executive director of Su Teatro, and others in the neighborhood are happy about the remediation project. Some even drink the water now. But the utility is still almost 10 years away from having all the city’s lead service lines replaced, even with a new federal infrastructure grant to speed the process.
Garcia still uses filters provided by Denver Water, and the utility still tests his water periodically. Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said the ongoing testing is part of its lead monitoring program. For many of these older homes, the water may still contain lead, leaching not from the main delivery lines, which are lead-free, or from the customer-owned service lines Denver Water is replacing, but from the aging plumbing systems within the homes themselves. No amount of lead is safe to drink.
Garcia doesn’t drink the tap water and has no plans to do so. If his home’s pipes need to be replaced, he said, it will have to be done by the next homeowner or someone else.
CDPHE’s Rowan said her agency is researching whether some of its grant money could be accessed by homeowners to be used for in-home pipe replacement, but isn’t clear yet whether that is possible.
What the neighborhood has endured, not just with lead contamination but also with air and groundwater pollution, “would not be tolerated in other communities,” Garcia said.
In addition to the ongoing risk to public health, cost is a major concern, for residents and the water districts and state agencies charged with keeping the water safe.
On a recent Friday morning, student chef Paul Tyrell is filling up several of the ever-present five-gallon pale blue jugs at a private water station in Commerce City. His pregnant partner sits in the front seat as he hauls the empty jugs out of the back seat, fills them at the water station, and lugs them to the car.
Here five gallons of water costs $1.50, or 30 cents a gallon. Tyrell will fill up all his containers once a week, at a cost of $7 to $10. If he could use his apartment’s tap water from SACWD, it would cost less than 5 cents a gallon. The district charges $5.24 for the first 12,000 gallons used.
“I wish we would have better water,” Tyrell said. “We don’t use the water in our apartment because it makes us feel sick.”
Denver Water has raised residential water rates to help pay for its lead remediation work, in addition to issuing bonds and using cash on hand to cover for the $168 million overall project cost. It has also been approved for a $76 million federal infrastructure grant to help accelerate the work.
In South Adams County, the federal government paid for the district’s primary water treatment plant, completed in 1989, as part of the Superfund cleanup at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.
But since 2018, the district has been forced to uses its own money, and some state grants, to fund the $3 million price tag on new water treatment processes along with testing equipment related to the PFAS contamination.
Residents are paying just over $4.50 a month additionally to cover the cost of the new water softening plant, but Scott says the district doesn’t believe they should have to pay to cover the cost of the new $45 million to $70 PFAS treatment plant. The district plans to apply for federal infrastructure improvement funds to get that done.
“Our residents should not have to bear this cost for the additional treatment we are going to have to put in place. But the new plant is going to be less expensive than purchasing Denver water over the long haul.”
It’s not just water bills that are expensive. Residents are often approached by sales people suggesting the water is so unsafe that they need to buy expensive in-home treatment systems and filters.
South Adams Water Quality Supervisor Kevin Pustulka said he recently went out to a home where a woman was preparing to buy a $20,000 in-home softening system that she didn’t need. “Please don’t,” he told her.
His message to everyone else: “The next time someone offers to sell you an in-home water device, call me.”
Olga Gonzalez hopes they do. She is executive director of Cultivando and has watched people in these North Metro communities struggle for years. That things may be changing is possible, she said, but her level of skepticism remains high.
“We are seeing them [the CDPHE and South Adams] ask what our communities need and be transparent and explain things in a way residents can understand. I feel hopeful that finally community members will be heard. We have been very clear that we don’t want these agencies to just check boxes and say they have been in touch with the community.”
For the environmental justice activists on the ground, after years of battling industrial pollution and institutional indifference, they are convinced the way to deliver safe tap water and to convince residents that it won’t make them ill, lies in rebuilding trust between residents and the government.
“In the end, we don’t want to be residents’ go-to,” Gonzalez said. “We want them to go to the people who are paid to protect them, and take care of their health.”
This project was made possible, in part, by funding from the Colorado Media Project.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Rae Solomon). Here’s an excerpt:
Yellow Barn is a baby of a farm. The 100-acre operation in Longmont started up just a little over 2 years ago, on the grounds of a shuttered horse stable. Nick DiDomenico is Yellow Barn’s young farmer. DiDomenico practices regenerative agriculture, a holistic approach to farming and ranching. It rebuilds depleted soils, improves ecosystems and mitigates climate change by putting carbon back in the ground. Farmers in Colorado are increasingly experimenting with those techniques, to different degrees. DiDomenico is among those leading the pack. The fields at Yellow Barn are just getting started. DiDomenico has been working to establish a silvopasture here – an integrated system of trees and livestock that work together to produce an overall regenerative benefit – including increased biodiversity on the land, leading to higher soil fertility, and better water retention. “We’re farming here, we’re running our cattle,” Didomenico explained. “It’s this rotational grazing strategy that improves the land.”
On a recent afternoon, DiDomenico adjusted a faulty pump on the water trough that keeps his small herd of belted Galloway cows hydrated. “It’s a really niche thing that we’re doing,” he said, “which is converting completely decertified, degraded, marginalized land and redeveloping it into agricultural systems that are viable.”
Conventional agriculture costs a lot of money. Farmers typically pay dearly for inputs like fertilizer and pesticides and the fuel needed to spread them in the field. Since the 1930’s, the federal government has subsidizedthose costs heavily. But Farm Bill subsidies are deliberately conservative. They aren’t equipped to encourage risk and experimentation. “They’re designed for commodity mid- to large-scale agriculture,” according to Clark Harshbarger, a regenerative agriculture expert with the NGO Mad Agriculture in Boulder, Colorado. “They purposely try to take the risk out of those practices because it’s taxpayer money already spent,” Harshbarger said. “And sometimes [the USDA] vetting process hasn’t necessarily caught up with progressive regenerative farming systems.” As a small-scale regenerative farmer, DiDomenico falls through the cracks when it comes to federal subsidies. The farming technique at Yellow Barn is experimental and holistic. Harshbarger is familiar with DiDomenicos’ work. “It’s very creative and it’s complex,” he explained, but “the Farm Bill is designed to be very specific… very 1 to 1.”
The USDA doesn’t subsidize this type of work. So DiDomenico finds financial support in some unlikely places…Just off the highway, in the city of Boulder, there’s a strip mall with an Indian Restaurant, a nail salon, and a locksmith. In a corner behind the Goodwill, a Subway sandwich shop does brisk business at lunch hour. But this Subway is special, because along with the standard steak and cheese, spicy Italian and tuna subs, it offers customers the opportunity to support regenerative farming in the neighboring rural areas. That’s because of a program called Restore Colorado, that takes a little extra charge – just 1% of the cost of your meal – from urban restaurants, like this Subway, and gives it to rural farmers, like DiDomenico, to invest in their soil. That comes to just a few cents on top of the cost of each sandwich, that shows up on the sales receipt as the 1% Restore Colorado charge.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dispute between Thornton, Larimer County has gone on for nearly four years
In a letter sent to Larimer County officials on Oct. 31, the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver and the Colorado Association of Home Builders wrote that the county’s February 2019 denial of a permit for a portion of a 72-mile pipeline Thornton needs to move its Poudre River shares continues to reverberate.
“The ongoing delays associated with Larimer County’s denial and refusal to work something out with Thornton are only increasing these costs and adding needless delays — carelessly pricing thousands of aspiring homeowners in Colorado out of the market in the process,” the letter reads.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the letter said, a $1,000 increase in the cost of a median-cost new home bumps more than 2,300 Colorado households out of the market…Thornton says without its Poudre water shares, its growth will grind to a halt before 2030 at a population of 160,000. It has long-term plans for 240,000 residents but available water for only another 5,000 housing permits…
So far, Thornton has been unable to get the relief it wants in the courts. A Larimer County judge upheld the county’s decision to deny the pipeline permit and that ruling was affirmed by the Colorado Court of Appeals in September.
Wellington’s Board of Trustees is now playing catch-up. During its regular meeting on Oct. 25, Wellington’s board heard several options on how the town plans to decrease water rates for residents and distribute the cost of the new treatment plants more equitably across all classes of users. While residents could see some decrease in their monthly water costs, the town still has some of the highest water bills in the region. Some residents say they don’t think the problem will go away until the town stops prioritizing growth over updating the existing infrastructure…
Currently, Wellington residents pay a base rate of $66 and anywhere between $4.56 to $7.72 per 1,000 gallons used, depending on how many thousands of gallons of water they use per month. The average household in Wellington uses about 4,000 gallons of water during winter months and 10,000 gallons of water in the summer, said Meagan Smith, Wellington’s deputy director of public works. Under current water rates, the average resident is paying anywhere from $85 to $112 per month for just their water usage depending on the time of year. For Fort Collins Utilities customers, similar bills would be about $30 to $47. In January 2021, Wellington raised the base rate from about $31 to $66, leaving residents to make significant changes in order to cover their bills…
While nothing is official until the board votes, which will likely happen later this month, members indicated during the Oct. 25 meeting they would support an option for residents that would have a tiered base rate, dependent on the size of the residential tap, that includes a capital charge — the fee to cover new infrastructure and what made base rates so high in the first place — and a minimum of 3,000 gallons of “essential use.” Previous base rates didn’t include any sort of essential use. According to a rate study the town conducted, roughly half or water bills in Wellington use 3,000 gallons or less per month.
The Gila River Indian Community now says it will conserve 125,000 acre-feet of its own water each year for three years and make available for purchase another 125,000 acre-feet of water it has stored underground for others – mostly, central Arizona cities – to leave more water in Lake Mead during that time. The hope is that this will entice others to follow suit – and that might help finally break the logjam on the additional 2 to 4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water that states must stop using next year, simply to keep Lake Mead and the upstream Lake Powell on life support.
We’re nowhere close to saving Lake Mead
Credit the tribe for leading by example. But don’t expect much to change. Farmers must be on board to achieve this magnitude of savings, considering that agriculture uses the lion’s share of water in Arizona and across the Colorado River basin. Yet many are balking at the price the feds have put on the table. And we’re still woefully short of saving enough water to save the lakes. The Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, which rely on Lake Powell, have been adamant that the bulk of cuts should fall on the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada, which rely on Lake Mead. California recently sent a letter to the feds saying it would be willing to conserve 400,000 acre-feet each year for the next three years, if it gets money to help stabilize the environmental disaster that is the Salton Sea…
Add in Gila River’s proposal, and that’s 650,000 acre-feet on the table in 2023. Another million (or so) acre-feet of water could be in play if the feds carry through with their promise to begin “charging” the Lower Basin states for water lost to evaporation and transit, which the Upper Basin already pays but the Lower Basin pretends doesn’t exist.
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.
“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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.”
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.
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.”
When Stephanie Kampf visited one of her wildfire test plots near Colorado’s Joe Wright Reservoir in June of 2021, the charred remains of what had been a cool, shady spruce and fir forest before the Cameron Peak Fire incinerated it nearly took her breath away.
“We would walk through these burned areas and they were just black, nothing growing and already getting kind of hot,” she said. “And then you walk into an unburned patch, and there’d still be snow on the ground. You could almost breathe more.”
The surveys, up at about 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains west of Fort Collins, were part of a rapid response science assessment to measure just how much the extreme 2020 wildfire season in the West disrupted the water-snow cycle in the critical late-snowmelt zone which serves as a huge natural reservoir. The snowmelt sustains river flows that nurture ecosystems, fills irrigation ditches for crops and delivers supplies of industrial and drinking water to communities.
The findings of the study, published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, suggest that the relationships of snow and water in many Western mountain forests are caught in a vicious climate cycle, with more fires leading to faster snowmelt and reduced water, which, in turn, makes forests more flammable.
The critical areas are at different elevations in various parts of the West, depending on latitude and other geographic factors, but long-term wildfire records suggest that for millennia, fire was a rare visitor in many high-altitude forests, with burn intervals of 200 to 300 years, or even longer in wetter regions.
In Colorado those snow accumulation zones can produce “on the order of half of all streamflows,” with some geographic nuances, said Kampf, a Colorado State University researcher who is currently on sabbatical in Spain, where she studying the impacts of similarly devastating wildfires that have scorched the Iberian Peninsula in recent years.
During her Colorado research, “It was just so striking to go up to these places and see no snow left,” she said. In one unburned comparison plot a short distance away, there was still more than three feet of snow. “It’s disturbing when you’re accustomed to a place and how it was, and you see it change that much. It’s kind of mind blowing. I suspected that what we experienced in 2020 was outside the norm, but I didn’t realize how far outside the norm it was. And that was just honestly pretty disturbing.”
With the measurements of the Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado as a case study, Kamp’s research team also analyzed satellite data from 1984 to 2020 to show how wildfires are encroaching on the critical snow-storage zones across 70 percent of the Western mountain study area, including the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Rocky Mountain and Great Basin ranges.
Peak snowpack is declining, which can reduce or even choke off streamflows completely in late summer because the snow is melting off the burned areas much faster. Colorado and New Mexico appear especially vulnerable to fires threatening watersheds that are critical to local residents as well as distant communities on both sides of the Continental Divide.
Wildfires are leaving mountains free of snow earlier in the year, the authors wrote, “and this loss of snow can reduce both ecosystem water availability and streamflow generation in a region that relies heavily on mountain snowpack for water supply.” And as the snowpack melts earlier, the ground and plants warm up and dry faster, setting the stage for more fire in a vicious cycle of climatic changes.
The Extreme 2020 Wildfire Season Was a Warning
The overall drying from climate change is expanding the threat in areas “that historically have provided a large fraction of annual water supplies,” said Paul Brooks, a hydrology researcher at the University of Utah, who was not involved in the new study. “Fires are becoming more frequent in colder, wetter environments that typically burned rarely.”
The research shows that burned forests often reduce the total amount of water stored in the snowpack and speed up melting, he added.
Kampf described her findings in the broader context of the extreme wildfires in the summer of 2020, when wide swaths of the West choked under gloomy layers of toxic smoke that sometimes spread all the way to the East Coast. In Colorado, the Cameron Peak fire burned from mid-August through early December—112 days—with a last patch left smoldering under winter snow near her university’s mountain campus.
“It just kept growing. And it grew to a size that was just unprecedented. And we hadn’t seen anything like that, way up in the higher elevations,” she said. “Then the East Troublesome Fire, which burned in really damp, snow-dominated areas, and then over the Continental Divide, which was not something anyone expected. And so this was just really shocking and concerning.”
The new rules approved by the town council last week prohibit lawns in front yards and limit lawns in backyards to 500 square feet. Castle Rock estimates that the limits on lawns could reduce outdoor water use 50% once the community is fully built out, according to the town’s website.
The community is eliminating future front yard lawns in part to help encourage the acceptance of alternative landscaping that can thrive in a drier climate, he said.
Castle Rock relies heavily on nonrenewable groundwater aquifers and it is working to transition to other sources, according to the town website.
In April 2018, Colorado adopted a law that changed the way oil and gas development is regulated, required updates to state regulations and allowed local government authorities to adopt tighter regulations than those established by the state. Following that, Larimer County adopted “comprehensive regulations along with resources for regulatory compliance programs,” according to city documents. Meanwhile, some in the Fort Collins community have expressed concerns about new oil and gas developments within city limits or city natural areas, largely because of traffic, leaks and spills, regional air quality and climate change impacts…
So in response to the changing regulations locally and community feedback, staff developed its own set of regulations for existing and new oil and gas facilities in Fort Collins. Those regulations were presented to City Council at a work session Tuesday night. All in all, council members broadly showed support for the regulations and no concrete changes were suggested. Mayor Jeni Arndt told staff she felt they had “really thought it out well” and appreciated that their updates weren’t adding a high amount of regulations but adjusting and expanding what is in place…
Current oil and gas regulations around setbacks and where wells could be built have left about 3% of city land and open space available for development, but the proposed changes for new facilities decrease that to about 0% availability.
Proposed changes to new well regulations include 2,000-foot setbacks from occupiable buildings, parks, trails or natural areas and would limit developments to industrial zone districts, which are intended to house “a variety of work processes and work places such as manufacturing, warehousing and distributing, indoor and outdoor storage, and a wide range of commercial and industrial operations,” according to the city’s land use code. Very few, if any, land in city limits meets all these requirements, so the regulations would essentially prohibit new drilling. Cassie Archuleta, the city’s air quality program manager who presented to council, said this isn’t “a ban” on drilling in the city but uses zoning to make available surface area “highly restrictive.” Adding to the severity of the regulations, the 2,000-foot standard would leave no room for exceptions, differing from the state’s standard, which allows exemptions.
Castle Rock this week became the second metro area municipality in as many months to pass a measure severely limiting the amount of water-intensive “cool-season turf” that can be rolled out with new homes in the Douglas County town. The new ordinance, passed Tuesday in a unanimous vote of the Castle Rock town council, bans turf in the front yards of new homes and limits it to no more than 500 square feet in the backyard. It also does away with turf in non-functional areas — spaces not meant for recreation — around commercial properties and multi-family developments. The new measure applies to any new home construction permitted after Jan. 1, 2023…
“Water’s on everyone’s mind and how we can conserve it,” Castle Rock Mayor Jason Gray said. “We’re going to get more and more people moving in and we’re going to have to accommodate these people.”
In fact, Castle Rock has plans to grow to around 125,000 people from 81,000 today over the next couple of decades. Nearly half of the water the town uses is for outdoor irrigation and water officials estimate Castle Rock could achieve a reduction of 52% in future outdoor water use if less thirsty turf — like fescue or Kentucky bluegrass — is planted and more drought-tolerant native vegetation is grown, a practice known as xeriscaping. The town has a goal of cutting per capita water usage from 118.4 gallons a day to 100 gallons daily by 2050.
Northern Water’s Board of Directors has set the initial 2023 quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project at 40 percent.
At its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 13, the Board voted to set the quota at 40 percent in light of uncertainty regarding Colorado River Basin hydrology and Northern Water’s commitment to system resiliency. In recent years, the initial quota had been set at 50 percent.
“This is what we need to do to protect the system for the long term,” said President Mike Applegate.
Quotas are expressed as a percentage of 310,000 acre-feet, the amount of water the C-BT Project was initially envisioned to deliver to allottees each year. A 40 percent initial quota means that the Board is making 0.4 acre-feet of water available at the beginning of the water year (Nov. 1) for each of the 310,000 C-BT Project units. In April, the Board will assess conditions such as available local water storage levels, soil moisture, mountain snowpack and more to adjust the quota for the 2023 peak water-use season.
Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit www.northernwater.org.
Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, Thornton’s Ascent Solar and Westminster’s Ambassador Printing are all sites called out in a new interactive map that identifies places across the country contaminated by “forever chemicals.” […] The map calls out places that have tested positive for having PFAS onsite as well as “presumption contamination” from things such as firefighting foam and industrial chemicals. The sites in Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster are all listed among the sites with presumed contamination…[Alissa Cordner] said the tool’s purpose is to provide regulators, decision-makers and public health officials more information regarding potential risks to their communities. Places with contamination or presumptive contamination do not imply direct exposure or ingestion…
In 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment tested 400 Colorado water systems, 15 firefighting districts and 43 streams and found 34% of drinking water systems tested had some level of PFAS in the water. A 2020 survey from the Colorado Health Department found 71 surface water samples had concentrations as high as 257 parts per trillion for 18 different kinds of PFAS. The state health department released a report in April indicating that bodies of water in El Paso, Adams and Jefferson counties were contaminated with PFAS. CDPHE collected 49 fish representing 10 different species from Willow Springs Pond in El Paso County, Tabor Lake in Jefferson County and Mann-Nyholt Lake at Adams County’s Riverdale Regional Park. They found PFAS in 100% of the fish they collected.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s an overview of some of Denver Water’s work:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.