Archive for October, 2013

Plants that add color

Just because your sprinkler system has been retired for the year doesn’t mean you have to stop thinking about your landscape. Now is a great time to begin planning and preparing to upgrade your yard to a more water-efficient landscape next season.

We turned to the landscape pros to learn what plants will help you stand out among your neighbors, and found an article from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado on water-saving plant options that add vibrancy during the fall. Perfect!

Here are some highlights from October is about fall color:

Remember, 2013 began with serious drought in the forecast and that threat will always loom over us. Every time we add a new plant, we can make a smart and sustainable choice to buy plants that add color and beauty while saving water.

Here are four options from Plant Select® that can add great fall interest to any yard.

Giant sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii)

Giant sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii)

Giant sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii)

Size: 5-7 feet tall by 3-5 feet wide

Conditions: Dry to xeric (little to no additional water once established); full sun.

Care: Cut back in late spring/early summer once leaves have started to emerge.

Why grow it: Large, ornamental western native grass that thrives in hot, sunny spots. Much more adaptable than exotic grasses that tend to be invasive and that require more water. Holds shape and offers texture late in season.

Altitude limit: Up to 7,000 feet


Coral Canyon® twinspur (Diascia integerrima)

Coral Canyon® twinspur (Diascia integerrima)

Coral Canyon® twinspur (Diascia integerrima)

Size: 12-15 inches tall by 12-15 inches wide

Conditions: Moderate to dry conditions in well-drained soils; rock mulch is best.

Care: Cut back to ground in late spring.

Why grow it: Unusual bubble-gum pink flowers bloom heaviest in spring and fall. Beautiful when contrasted with silver- and purple-foliaged plants such as Sea Foam and Platinum® sage, Herrenhausen or Rotkugel ornamental oregano and Royal Purple smokebush. Blooms late into October in many locations!

Altitude limit: Up to 7,000 feet


Pawnee Buttes® sand cherry (Prunus besseyi selection)

Pawnee Buttes® sand cherry (Prunus besseyi selection)

Pawnee Buttes® sand cherry (Prunus besseyi selection)

Size: 15-18 inches tall by 4-6 feet wide

Conditions: Moderate to dry conditions in full sun. Not fussy about soils, but give it plenty of room to spread.

Care: Needs little care once established and a good groundcover shrub for difficult growing areas.

Why grow it: Stems are covered with small white blossoms in spring, summer foliage is glossy green even in very dry conditions, and fall color is a brilliant coppery orange.

Altitude limit: Up to 9,000 feet


Wild Thing sage (Salvia greggii)

Wild Thing sage (Salvia greggii)

Wild Thing sage (Salvia greggii)

Size: 16-20 inches tall by 18-24 inches wide

Conditions: Dry to xeric conditions (little to no water needed once established) with good drainage in full sun.

Care: Cut back in late spring once leaves are emerging.

Why grow it: Hot pink/magenta flowers bloom from mid-summer to frost in warmer areas. Excellent for attracting pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds looking for that fall burst of energy before heading south. Cooler temperatures in autumn promote intense flowering.

Altitude limit: Up to 6,000 feet. Plant on south sides or in protected areas near rocks or buildings.



For more ideas, check out Denver Water’s Xeriscape page with resources and plans for your landscape.

Learning by doing at Auraria Campus

Jon Bortles

Jon Bortles

Jon Bortles is the sustainability director for the Auraria Higher Education Center. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Denver. Jon is also a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited green associate.

Before there was Denver, there was Auraria – established in 1858 as miners flocked to the South Platte and Cherry Creek rivers in search of gold. Auraria became a neighborhood home to many in the working class, as well as various industrial and commercial businesses.  This neighborhood eventually was chosen to become the Auraria Campus, home to three different institutions of higher education: Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado Denver. A new state agency called the Auraria Higher Education Center was created to manage the campus for these three institutions.

By 1976, Auraria Campus opened with the goal of serving 15,000 students – all of whom were commuters. The campus now serves nearly 45,000 students. When it opened, the campus served an unmet demand from Denverites in need of a cost-effective education with a flexible schedule. The original campus consisted of buildings framed by surface parking lots, with little attention to landscape. Eventually, the concept transitioned to buildings within a park, with beautiful greenery to break up the concrete jungle feel of the city, including the preserved Ninth Street Historic Park and the green buffer that existed along Speer Boulevard. The “greenscape” philosophy continued for many years. In 1988, the bustling streets and viaducts of Larimer and Lawrence streets were closed to vehicular traffic, and Lawrence Street was converted to a pedestrian mall, which added greater demand for irrigation.

Fast forward to modern-day Auraria, and you’ll see many of the same buildings and irrigation systems from the ’70s and ’80s. Once small saplings are now mature trees, with roots that choke and split irrigation lines, causing water leaks and diminished pressure. Polyethylene irrigation pipes are reaching the end of their useful lives and splitting like bananas.The once state-of-the-art irrigation controllers have become obsolete, as manufacturers are no longer making replacement parts. Indoor plumbing fixtures face similar challenges, with toilets using up to five gallons per flush.

With ever decreasing budgets and limited staffing, what’s a state-funded campus that wants to be a water steward to do? That’s where the student-fee funded Auraria Sustainable Campus Program and Denver Water come in to the picture. SCP is a grass-roots initiative, sponsored by students from all three institutions to provide funding for on-campus sustainability projects. AHEC and SCP have been successful in pursuing partnerships with Denver Water to fund many water conservation projects to improve the efficiency of the campus’ indoor and outdoor water systems.


Auraria’s new weather station at Ninth Street Historic Park was installed in 2013 thanks to grants by the Sustainable Campus Program at Auraria and the Governor’s Pollution Prevention Advisory Board. The system reports evapotranspiration data to the centralized irrigation scheduling system in an effort to save water.

Auraria’s new weather station at Ninth Street Historic Park was installed in 2013. The project was funded by the Sustainable Campus Program at Auraria and the Governor’s Pollution Prevention Advisory Board.

  • Denver Water provided Auraria with more than 300 low-flow toilets, 150 efficient urinals and 250 water conserving faucets. SCP pays for the labor to install the new fixtures. Estimated water savings: 3 million gallons of water annually.
  • SCP funded a total dissolved solids project that treats and re-circulates water to cooling towers that were once fed directly into the drain. Estimated savings: millions of gallons of water annually.


  • MSU Denver’s One World One Water program teamed up with Denver Water and the AHEC Sustainability Director to teach a course on water auditing and analysis. Students audited all remaining facilities that were not included in the original fixture replacement project. They also replaced kitchen and bathroom aerators and shower heads, and located three leaks.
  • In partnership with AHEC, Denver Water is in the process of installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure on campus as a pilot program that would allow AHEC to see real-time water consumption data via the Internet. Denver Water plans to use and AMI pilot on campus to better understand the costs and benefits of implementing this technology.
  • Denver Water performed an irrigation audit on the Auraria Campus. Findings led to a successful grant application to the Governor’s Pollution Prevention Advisory Board, and co-sponsorship from the SCP for a new irrigation controller, weather station, centralized scheduling software and flow meter for the Ninth Street Historic Park. Estimated water savings: nearly 900,000 gallons at Ninth Street Historic Park alone, with the potential to save up to 8 million gallons each year once the system is applied to all zones.

2014 and beyond: In May 2014, an MSU Denver class will be tasked with drafting the campus’ first-ever Water Management Plan. Additional projects aimed at conserving water are currently being developed with the help of Denver Water, the AHEC grounds department and the students of the Auraria Campus.

The moral of this story is one of triumph. Despite record-breaking heat waves and a drought that plagued the state early in the summer of 2013, campus water use decreased by 37 percent between April 1 and July 1 – when Denver Water was under Stage 2 drought restrictions (compared to the same time frame in 2012). Together with Denver Water, the Auraria Campus stands to be a place where students are not only taught about water conservation in the classroom, but are also shown how it can be accomplished.

Denver Water goes back to school

By Sabrina Hall, Denver Water Communications and Marketing

Matt Bond, Denver Water communications specialist (in red) and Brian Haggerty, Denver Water human resources specialist, talk to students at a Denver Public Schools career fair.

Matt Bond, Denver Water communications specialist (in
red) and Brian Haggerty, Denver Water human resources
specialist, talk to students at a Denver Public
Schools career fair.

Pencils? Check. Notebooks? Check. Denver Water’s youth education program? Check.

Denver Water’s youth education program was launched in October 2008, and after five years of development, it has shifted to delivery and moved to the head of the class.

Helping people appreciate water’s importance often starts with the youngest members of society, and that’s what the program sets out to do — increase students’ knowledge of water in Colorado; educate students about who Denver Water is and what we do; and help create wise water-use behaviors.

“Everything we do hangs on one of those three goals,” said Matt Bond, communications specialist who directs the program. “My vision is to build an education program, as opposed to being a water utility with a few educational offerings.”

Bond works with Rob Buirgy, a retired school teacher turned consultant, to build and deliver the program components to area schools, grades kindergarten through 12th grade. The program places a large focus on ensuring its materials and presentations are relevant to local and national curriculum standards. Some highlights include:

• Teacher Resource Packet

The packet contains information and activities related specifically to water use and supply in the Denver area. It’s automatically distributed to every sixth-grade Earth Science class in Denver Public Schools, as well as to several classes within our service area in Jeffco Public Schools. Teachers have provided positive feedback about the packets, which include teaching tips, fun facts, expanded readings about local water topics, a glossary and much more.

“The packets help students relate to the subject locally, which makes the subject relevant,” Bond said. “If it isn’t relevant to students, they won’t invest much effort in learning, let alone behavior change.”

Rob Buirgy, a consultant and former teacher who helps with Denver Water’s youth education program, engages the students during a presentation at Highland Elementary School in Centennial.

Rob Buirgy, a consultant and former
teacher who helps with Denver Water’s
youth education program, engages the
students during a presentation at Highland
Elementary School in Centennial.

• H2O Outdoors

What better way to help students relate to the subject than to get them out of the classroom, and into the great outdoors? Denver Water partnered with Keystone Science School, the Colorado River District and Aurora Water to launch the H2O Outdoors program (register now for the fall 2013 session), located at the Keystone Science School. High school students from across the state spend three days in Keystone learning about the complexity of water in Colorado and the different stakeholders involved.

“Because of the partnerships involved, the program provides a very balanced overall view of water in Colorado,” Bond said. “And, it forces kids to interact in a way they wouldn’t in a classroom.”

• Metro Denver Children’s Water Festival

For the past year, Bond has worked closely with Denver Water’s suburban distributors and Metropolitan State University of Denver’s One World One Water Center to plan the first annual Metro Denver Children’s Water Festival, scheduled for May 14, 2014. More than 800 sixth-grade students will enjoy a  day of hands-on activities and water-related education on the Auraria campus.

“It’s so rewarding to watch the kids get it, and gain an understanding of what we do,” Bond said. “We send these kids home to the dinner table knowing more about water issues than their parents.”

H2O Outdoors

David Miller

David Miller

By David Miller, school programs director for Keystone Science School. He has a passion for water education and getting students to experience the outdoors.

When H2O Outdoors began four years ago, I never imagined we would have the partners and diversity of students that are in the program today. By being open to any high school student in Colorado, the program brings in a wide variety of perspectives that contribute to the overarching process of learning from each other, collaborating in a fictional decision-making process, and helping students learn the ways adults in the water field must work together to solve complex water problems throughout the state.



H2O Outdoors began with an idea and evolved into an award-winning program. The partnership between Keystone Science School and the Colorado River District started with the mission to engage high school students with the study of water management and where water comes from. The school used its connection with former parent organization The Keystone Center to develop the method in which students would learn: through adopting stakeholder roles, learning those roles, and coming together in a Town Hall format to discuss, argue and understand the issue before forming a collaborative recommendation for the problem presented. The Colorado River District provided crucial funding for this format to begin and flourish. In early 2013, the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education recognized the program and its annual impact on roughly 60 students with its Secondary Education Program of the Year award.

H2O campers tour Dillon Reservoir.

H2O campers tour Dillon Reservoir.

Two years after the conception of H2O Outdoors, Aurora Water signed on to participate in the project and Denver Water jumped on board soon after. The program — offered to students at no cost — has benefited from the commitment and support of generous funding and curriculum development from all three partners.

The program

The opportunity for students to learn about water management in H2O Outdoors is unprecedented. Students begin their three-day voyage in water with a visit to the Continental Divide. From there, the experience is a balanced combination of time spent indoors in the classroom and outdoors on a pontoon boat, performing stream surveys and simply playing outdoors during free time.

One of my favorite stories comes from Colorado River District educational consultant Mike Wilde, who tells of the time he watched a light bulb go off in a student’s head as he stood atop the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass. There, students learned where, exactly, water in the United States originates. On one side, a trickle of water headed down the slope would wind its way east, toward the Atlantic Ocean. On the other side, water would flow hundreds of miles away west, toward the Pacific Ocean. Later, Mike overheard the same student sharing this revelation with his mother on the phone.

Many of the H2O Outdoors students would never otherwise have a chance to visit the mountains to see the headwaters of their water supply. That opportunity, along with teaching students to become good decision-makers and helpful citizens through education, friendly engagement and role-play, is what makes this program so unique.

Lessons learned

Two H2O campers conduct a stream survey.

Two H2O campers conduct a stream survey.

Once, a Summit County student was assigned the role of Denver Water. She sobbed, likely because she’d only been told about the giant utility snaking water through the mountains to deliver it to “greedy” residents on the Front Range. During the Town Hall meeting on Day Three, she was the most engaged and outspoken student, literally pounding her fists on the table as she represented the biggest water utility in Colorado. She was able to broaden her perspective beyond what she had known and heard about water management in the West through H2O Outdoors.

The key to the program is that students do not learn what to think, they learn how to think and make decisions. None of the entities involved are interested in presenting an agenda through the programming. Instead, they want to provide a learning experience for children in which informed decision-making can occur.

In addition, students get a chance to meet each other and become friends, much the way adults who are tasked with the duty of managing water must meet each other, have friendly interactions and work together. It’s not too different than Colorado’s current effort to make an effective state water plan, part of the complex tasks that must happen to manage water in the West.


This year’s program is Nov. 13-15. To register, students can visit The program is free, but there is a $25 application fee. Students who cannot afford this fee can apply for a scholarship. Please call 970-468-2098 or email Kristina Horton at with questions.

Washed out: Denver Water recovers from floods

By Ann Baker, Communications and Marketing

Water cascades down the spillway at Gross Reservoir a week after the floods tore through the area.

Water cascades down the spillway at Gross Reservoir a week after the floods tore through the area.

The first night it started flooding, the caretakers, who live and work at Gross Reservoir climbed the hill and stayed awake most of the night, watching Advent Creek swarm their houses and office.

They tried to sleep the second night, “but we were too busy watching that garage door — that was our gauge for the water level,” said caretaker Steve Bauman.

When one of the worst storms in Colorado history submerged the Front Range in mid-September, it tore through the northern part of Denver Water’s collection system, forcing two treatment plants offline, reservoirs to swell and access roads to crumble in half.

The storm bumped up water storage 6 percentage points, the largest September increase in our current supply system’s history, said Bob Peters, water resource engineer. And so much rain water slid into Ralston Reservoir after operators turned off the South Boulder Canal — the channel that sends water to the reservoir — that water tumbled over the dam’s emergency spillway for the first time in the reservoir’s 76-year history.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Delbert Brooks, Ralston caretaker. “I’ve never seen this much rain that lasted this long and did this kind of damage.”

During the three days of the storm, six operations field employees worked in shifts around the clock, watching for problems around the ditches, canals and siphons that connect Gross Reservoir to Ralston Reservoir, as well as along the Clear Creek Canal from Ralston to Golden. The inflow and outflow gauges at Ralston failed, dirt covering Siphon 5 sloughed off, and entire hillsides piled into the concrete-lined canal.

Floyd Sanchez, Denver Water equipment operator with the South Boulder District, reburies Siphon 5 after a flood washed away the dirt on top.

Floyd Sanchez, Denver Water equipment operator with the South Boulder District, reburies Siphon 5 after a flood washed away the dirt on top.

In the weeks after the storm, Denver Water employees worked to rebuild access roads and install washed-out culvert pipes. There will be months left of repair — crews need to repair Ralston’s emergency spillway, the sediment piled in the South Boulder Canal needs to be removed, and giant boulders restrained like a hairnet in a massive chain link fence need to be relocated. Roads need to be regraded, and the gauge houses at Ralston likely need to be rebuilt.

But really, Denver Water fared well compared to other Front Range cities that were swept away or cut in two by the floods. Most communities are assessing damage and don’t know what help they need yet. The weekend after the flooding started, St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District borrowed a 20-inch butterfly valve and three 36-inch-diameter pipes, offering to replenish our stock later.

And Denver Water staff has already coordinated with the Office of the State Engineer regarding dam safety concerns around the state. As water recedes and damage is assessed, Denver Water’s technical staff and crews may be asked to assist other entities with inspections, along with system startups and testing, said Bob Mahoney, director of Engineering.

In the meantime, Denver Water crews will focus on clearing our roads and accessing our facilities — unplanned projects for sure, but nothing to complain about.

“It’s what we’re here for,” shrugged Tony Stengel, assistant foreman of the South Boulder District. “We don’t have it bad at all. A lot of people are in much worse shape than we are.”

Water flowed into Ralston Reservoir so fast that it topped out over the dam’s emergency spillway, the first time in the reservoir’s 76-year history that the emergency spillway had to be used.

Water flowed into Ralston Reservoir so fast that it topped out over the dam’s emergency spillway, the first time in the reservoir’s 76-year history that the emergency spillway had to be used.

Tony Stengel, assistant foreman of the South Boulder District, talks with Rich Abbott, Gross caretaker, about rebuilding the road leading to Gross headquarters. Caretaker Steve Bauman sits on the driver’s side.

Tony Stengel, assistant foreman of the South Boulder District, talks with Rich Abbott, Gross caretaker, about rebuilding the road leading to Gross headquarters. Caretaker Steve Bauman sits on the driver’s side.

Ralston Reservoir’s outflow gauge house toppled over during the floods, taking the water-measuring device with it.

Ralston Reservoir’s outflow gauge house toppled over during the floods, taking the water-measuring device with it.

Dillon Reservoir celebrates 50 years of service

Completed in December 1963, Dillon Reservoir is the largest water storage facility in the Denver Water system. The entire town of Dillon, Colorado, and a hydroelectric plant were relocated to build the dam.

The dam was built to divert water from the Blue River Basin through the Harold D. Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide into the South Platte River Basin. Dillon Dam is an earth-fill dam, 5,888 feet long by 231 feet above the Blue River stream bed. Dillon Reservoir’s surface area of 3,233 acres and 26.8 miles of shoreline support many recreational activities.

Dillon Reservoir celebrates half century of service

By Ann Baker, Communications and Marketing

The third time the town of Dillon moved, it finally stayed put.

Dillon was incorporated in 1883 at the site of a trading post and stage stop. It then scooted closer to the railroad, and a second time closer to three rivers: the Blue, the Ten Mile and the Snake, according to the town’s website.

For the third move, Denver Water bought the entire town, moving several structures and town features, including a church and a cemetery, and inundated the area with a reservoir.

Now the town sits on the east shore, and Dillon Reservoir, Denver’s largest, is celebrating 50 years as one of the Front Range’s most important water storage sites.

Moving a town for water

Denver’s $77.6 million Blue River Diversion Project was a massive plan to divert water from the West Slope to the East Slope. It included building the Harold D. Roberts Tunnel, which conveys water from Dillon Reservoir through a 23.3-mile aqueduct to the South Platte River, as well as buying land, securing water rights and building Dillon Dam.

Water leaders began tossing around the idea in the early 1900s when it became apparent that Denver could not subsist on South Platte River water alone. After years of geologic studies, engineering reports and legal wrangling, Denver Water began making formal plans to build the project. During the Great Depression, Denver Water bought property near the reservoir at tax sales. By the 1950s, according to the book, Dillon, Denver and the Dam, Denver Water owned three-fourths of the town.

Lawyers worked to buy the rest of the town, offering to help people move structures or rebuild on a site east of the reservoir.

“The old town of Dillon is almost a memory – its former site will eventually lie deep beneath the waters of Dillon Reservoir,” a 1963 customer newsletter announced. “An attractive site, among the fir and evergreen was set aside for the new Dillon when construction started on the dam.”

Working on the project

Dick Prestrud remembers the old town– and its migration to the new site – very well. His father owned the local Conoco station, and his family attended church in the same building that was trailered to the new town. He grew up in the old town and lived in Summit County most of his life. He also worked on the dam and Roberts Tunnel as an equipment oiler and as a heavy equipment operator.

“I started playing with dirt as a three-year-old and never quit,” said Prestrud, who moved to Wyoming a little more than a decade ago.

For four years, Prestrud worked with crews building the Roberts Tunnel. He started by digging gravel for cement, and when that was over, he became one of a handful of crewmembers to work the entire length of the tunnel, pulling cement in and out of the mountain and cleaning the bottom of the muddy tunnel. One time while working in the tunnel, his truck’s motor broke down and the lights went out. He had to turn around and trudge through 18 inches of water for four miles for help.

“I was much younger than, and that thing didn’t bother me,” he said with a laugh.

Later, when construction on the dam began, Prestrud spent five years working 12-hour shifts, often for six days a week, changing oil and air filters on heavy equipment. Even at the time, he knew he was part of something monumental.

“The people on the Denver Water Board had a lot of foresight,” he said. “To grow, they had to have water. I think it’s quite an accomplishment.”

His family remembers watching the town move, their church being towed over the new dam road and other buildings being demolished. His wife, Norma, said they have fond memories of the old town, as well as the reservoir, and said the project brought much-needed prosperity to the small community while delivering an important supply of water to the Front Range.

Looking to the future

Originally, the Board of Water Commissioners planned to build a small dam and diversion structures to send water to the tunnel. But the Board rethought those plans, opting instead to build what became Denver Water’s largest reservoir.

“That was a really good decision by the Board,” said John Bambei, chief of Engineering. “It was an important asset built by forward-thinking folks at Denver Water.”

Building Dillon Reservoir impacted the federally regulated Green Mountain Reservoir, which meant Dillon required support from the U.S. government. Attorney Mike Walker, who was in high school in Brighton at the time of the dam’s construction, remembers hearing stories about Dwight Eisenhower fishing on the Fraser River with his Denver friend and financial advisor, Aksel Nielsen. During those fishing trips, Nielsen stressed the importance of building Dillon.

“That shows how important the project was,” Walker said. While some residents were angry about their town moving, the reservoir has become as important as “an anchor store to a mall in Summit County,” bringing tourism, employment and recreation to the mountain community.

“Having that water supply has given the Board a safety valve that they wouldn’t have had if they were just relying on East Slope water,” Walker said. “They realized the importance of that water. It was the only way the Front Range would have a sustainable future.”

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