Archive for February, 2014

Teaming up to tackle toilets

Steve Lynch

Steve Lynch

By Steve Lynch, program coordinator for conservation at Mile High Youth Corps. Lynch served two yearlong terms of service with Mile High Youth Corps, participating in the Water Conservation Program as a Corpsmember in 2009 and 2010.

With much of the West mired in drought, water shortages have forced innovators to take a closer look at anything that uses water. This includes an ancient piece of technology – the toilet.   

Low-flow, pressure-assist and high-efficiency toilets have become the standard in new construction. But Denver is an old city, and many of its homes have old toilets. These toilets use twice as much water per flush than their modern counterparts, which raises a red flag in a city where water efficiency is a way of life.

As part of its commitment to conservation, Denver Water offers rebates for customers who purchase and install high-efficiency toilets. Not everyone can afford the upfront cost of a brand new toilet, however, and many are not comfortable replacing a toilet on their own. Enter Mile High Youth Corps.

In 2013, Water Conservation Program crews conducted 2,800 water audits and replaced 1,900 toilets.

In 2013, Water Conservation Program crews conducted 2,800 water audits and replaced 1,900 toilets.

Built on the principles of conservation and youth development, Mile High Youth Corps is able to offer job skills to young people (18–24 years old), while helping Denver Water’s commitment to conservation through the Water Conservation Program. The program is simple. Denver Water supplies the high-efficiency toilets, and Corpsmembers identify qualified high-need clients and perform the installations in their homes. Most important, the toilets and other water-saving appliances the program participants install in low-income homes are provided at no charge to the customer. 

Over the past seven years, Mile High Youth Corps crews have installed more than 10,000 high-efficiency toilets in low-income single- and multi-family homes across the Denver metropolitan area. Based on annual water consumption numbers, this is a savings of more than 200 million gallons of water. That’s enough water to fill 315 Olympic-sized swimming pools (roughly the size of 42 city blocks).

Of course, those conservation numbers would not be possible without the support of Denver Water, thanks to its commitment to conservation and youth development. Over the years, Denver Water employees have taken participants on tours of water treatment plants, provided educational opportunities for young people interested in learning more about water conservation, and supported the intensive development programs that Mile High Youth Corps offers to its Corpsmembers. 

Kelsey Bowers accepts her Corpsmembers of the Year award from Rep. Lebsock (left) and Sen. Udall.

Kelsey Bowers accepts her Corpsmembers of the Year award from state Rep. Steve Lebsock (left) and former interior secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

Along the way, hundreds of young people have learned job skills, gained confidence and emerged as the future leaders of their generation. In the past four years alone, the Water Conservation Program has produced three Colorado Youth Corps Association Corpsmembers of the Year, including Kelsey Bowers, who was honored at the state Capitol as Corpsmember of the Year on Feb. 3, 2014. During the morning session at the state Senate, Bowers was recognized by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and introduced by state Rep. Steve Lebsock, who shared some of Bowers’ amazing accomplishments.  

Because Mile High Youth Corps has such a strong focus on youth development, our participants represent a non-traditional approach to performing conservation-based tasks. Involvement on the Water Conservation Program is not a job, but rather a term of service. Upon completion of a five-month term, participants receive an AmeriCorps Education Award. Many participants have used this award to pursue post-secondary education or pay off costly student loans. This structure makes it important for Mile High Youth Corps and our partners, like Denver Water, to emphasize education and leadership development. 

As the program coordinator for conservation, I am fortunate enough to receive calls and notes from clients about our Corpsmembers. From an elderly man calling to praise the work of our youth, to a woman who was so impressed with the teamwork of the crew that she took the time to say thanks in a hand-written note – these testimonials are some of the most inspiring parts of working for Mile High Youth Corps. 

Mile High Youth Corps is proud to continue the partnership with Denver Water through 2014 and beyond, and we look forward to being able to provide services to clients while working to empower the future leaders of the communities we serve. 

To learn more about these services or to see if you qualify, email or or call 720-974-0500, ext. 527.

How the landscape pros prepare for spring

This winter, we’ve featured posts from Denver Urban Gardens, the Be A Habitat Hero project and the Center for ReSource Conservation as part of our Transforming Landscape series. Each post introduces new ideas for upgrading your lawn to a more water-efficient landscape next spring and beyond.

While these posts focus on new landscape ideas to explore, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado put together a checklist of pre-season chores to help you prepare for next spring – a perfect fit for our Transforming Landscape series.

Sketch out your dream yard now, so you are ready to begin implementing landscape elements in the spring. You don’t have to take it on all at once, but if you have a plan it will be much easier to upgrade a section at a time.

Sketch out your dream yard now, so you are ready to begin implementing landscape elements in the spring. You don’t have to take it on all at once, but if you have a plan it will be much easier to upgrade a section at a time.

Below are a couple of water-saving tips from the checklist:

  • Learn something you can apply this growing season. Take a class, read a book or research something online you’ve always wanted to know, but haven’t taken the time to explore.

One suggestion from ALCC is to learn how to lay out a water-saving waffle garden. For more information on this quirky term, check out this blog post from Designscapes Colorado  called, What’s a Waffle Garden?

We also suggest looking into composting, establishing a community garden or different watering techniques – including our recommended cycle and soak method.

  • Take a quick tour around the yard and indentify the eyesores and maintenance issues, such as trees to prune, dead shrubs to replace and beds to freshen up before spring. And, remember the sprinkler system – the one part of the landscape that is most out of sight and out of mind. What can you do this year to make it more water efficient? Having a list will guide the DIY projects and help you get the outside assistance you need scheduled early in the season.

One way to make your sprinkler system more efficient is to add a smart irrigation controller. Denver Water offers rebates for WaterSense-labeled controllers, which act like a thermostat for your sprinkler system by telling it when to turn on and off, to save water.

You also can visit Denver Water’s online run time scheduler to create a zone-by-zone schedule for your landscape. Here is a list of other irrigation tips, including the catch-can test, seasonal watering times and basic sprinkler system tips.

Read the complete ALCC checklist: Here are five great things you can do now to get ready for spring.

Water conservation – It’s not just a campaign, it’s a way of life

One of our 2013 billboards reminding customers to Use Even Less.

One of our 2013 billboards reminding customers to
Use Even Less.

From promoting dry t-shirt contests to encouraging the family dog to lick your dishes clean, we’ve had fun with our “Use Only What You Need” and “Use Even Less” campaigns over the years (check out the 2013 campaign video).

But, advertising was only a piece of the effort that led customers to save 32 billion gallons of water in 2013 (compared to our benchmark of pre-2002 use) – our robust conservation program helped make that possible.

Here’s how:

Conservation technicians Jenelle Rhodes and Rick Alvarado adjust a sprinkler head during an irrigation audit.

Conservation technicians Jenelle Rhodes and Rick Alvarado adjust a sprinkler head during an irrigation audit.

  • We offer rebates, incentives, water audits and more for our residential, commercial and industrial customers.
  • We have rules and programs in place to reinforce best practices, like our summer water use rules, requirements for new properties to amend their soil so it will retain more water, and tiered water rates to incentivize lower water use.
  • In 2013, we also started new conservation programs that are transforming how we will do business in the future.
    • We introduced a water budget program for large commercial customers, allowing them the flexibility to decide where and when to water (though never between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.) if they reduced water use 35 percent or more. This program helped large irrigators keep landscapes alive while saving 2,500 acre-feet of water this year.
    • We reached out to 8,000 residential high-water users to offer assistance through audits and rebates. By using the same principles as the water budget program, this proactive effort resulted in a savings of more than 16 million gallons of water.
    • We revamped our rebate program to make sure customer rebates are processed more quickly, reducing the wait for a rebate check from 5 to 6 weeks to 1 to 2 weeks.

Let’s take a look at what else was achieved last year:

  • Reyna Yagi, conservation technician, c.evaluates a sprinkler system at an apartment complex.

    Reyna Yagi, conservation technician, evaluates a sprinkler system at an apartment complex.

    Denver Water’s conservation field technicians worked with nearly 1,000 customers with high bills to examine their water use and help them become more efficient, saving them money.

  • Through our partnership with Mile High Youth Corps, we conducted 2,800 water audits and replaced 1,900 toilets.
  • Our high-efficiency toilet distribution program for residential community associations installed nearly 1,100 high-efficiency toilets in apartments and condominiums. One such project resulted in a 40 percent reduction in water use at the complex.
  • Denver Water’s water savers made more than 11,000 stops to educate customers about watering – 5,000 more stops than in 2012.

Water conservation wasn’t new in 2013. In fact, creating a culture of conservation in Denver dates back to 1936 when Denver Water advertised on street trolleys asking customers to help save water. While the modes of transportation have changed, the message remains the same. We believe water conservation must be a way of life in our dry climate and, along with recycled water and new supply, we are committed to ensuring a sustainable supply of water for our customers in the future.

Hats off to our CEO – 2014 Water Leader of the Year

The award ceremony was presented by 2013 Aspinall Award recipient, Diane Hoppe. The award was a surprise to Lochhead, who shared a laugh with the crowd during the presentation.

The ceremony was conducted by 2013 Aspinall Award recipient, Diane Hoppe. The award was a surprise to Lochhead, who shared a laugh with the crowd during the presentation.

In the 1982 fall issue of Colorado Water Rights, Wayne N. Aspinall, a lawyer and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, set a vision for water leaders to “begin thinking about constructive changes in the administration of water rights that might result in broader benefits to the people of the State from more efficient water resource management.”

This is roughly the same time Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead began his journey of representing water in Colorado – and he has been following the vision set by Aspinall ever since.

So, it was no surprise that the Colorado Water Congress awarded Lochhead the prestigious 2014 Wayne N. Aspinall “Water Leader of the Year” Award.

Eric Wilkinson, general manager of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and 2011 Aspinall Award recipient, said: “Jim is very deserving of the Aspinall ‘Water Leader of the Year’ Award as he epitomizes the true intent of the award. He is a recognized and respected leader in the water community, not only in Colorado but throughout the Colorado River Basin and the West. Colorado is indebted to Jim for his exemplary service and innumerable contributions to the Colorado Water community.”

The Colorado Water Congress presents the Wayne N. Aspinall “Water Leader of the Year” Award annually to an individual Coloradan who has long demonstrated courage, dedication, knowledge and strong leadership in the development, protection and preservation of Colorado water – those attributes possessed by Wayne N. Aspinall.

Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead, front row center, stands with past winners of the Aspinall Award.

Lochhead, fifth from the left, stands with past winners of the Aspinall Award.

This is exactly what the Denver Board of Water Commissioners set out to find during the search for the Denver Water’s next CEO/manager in 2010. They needed a leader not only to oversee the work necessary to provide an adequate supply of water to the 1.3 million people served, but also someone to champion regional cooperation in the water industry – and Lochhead was just the person for the job.

David Robbins (right), 2012 "Water Leader of the Year," congratulates Lochhead at the award ceremony.

David Robbins (right), 2012 “Water Leader of the Year,” congratulates Lochhead at the award ceremony.

When selected, Penfield Tate, president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners, said, “We believe he has the necessary ability to maintain and build relationships with the myriad of external stakeholders that work with Denver Water.” Commissioner Tate was absolutely correct, and Lochhead’s reputation and established relationships among the Colorado River Basin stakeholders led to him closing the deal for negotiations on the historic Colorado River Cooperative Agreement last summer.

Lochhead’s storied career of dedication to and leadership for the protection and preservation of Colorado’s water ranges from many years representing water in the courtroom to serving as the executive director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Roy Romer. And, over his lifetime he has touched practically every part of the river, literally, as he has been in or on the Colorado River for virtually its entire length.

To a man who’s dedicated his life to the Colorado River with a passion that extends much further than his profession, we say thank you and congratulations on this well-deserved and prestigious award.

Work must go on – crews brave frigid temps

Feb. 5, 2014 5:30 p.m.

It’s 6 degrees below zero and crews are responding to a report of a water main break.

6:16 p.m.

The temperature has dropped one degree, and first responders have the water shut off, isolating the 8-inch-diameter water main so the repair crew can fix the break.

Feb. 6, 2014 – 3:07 a.m.

With temperatures as low as 13 degrees below zero overnight in Denver, crews complete their work and restored water service in the area.

So, what does a water main break look like in conditions like this? Watch a clip from a live report that aired on CBS4 Denver News last night at 10 p.m. Check out the complete report at

This was the sixth water main break so far this week, with three of the breaks occuring overnight in the extremely tough, frigid conditions. But, it isn’t just our emergency response crews braving the tough winter conditions.

Water freezes around the release valves at Eleven Mile Reservoir.

Water freezes around the release valves at Eleven Mile Reservoir.

In the winter months, Denver Water employees show their true grit when the temperatures take a nose dive.

“It’s cold,” said Todd Pyle, caretaker, referring to a cold snap in December when the thermometer dipped to 27 degrees below zero at Eleven Mile Reservoir. The frigid temperatures made for an impressive sight at the bottom of the dam, where water froze around the release valves.

Pyle said the water also freezes on the valve house deck, making for icy conditions. “We always take precautions and never go alone to adjust the valves,” Pyle said. “It’s windy down there and we try to avoid getting wet. If you do, you can get really cold in a hurry.”

In the metro area, James Lobato, mechanic, and Tony Gutierrez, utility worker, rely on their insulated coveralls to keep warm when the temperatures dip below zero. The two say everything takes longer in the cold, but they know they have a job to do.

“This is the job we signed up for,” said Lobato. “You actually can get hot, so you can’t bundle up too much.”

James Lobato, Denver Water mechanic, and Tony Gutierrez, Denver Water utility worker, brave sub-zero weather to clean out a valve box.

James Lobato, mechanic, and Tony Gutierrez, utility worker, brave sub-zero weather to clean out a valve box.

Lobato and  Gutierrez, the men behind the masks.

Lobato and Gutierrez, the men behind the masks.

Main breaks 101 – Raising our infrastructure GPA

A meain break at Sheridan Boulevard and Fifth Avenue in July 2013 stopped traffic. Denver Water spent more than $2 million on main breaks and leaks last year.

A main break at Sheridan Boulevard and Fifth Avenue in July 2013 stopped traffic.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 grade for America’s drinking water infrastructure was a D, which is no surprise considering there are 240,000 water main breaks each year in the U.S.

With a significant portion of our system installed right after World War II, Denver Water is no stranger to main breaks and leaks. Not only does this mean disruption to our customers, it also means we’re losing our most precious resource – water.

But, we’re working hard to limit these issues and help raise the GPA of the nation’s water infrastructure.

Check out the curriculum for Main Breaks 101:

Home Room – The basics.

Denver Water operates and maintains more than 3,000 miles of pipe – enough to stretch from L.A. to New York. The treated water distribution pipes in our system vary in size, from ½-inch diameter service lines to a 108-inch diameter conduit.

Cracks and breaks occur based on the condition of the water main and its surroundings. Because many factors can contribute to a water main breaking or leaking – including age, pipe material, how corrosive the soil is, water flow, temperature and more – many times we are unable to identify one cause of the problem.

While every main break is different, fixing it quickly is our number one priority – to minimize disruption to our customers who live, work or commute in the area, and to make sure we lose as little water as possible.

A Denver Water crew digs to locate a main break at Lincoln Street and Fifth Avenue in December 2013.

A Denver Water crew digs to locate a main break at Lincoln Street and Fifth Avenue in December 2013.

Accounting – Water lost.

As part of running a water system, every water utility experiences water loss, which is called non-revenue water because we treat it, but it doesn’t get billed to customers. Most of this water is essential to running a water system and maintaining the health and safety of the public – water that goes to firefighting, water quality sampling and flushing, and draining for annual system maintenance and construction, for example. In 2013, our non-revenue water was about 3.5 percent of our total treated water.

We work hard to keep our non-revenue water to a minimum, but unfortunately, water loss due to undetected leakage in the system still occurs. In 2013, we estimate that amount was less than 2 percent of our total treated water. Our goal is to proactively detect non-surfacing leaks and respond quickly to water main breaks across our system, and we estimate that less than 1 percent of the water we treat annually is lost when we find and repair these problems.

When you treat more than 60 billion gallons of water a year, however, the percentage of water lost to main breaks and leaks add up, which is why we have numerous programs in place to proactively identify and minimize leaks, and upgrade and repair our aging system.

Math – Calculating water lost.

How do we know how much water is lost through main breaks and leaks? Without a water meter attached to a main break – which isn’t a viable option – we have to rely on calculations that factor in the size of the pipe, cause of the break (corrosion, temperature, etc.), average flow rates and average water shut-off times. The majority of our repairs are on ¾-inch-diameter service lines and pipes that are between 6 and 16 inches in diameter. Here’s how some of the numbers break down:

  • ¾-inch service line leak = 15,000 gallons lost
  • 6-inch main break = 30,000-156,000 gallons lost
  • 8-inch main break = 35,000-252,000 gallons lost
  • 12-inch main break = 45,000-378,000 gallons lost
  • 16-inch main break = 52,000-1,125,000 gallons lost

Applied Science – What we’re doing about it.

We have proactive programs in place to identify and  minimize the water loss in our system, such as:

  • Leak detection – We’ve saved an estimated 138 million gallons of water over the past 5 years through this program.
  • Pipe rehabilitation and pipe replacement – We install, replace or rehabilitate about 20 miles of new pipe a year – pipes we’ve identified with high potential to break or pipes that can be relined, which helps extend the life of the pipe.PowerPoint Presentation
  • Pressure regulating valve maintenance and replacement – A new program launched in 2012, which allows us to replace or repair the valves that regulate the 160 pressure zones in our system, reducing the number of main breaks caused by these valves.
  • Corrosion control – We have more than 4,000 test sites on pipes throughout our system to help us calculate the rates of corrosion and decide which pipes need to be replaced before they cause major damage.

Homework – How can you help?

You already do! Your water rates fund the programs to maintain, upgrade and replace our aging system, helping us ensure we provide you and the 1.3 million people we serve with clean, safe water every day.

If you see what may appear to be a leak in the street, call us at 303-628-6801.

And be sure to visit our website to learn how to troubleshoot problems and fix leaks at your home or business.

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