Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Calling off kindergarten in the name of water supply

Relocating Dillon to build a reservoir looks better now than in 1961, says town local turned Denver Water employee.

By Kristi Delynko

It’s said that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten. But what if you had to skip kindergarten because your school was underwater?

Joel Zdechlik, 1961

Joel Zdechlik in 1961, the year he was supposed to start kindergarten in the Town of Dillon.

While it may sound like one of those unlikely “dog ate my homework” scenarios, Joel Zdechlik spent exactly three days in kindergarten before his school in the Town of Dillon was closed and torn down to make way for Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Building the reservoir was not a popular decision among the residents of Dillon, including his parents, Zdechlik recalled.

Fast forward 50-plus years. Relations between Denver Water and the Dillon community have turned around. And Zdechlik? He’s been a water distribution manager for the past 30 years … at Denver Water.

It all started during the Great Depression, when Denver Water (then called the Denver Water Board) began buying abandoned and foreclosed property at tax sales to prepare for the reservoir.

Soon, Denver Water owned as much as three-fourths of the town, and by the mid-1950s — before Zdechlik was born — began holding public meetings with the community to plan for the town’s relocation to a 142-acre site on a ridge about a mile north.

Joel Zdechlik, 1962

In 1962, Joel Zdechlik got to skip kindergarten and spend the winter skiing and playing outside when the town was vacated to make way for Dillon Reservoir.

In what would become the largest storage reservoir in Denver Water’s system, capable of holding nearly 84 billion gallons of water (or filling 80 Mile High Stadiums), the importance of the Dillon Reservoir was clear from the start. But there were advantages for the town as well, including economic opportunities from the recreation and tourism the reservoir was certain to generate.

On July 1, 1960, Denver Water and the Town of Dillon signed an agreement that the town’s properties would be vacated by Sept. 15, 1961.

That’s when Zdechlik got to live every kid’s dream: After less than a week of school, kindergarten was canceled for the remainder of the year. Zdechlik and seven other children in his class put their academic responsibilities on hold until first grade, while older students in the Town of Dillon completed their school year in Frisco.

At first, the kids thought the school closing was their fault. “We had a mud pie fight one of those first days, and we all thought they canceled school because of that,” Zdechlik recalled. “I spent the year playing in the sandbox, skiing, playing outside and just being a kid.”

The old Dillon School

The old Dillon School, before it was demolished in 1962.

But what was a happy time for Zdechlik was a period of great conflict. With about 500 residents, not everyone in Dillon was happy with the acquisitions, or the promised benefits. Some residents expected more money for their properties, and business owners had to deal with the logistics of relocating their operations.

Resentment toward Denver Water was still simmering in 1986, when Zdechlik accepted a position with the utility.

“My parents threatened to disown me, but it was a job with stability and long-term potential — how could I turn it down?” he said.

Zdechlik is now responsible for strategic decisions for the entire water distribution system. During his career he has watched perceptions of Denver Water shift from a steamrolling “land grabber” to a more collaborative partner.

Demolition of the old Dillon School

The old Dillon School was one of the last buildings demolished in the town.

In its new location along the shoreline of the reservoir, Dillon is a popular spot for boating, fishing, camping, hiking, biking and outdoor events. As predicted, recreation is a vital component to Dillon’s economy, with $3.46 million contributed annually from visitor spending in the region.

Today, recreation in the area is managed cooperatively by the interagency Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee (known as “DRReC), comprised of Denver Water, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco, Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service.

A few people may still carry a grudge from the old days, but Zdechlik said the community’s opinion of Denver Water has certainly changed. “The reservoir is vital to Dillon’s economy and is an important part of recreation and tourism in the area. Although the building of Dillon Reservoir was contentious at the time, I’m very proud to say I work for Denver Water.

“In the end,” he added, “I have Denver Water to thank for a lot — and not just for giving me a year off school.”

Why Denver water costs more in the ‘burbs

In 2017, some suburban customers will pay about $100 more for their water. Here’s how it breaks down.

View of mountains looking down Littleton main street.

A section of Main Street in Littleton, Colorado. The city of Littleton has been one of Denver Water’s 66 distributors since 1970. Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Wikimedia Commons

By Travis Thompson and Kim Unger

When it comes to water bills, no two customers are alike. Denver Water bills are highly individualized, based on customers’ overall consumption and how much water they use indoors vs. outdoors, among other factors.

To further complicate the matter, your water rates will be higher if you live in the suburbs and receive Denver Water.

But why?

It comes down to history. Denver Water was formed in 1918 to serve the City and County of Denver. For decades, we only could serve water to the suburbs on a year-to-year basis. In 1959, the Denver City Charter was changed to allow permanent leases of water to the suburbs based on two conditions: 1) there always would be an adequate supply for the citizens of Denver, and 2) suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount.

When determining 2017 rates, which you can read about in “Your water bill is going up (slightly). Here’s why,” we worked with our suburban partners to develop a system that provides those communities with a fair and stable additional charge. It looks like this:

First, the fixed monthly charge on your bill is the same no matter where you live. This part of the bill is determined by the size of your meter. Most residential customers have a 3/4-inch meter and will pay $11.86 each month, suburbs and city alike.

For suburban customers, the full cost of service, plus the additional amount per the city charter is then factored in.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Total Service customers pay the highest rates because they receive the same services as Denver customers. That means Denver Water employees work in these outlying areas to operate and maintain the infrastructure, provide customer service and much more. Next year, a typical customer who uses 115,000 gallons of water will pay an average of $678. In 2017, that’s $106 more than a comparable city-dweller.

Read and Bill customers pay the second-highest rates. They receive Denver water, along with some basic services, like reading meters and sending bills. But we don’t provide system maintenance and repairs; that work is handled by the suburban distributor. A Read and Bill customer that uses 115,000 gallons of water can expect to pay about $573 next year, roughly the same as the city equivalent.

And finally, there are Master Meter customers. These are not residential customers, but cities that buy treated water at a wholesale rate.

Learn more about our relationship with residential customers who receive a Denver Water bill, and what 2017 water rates mean for those receiving a Denver Water bill:

denver and suburbs 2017 rates infographic


5 things you may not know about Chatfield Reservoir

This popular recreation spot also happens to be one of Colorado’s hardest-working bodies of water.

By Jessica Mahaffey

Are you a Chatfield junky?

As a long-time Littleton resident, I have fond memories of sailing, water skiing, swimming, fishing and camping at the reservoir with friends on my summer breaks from nearby Columbine High School (Rebel Pride!).

Today, I still enjoy afternoon walks on my favorite trails and take my two small dogs to the onsite dog park.

I’m hardly alone. Chatfield State Park is summer sanctuary in Denver’s back yard, welcoming more than 1.5 million visitors each year, according to Colorado State Parks.

The result: Nearly $10 million in economic impact to the communities within 50 miles of the park.

With all the pleasure it provides, many people may not realize that this is one hard-working reservoir, handling multiple duties and obligations. Here are five facts about Chatfield you probably don’t know:


Photo of the South Platte River flood of June 1965, looking due east.

  1. Chatfield was built for flood-control — not to store public drinking water.

It was built in 1967 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to the 1965 flood of the South Platte River that cost more than $500 million and claimed 28 lives.

This reservoir can hold more than 350,000 acre-feet of flood water in emergency situations, but its current capacity is only 27,000 acre-feet of water, the equivalent of 8.8 billion gallons.

During drought conditions, water can be pumped from Chatfield to Marston treatment plant to supplement Denver’s public drinking water supply.

  1. Even though we don’t own or operate the reservoir, only water from Denver Water is currently stored behind the dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns Chatfield and leases the land to Colorado State Parks, which oversees day-to-day operations at Chatfield State Park.

Under a state agreement, Denver Water can fill Chatfield Reservoir with water, as long as we maintain water levels for community recreation.

  1. The water stored in Chatfield is used for water exchanges.

Think of an exchange reservoir as a bank. The water we “deposit” (store) at Chatfield can be used to “pay” (trade) downstream users with rights to the water, instead of sending it from our upstream reservoirs that supply Denver’s drinking water. This allows us to keep water higher in our reservoir system and to later deliver it by gravity to our water treatment plants.

  1. Chatfield provides recreational benefits beyond the obvious.

    Bypass flows released from Strontia Springs Reservoir located at the top of Waterton Canyon keep the river at optimum levels, sustaining a healthy trout fishery for anglers like the author’s brother Jason Kirk, pictured here.

    Bypass flows released through Waterton Canyon sustain a healthy trout fishery for anglers like the author’s brother Jason Kirk, pictured here.

In addition to preserving water levels for recreation, Denver Water uses its space in Chatfield to capture water it releases from Strontia Springs Reservoir, located a few miles upstream of Chatfield. These so-called “bypass flows” keep the river at optimum levels all year long, supporting the trout fishery in Waterton Canyon.

  1. Chatfield is about to take on even more responsibility.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently approved the Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project.  The project will increase water levels at the reservoir by about 12 feet, which is about 20,000 additional acre-feet, or about 6.5 billion gallons.

But this won’t be Denver’s water. Instead, it will help meet the water demands of growing populations in Centennial, Castle Rock, Castle Pines and other Front Range communities. It will also be used by farmers downstream of Denver. Denver Water will still maintain its original storage pool of more than 27,000 acre-feet and will remain involved in the overall operation of Chatfield after the reallocation is completed.

But that’s not all. The Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation CompanyColorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board are developing a plan for an environmental pool to provide up to 1,600 acre-feet of storage. But there is room for more. Learn more about Denver Water and The Greenway Foundation’s effort to provide more water for fishing, farmers and fun on the South Platte: Not your average pledge drive.

So whether you are a Chatfield regular like me or someone who simply enjoys driving by it from time to time, I hope knowing more about Chatfield Reservoir increases your appreciation for this metro-area amenity.

Chatfield Reservoir can hold more than 350,000 acre-feet of flood water in emergency situations, but its current capacity is only 27,000 acre-feet of water, the equivalent of 8.8 billion gallons.

The water levels at Chatfield Reservoir will increase by about 12 feet, which is about 20,000 additional acre-feet, or about 6.5 billion gallons.

The tunnel (next to the tunnel) that no one knows

One brings trains through the Rockies. The other has been delivering much-needed water for 80 years. 

By Kim Unger

My Facebook feed has a tendency to run rampant with advertisements and click-bait articles, but one piece making the rounds was worth the read.

The story, posted on a blog called Only in Your State, was about the Moffat Tunnel, a marvel of early 20th century engineering that appears to be a bit of secret.

Many people know about the Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest point in the Interstate Highway System. The Moffat Tunnel is lesser known, but just as important, the author writes.

From concept to total completion, it took 30 years to construct a railway to chug right under the Continental Divide, connecting travelers from Denver to Winter Park, Colorado, and beyond to Salt Lake City.

The Moffat water tunnel, partially lined with steel, can deliver up to 100,000 acre-feet of water annually.

Industrialist David H. Moffat Jr., a railroad guy and visionary who conceived the plan as a way to boost trade and commerce for the city and the West, once said of his project: “I had no ideas of greatness when I undertook the building of the Moffat Road. I wanted to do it for the good of the state and nothing more.”

David Moffat (1839-1911) spent an estimated 14 million dollars building the railroad to Rollins Pass.

David Moffat (1839-1911) spent an estimated 14 million dollars building the railroad to Rollins Pass.

Moffat died in 1911, long before his vision was completed, but the work continued. Workers dug through gneiss, granite and schist-filled mountain to build the rail line, while others built an access tunnel alongside the main one.

When the work was completed and the first train ventured through the tunnel in 1928, the service tunnel took on a new life.

The tunnel was partially lined and, in 1936, brought the first flow of water from the West Slope (where 80 percent of the state’s water originates) to the booming Denver metro area. For more details on the history, check out “A tale of two tunnels: How the Moffat Tunnel conquered the divide.”

The 6.2 mile tunnel runs parallel to the famous railroad tunnel.

The 6.2-mile Moffat water tunnel runs parallel to the famous railroad tunnel.

Workers lived in camps on each end of the tunnel and worked up to 90 hours a week. Twenty-six men lost their lives during the construction. For the surviving families of the workers, the tunnel represents a culmination of work and a monument to those who gave their time and lives to a cause that helped Denver become a growing city.

Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat Water Tunnel in this 1930 photo.

Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat water tunnel in this 1930 photo.

For a peek into that past, check out our story on Gloria Ryan, whose father worked as an electrical engineer on the tunnel project.


Of course, the effort had its share of funding issues, delays and ownership transfers. In 1996, Denver Water purchased the water tunnel to safeguard water supplies in the north system for future generations. Today, the 6.2-mile-long water tunnel is still in operation.

“The Moffat Tunnel has been a critical part of the water system since the Dust Bowl,” said Cindy Brady, water resources engineer. “It’s amazing how much vision the early planners had. More than 80 years ago they developed the Moffat Tunnel as clean, reliable water supply, making it a big part of the reason Denver is great today.”

The east portal's open channel emerges from underneath the Continental Divide.

The east portal of the Moffat water tunnel emerges from underneath the Continental Divide where it feeds into South Boulder Creek .

Cheesman Dam: Happy trout, reliable water supply

Century-old workhorse dam keeps the water flowing and the temperatures just right for great fishing.

By Jay Adams

Water travels a maze-like path on the way to your faucet: from mountain snow to high-country streams, through reservoirs, dams and canyons.

Denver pioneers developed the elaborate delivery system as far back as the late 1800s, and today’s water managers know how to get additional benefits from every drop brought into the city.

Southwest of Denver, Cheesman Canyon is one example of how careful planning can get water to the tap while sustaining one of the state’s top trout fisheries along the way.

The mid-level jet valve serves as a backup water release and helps fine tune river temperatures below Cheesman Dam.

The mid-level jet valve serves as a backup water release and helps fine tune river temperatures below Cheesman Dam.

Denver Water uses a special feature at Cheesman Dam to help manage the temperature of the South Platte River at various times of the year.

Completed in 1905, Cheesman has three ways to release water from the reservoir: a spillway on the top, a mid-level release with a jet valve and valves at the bottom.

The mid-level valve’s primary function is to serve as a backup system to send water to treatment plants downstream when the main valves at the bottom need repairs.

“The jet valve is critical to the dam’s operations,” said Dave Bennett, water resource engineer. “We can also use it to warm up the river when it’s cold, or cool it down if it gets too warm for the fish.”

Fly Fishing guide Pat Dorsey shows off a rainbow trout in Cheesman Canyon.

Fly fishing guide Pat Dorsey shows off a rainbow trout in Cheesman Canyon.

“Water temperature is a huge component for a healthy fishery,” said Pat Dorsey, a long-time fishing guide on the South Platte River. “The healthiest temperature for rainbow and brown trout is between 50 and 60 degrees.”

Keeping the water in the optimum temperature range is good for fish metabolism and improves their ability to spawn, Bennett said.

Each level of the reservoir has a different water temperature. When water goes over the dam’s spillway, the temperature can top 60 degrees. The water released through the jet valve 60 feet below the surface is in the 50-degree range, and water from the bottom of the reservoir is in the 40s.

“What we try to do is blend those temperatures together to create the best environment for the fish,” Bennett said. “Temperatures in the 50s also trigger insects to hatch, providing food for the trout.”

Rainbow and brown trout are healthiest in 50 to 60 degree water.

Rainbow and brown trout are healthiest in 50 to 60 degree water.

Adding environmental factors into water delivery requires careful coordination between Denver Water’s planning division and Cheesman Dam operators. It’s a balance that involves juggling demand for water in the city, reservoir levels and dam maintenance with the appropriate time of year and conditions for the fishery.

Denver Water also has the ability to manage temperatures along the South Platte River at Eleven Mile Canyon Dam and coordinates stream flows with Aurora’s Spinney Mountain Reservoir to improve trout habitat through Eleven Mile Canyon. 

Denver Water manages water temperatures according to the South Platte Protection Plan, a cooperative regional project designed to protect and enhance the river.

“Healthy fish make for ideal fishing conditions,” Dorsey said. “That’s why this canyon is on every fisherman’s bucket list.”

New round of community meetings to wade in on High Line’s future

Open houses give the public a chance to share ideas on protecting, preserving and enhancing the High Line Canal.

By Jay Adams

Here’s your chance to be a visionary, just like the Denver pioneers who dreamed of bringing water to the dry plains of Denver after the Gold Rush of 1859.

That earlier vision produced the High Line Canal, a 71-mile irrigation ditch built in 1883 that begins at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and ends on the plains northeast of Denver.

Today, the canal and its trails are one of Denver’s most cherished recreational assets, even as its use as a water delivery system has given way to new technologies and homes instead of farms.

The evolution of the canal is why Denver Water is teaming up with the High Line Canal Conservancy to develop a master plan.

You can share your ideas about the future of the historic canal and its greenway at three community open houses held Oct. 19 and 20, sponsored by the Conservancy.

A jogger runs past a flume used to carry the High Line Canal over Lee Gulch in Littleton.

A jogger runs past a flume used to carry the High Line Canal over Lee Gulch in Littleton.

“We’re looking for blue-sky ideas,” said Harriet Crittenden LeMair, the Conservancy’s executive director. “We want the public to think broadly, think creatively, and help us come up with a vision that preserves, protects and enhances the canal.”

People who use the High Line Canal should take advantage of this opportunity, added Tom Roode, Denver Water director of Operations and Maintenance. “We want the public to weigh in and say what they want the canal and the corridor to look like in the future.”

Creating a long-term vision for the canal is no easy task.

Denver Water purchased the canal in 1924 and still uses it today to transport un-treated water to about 70 customers. Instead of supporting farms and ranches, customers today use the water for landscaping and irrigation needs.

High Line pkg 6.00_00_19_25.Still003

The High Line Canal near Chatfield Reservoir. The canal loses around 70 percent of its water to seepage into the ground.

While the canal was considered an engineering marvel in 1883, it’s no longer an efficient means of delivering water. About 70 percent of the water sent down the canal seeps into the ground before it makes it to customers.

Denver Water’s mission is to deliver water to our customers in an environmentally efficient way and that applies to how we manger the canal,” Roode said. “We have to assess how we use the canal in the future while taking into account our customers and its important role in the community.”

Water delivery, trail maintenance, developing new uses and creating a sustainable greenway are all part of the discussion for Denver Water, the Conservancy, the public and the 11 communities that border the canal.

“We’re in the visioning process and the sky’s the limit,” Crittenden LaMair said. “It’s only with input from the public that we can truly reflect the needs of all the communities along the canal.”

October’s meetings are:

  • 4 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 19, at Dry Dock Brewing Co. North Dock, 2801 Tower Rd, Aurora.
  • 2 to 5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 20, at Eisenhower Recreation Center, 4300 E. Dartmouth Ave., Denver.
  • 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 20, at Goodson Recreation Center, 6315 S. University Blvd, Centennial.

Find out more about the High Line Canal Conservancy at

Conservation, coming to a neighborhood near you

The Water Savers offer tips and gentle reminders to residents who might be using a bit more than they need.

Water Saver Joel Hernandez, provides a customer with Denver Water’s free Water Wise Landscape Handbook with tips and tools to reduce your water use and maintain a stunning yard.

Water Saver Joel Hernandez provides a customer with Denver Water’s free Water Wise Landscape Handbook, with tips and tools to reduce water use and maintain a stunning yard.

By Tyler St. John

Facing drought conditions, the San Antonio Water Service is taking aggressive steps to conserve water by calling out the area’s top 100 residential water users.

The list shows names, exact water usage and sometimes the neighborhood of the biggest users. Added up, those 100 residences used 108 million gallons last year.

Whatever you think about that approach, the list certainly raises awareness. On top of it, San Antonio runs an array of other programs with tips on how to avoid waste.

Like Texas, Colorado is no stranger to the need to talk to customers about drought. Efforts to limit water waste and enforcement during these dry times date back to the 1930s — when a Special Inspections Division was created.

Fast forward to the drought of 2002, when field technician Jim Rael helped create the 21st-century team who worked tirelessly to write drought violations in an attempt to drastically reduce water use.

“We had to make sure everyone behaved and did what they had to do,” said Rael.

Their efforts worked and customers cut back enough to make it through the drought. Two years later the patrol took on a new name — Water Savers — and adopted a completely different approach.

A 2016 Water Saver vehicle.

A 2016 Water Saver vehicle.

“We are no longer patrolling to catch people,” said Jodi Johnson, who oversees this year’s team of seven Water Savers. “We want to get into the streets and the parks to educate our customers, not punish them.”

Water Savers can issue fines if a customer repeatedly wastes water, but they rarely need to take that step. Despite responding to 400 first-time violations in 2015, the team only had to come back for 28 second violations — without issuing a single fine.

The savers come equipped with the ability to look up individual water consumption history and review irrigation control settings right on the spot. In addition to responding to calls from neighbors and concerned members of the community, they canvas neighborhoods, knocking on doors to provide water-saving tips and tools.

Armed with a smile and a free water nozzle, Joel Hernandez is embarking on this third summer as a Water Saver. In a single day he may provide a water audit, chat with a customer working in her garden and respond to reports of daytime watering, broken sprinkler heads and other violations to the watering rules.

“It’s good to interact with customers and give them little bits of information they didn’t know about,” said Hernandez.

If you notice any significant water waste, or are curious about your own water use, call the Water Savers at 303-893-2444, or use our online form.

Water your mind

Quench your literary thirst with this summer reading list.

By Sabrina Hall

Ahh, summer. The days are longer, Colorado’s weather is beautiful and kids and adults alike are putting together their summer reading lists. So kick back in a lawn chair, watch your sprinklers water your lawn with the greatest efficiency (obviously only between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., using the cycle-and-soak method), and quench your reading thirst with these great books (despite the long titles). Here are some of our favorites, with summaries from the publishers:

“A Ditch in Time: The City, the West, and Water,” by Patricia Limerick and Jason L. Hanson


Tracing the origins and growth of Denver Water, “A Ditch in Time: The City, the West, and Water” places this case study in the big picture of regional and national history. Written in a lively style and enriched with photographs and images, this book raises questions of consequence about the complex relationship among cities, suburbs and rural areas. If you live in Colorado, this is a must-read in your personal library.

“Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do,” by Wallace J. Nichols


Why does being near water set our minds and bodies at ease? In “Blue Mind,” Wallace J. Nichols revolutionizes how we think about these questions, revealing the remarkable truth about the benefits of being around water. Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with compelling personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans and gifted artists, he shows how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety and increase professional success. Denver Water’s 1,100+ employees would tend to agree.

Guide to the High Line Canal, by Denver Water


If you’d rather read trail signs than books, then check out the Guide to the High Line Canal. This full-color, pocket-sized companion suggests what to look for, what to avoid, where to find the best scenery and where to park along the 71-mile High Line Canal. The guide offers mile-by-mile descriptions, as well as geographical and historical facts about this urban treasure.

“Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?,” by Robert Wells


You didn’t think we would leave out books for our young water drinkers, did you? There are almost too many to choose from, but here are some great children’s books on the water cycle. We can’t resist “Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?,” which teaches how the water we have on earth today is the same water that has been cycling through the different stages of the water cycle for millennia.

Eleven Mile Dam passes annual safety checkup

With proper maintenance, this 84-year-old architectural marvel should last well beyond the next century.  

By Jay Adams



A 147-foot high concrete gravity arch dam nestled between two rock walls is an awe-inspiring sight. Just ask anyone who’s driven up Eleven Mile Canyon.

At the end of a winding, dirt road along the South Platte River in Park County, this impressive structure plays a vital role in supplying water to more than 1 million Denver Water customers.

May 31 is National Dam Safety Awareness Day, designated to build awareness of the thousands of dams across the U.S. that, like Eleven Mile Canyon Dam, do their jobs and go basically unnoticed every day.

The day commemorates the worst dam failure in U.S. history. On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, broke after days of heavy rain. The floodwaters killed more 2,200 people in the valley below.

Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir, completed in 1932, is the second largest storage facility in Denver Water’s system and one of the largest bodies of water on Colorado’s East Slope.

Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir, completed in 1932, is the second largest storage facility in Denver Water’s system and one of the largest bodies of water on Colorado’s East Slope.

Denver Water uses dams to store drinking water, but the dams also provide boating and fishing opportunities for the public and produce hydropower. Other dams across the country are used for flood control.

Denver Water has 20 dams, and some are more than 100 years old. The organization conducts its own internal dam evaluations and also takes part in state and federal inspections.

Built in 1932, Eleven Mile had its annual state and internal inspection on May 24. “The inspections are necessary to make sure the dam is safe and functioning properly,” said Darren Brinker, Denver Water’s chief dam safety engineer. “We look for any mechanical issues, cracks in the concrete, and changes in seepage over time.”

John Hunyadi, a dam safety engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said the state inspects dams to make sure people and property downstream are safe. “We go out with dam owners to inspect their facilities and identify problems before they become major issues,” he said.

Hunyadi said 2013 and 2015 proved to be major tests of dams along the Front Range. “We saw near historic levels of high water and flooding and the dams where we have the most stringent safety requirements performed exceedingly well,” he said.

Denver Water’s on-site reservoir managers look for problems every day. “We do maintenance at the dam and look at past work we’ve done to see how it’s holding up and whether something needs immediate attention,” said Mike Kelly, Eleven Mile Dam caretaker. “I’ve been here for 21 years and this dam is holding up well considering it’s 84 years old.”

Hunyadi found no serious problems during his inspection in May and gave Eleven Mile a standard “satisfactory” rating.

Two of Denver Water’s oldest earthen dams (Antero, 1909 and Marston, 1902) are currently undergoing safety upgrades. “Overall, our dams are in good health,” Brinker said. “Concrete dams are expected to last 200 years and with proper maintenance, our goal is to make them last even longer.”

A hard act to follow: After tackling a toilet, now what?

‘Use Only What You Need’ campaign turned heads about conservation. Today’s water challenges demand more of the same.

Denver Water’s 2015 campaign, "You Can't Make This Stuff" won for Best Street Furniture/Transit/Alternative Campaign in the 2016 Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s OBIE awards.

Denver Water’s 2015 campaign, “You Can’t Make This Stuff” won for Best Street Furniture/Transit/Alternative Campaign in the 2016 Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s OBIE awards.

By Ann Baker

Maybe it was the time a giant toilet ran across Mile High Stadium to a stunned crowd, getting tackled by a security guard as the scoreboard blared: Stop Running Toilets.

Or maybe it was when professional landscapers and horticulture professors wrote disgruntled letters about billboards and radio spots that joked, “Grass is Dumb.”

At some point in the past decade, Denver Water’s signature orange box asking customers to Use Only What You Need became advertising legend in the metro area, winning countless awards, prompting dozens of requests to buy the rights for the campaign, and even eliciting interest for use on specialty license plates.

The campaign is coming to a close this year, making way for a more broad-range message that will go beyond conservation and focus on other issues, including water quality, recreation and long-range planning, among others. It’ll still be unexpected, clever and fun, but it’ll be more individualized and make better use of the digital world. Think less billboard, more hashtag.

Still, the Use Only What You Need catchphrase will remain one of a kind.

“It’s the best advertising campaign this city has ever seen, in my opinion,” said Trina McGuire-Collier, assistant director of Public Affairs, who oversaw the campaign since its inception. “You didn’t expect a government agency to do and say the things we did.”

The Use Only What You Need campaign began 10 years ago, just as the region was recovering from a debilitating drought. Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners challenged customers to reduce their use 22 percent by the end of 2016, a massive undertaking that required an attack on several fronts, through audits, rebates, rates and, of course, advertising.

“We had to cut through the clutter,” McGuire-Collier said. “The drought had gotten our customers’ attention, and we had to strike while they were watching.”

So every year, Use Only What You Need set out to shock Denver Water customers. (Almost) naked people walked through crowds with an orange sandwich board that read: Use Only What You Need. A taxi stripped down to just what was needed to be street legal — basically headlights, tires and a steering wheel — appeared at community events with the same simple, but prudent, message.

The Running Toilet, pictured here at the 2015 9News Parade of Lights, has been a staple of Denver Water’s Use Only What You Need campaign.

The Running Toilet, pictured here at the 2015 9News Parade of Lights, has been a staple of Denver Water’s Use Only What You Need campaign.

Soon Denver Water started pairing taglines with Use Only What You Need to help customers focus their conservation efforts with tangible actions. “Grass is Dumb. Water 2 minutes less. Your lawn won’t notice.” Or “Man’s Time of the Month: Pick a time every month when you do your man thing and adjust your sprinklers.”

“It created this legacy, that every year the industry and our customers were waiting to see what we’d do next,” McGuire-Collier said.

It was modern, often outrageous, and sparked a conversation throughout the city. It also worked.

Customers reduced their water use by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, despite a 15 percent population increase. “It was the perfect timing for that message,” said Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning, which tracks customer use patterns. “It was just the root of all success we’ve had in conservation.”

It’s impossible to quantify how much of that reduction came from advertising versus rates versus rebates versus the dozens of other methods that encouraged customers to use less. But the campaign certainly had an impact.

Use Only What You Need made people think twice about their water use, said Jeff Tejral, manager of conservation.

“The culture has since changed and water use has changed,” Tejral said. “We need to capture that success and move forward.”

Now the push will be to create a two-way dialogue with customers all year long, instead of only during irrigation season. It’ll help people see Denver Water as experts while teaching them about what their water utility has to offer, said Kathie Dudas, Denver Water’s marketing manager.

At the recent opening of the rail line to Denver International Airport, for example, Denver Water parked its water trailer at Union Station and handed out cups of cool tap water to incoming visitors. Several people cooed about its taste, asking where they could buy it.

“We can’t keep talking with one message, because now the portrait is bigger.” Dudas said. “But you can’t follow Use Only What You Need with corporate speak. We’ve raised the bar for ourselves, and we must set new heights with our future campaigns.”

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