Archive for the ‘infrastructure’ Category

Breaking point: Temperature swings tough on water pipes

With the ups and downs of winter weather in Colorado, repair crews are clamping down on main breaks across Denver.

By Jay Adams

 

 

Denver winters can feel like a rollercoaster ride — cold and snowy one day, mild and sunny the next. All those ups and downs make for interesting weather forecasts, but those temperature swings also take a toll on water mains under city streets.

Through Dec. 20, Denver Water crews had fixed more than 318 water main breaks this year. Of those, nearly 20 percent were linked to dramatic changes in temperature.

Temperature breaks, technically called “shear breaks,” are caused when the ground shifts due to changes in the weather.

Shear breaks occur during prolonged cold spells and fast warm-ups.

When temperatures drop, the ground freezes, causing water molecules inside the soil to expand. The longer the temperature stays below freezing, the deeper the frost layer stretches below the surface. The frozen soil puts stress on top of the pipes and can cause them to crack.

A pipeline mechanic removes dirt from a broken water main to identify the leak.

A pipeline mechanic removes dirt from a broken water main to identify the leak.

Pipes are also prone to crack when the weather warms up quickly after a cold spell. As the ground warms, the water molecules shrink and the ground shifts.

“The ground freezes and thaws all the time during the winter here in Denver,” said Ed Romero, water distribution foreman. “Any little bit of movement in the ground can end up splitting a pipe.”

Crews can identify a temperature break because the crack looks like a line was drawn around the pipe with a marker.

Older pipes are more vulnerable to temperature breaks due to the ongoing stress of the freeze and thaw cycle over time.

Denver Water crews can usually fix a temperature break by digging up the street and placing a stainless steel repair clamp around the crack on the pipe.

Pipeline mechanics bolting on a repair clamp, which is commonly used to fix water mains after temperature breaks.

Pipeline mechanics bolting on a repair clamp, which is commonly used to fix water mains after temperature breaks.

“Repair clamps are very effective ways to fix broken water mains after a temperature break,” Romero said. “The clamp forms a tight seal and will not let any water out of the pipe.”

When pipes are replaced or installed, Denver Water reduces the risk of temperature breaks by putting a sand-gravel mix around the pipes to provide a cushion when the ground shifts.

Temperature swings and ground shifts are just one cause of water main breaks. Other factors include age and material of the pipe, corrosion, the type of soil and the amount of water pressure running through the pipe. All of these factors can weaken sections of the water main and lead to more complicated breaks and repairs.

“We see lots of temperature extremes here in Denver and lots of different types of pipe breaks,” Romero said. “Some breaks are easy to fix, others can take hours, even days to repair.”

All in a day’s — or night’s — work

On the shortest day of the year, the sun sets early, but you still need water. We’ll be there.

By Kristi Delynko

Dec. 21 is the winter solstice, the shortest day — and longest night — of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. And while many of us use an early sunset as an excuse to curl up on the couch with a good book or movie, some Denver Water employees will be hard at work — no matter how short the daylight hours.

Ensuring 1.4 million people receive high-quality drinking water is a 24/7 operation. Here’s a glimpse at what some of our employees will be doing long after the sun sets.

Emergency services conducts night work to repair a leak

A customer calls the emergency services dispatcher to report water bubbling up in the middle of a busy intersection. Even in the dark, members of the Emergency Services team are Denver Water’s first responders. They handle anything from shutting off water so crews can repair pipe breaks, to supporting Denver firefighters during multi-alarm blazes, to assisting customers with water quality complaints.

 

Daniel Ruvalcaba, senior utility technician, works on repairing an underground leak

Water mains burst when they want to, and usually at inopportune times, like when it’s dark and chilly. After Emergency Services responds to a call, a Water Distribution crew — including senior utility technician Daniel Ruvalcaba — fix the problem so customers can have water service restored as soon as possible.

 

Water treatment plant supervisor David Brancio

Long after many of us have gone to bed, staff at our four water treatment plants are hard at work. They gear up overnight when water use is low, to ensure the plants can meet customers’ needs during the day, when demand is higher. Our three drinking water plants and recycling plant are staffed around-the-clock by operators and maintenance personnel like water treatment plant supervisor David Brancio, who monitor the treatment processes and run lab tests to ensure the water we deliver (sometimes at the rate of 350,000 gallons a minute) meets all the federal and state regulations, and even tighter Denver Water standards.

 

Distribution operator Albert Geist monitors our complex water system

Coffee percolates and the dark room glows from monitors that cover entire walls in Systems Operations (also known as Load Control). Distribution operators like Albert Geist work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, scanning various computer screens to make sure our 30 treated water reservoirs, more than 3,000 miles of pipe, 160 pressure zones and 22 pump stations are ready for the morning load as our customers wake and prepare for their day. With a water system as large and complex as ours, pumps, facilities, even entire pipelines occasionally go down for service, maintenance or repair. Operators must constantly respond to alarms that signal potential real-time problems with everything from equipment and instrumentation to water quality and pressure.

We provide customers an average of 64 billion gallons of high-quality drinking water and 2 billion gallons of treated recycled water every year. No small task, but it’s all in a day’s — or night’s — work at Denver Water.

Your water bill is going up (slightly). Here’s why

That small increase helps us make big system upgrades, ensure water reliability and plan for future needs.

By Steve Snyder

 

Nobody likes to pay a bill.

No matter how much you like a service or how essential it may be, handing over your hard-earned money to somebody else — particularly if that bill often increases from year to year — is never fun.

But when it comes to your water bill, the simple fact is the cost of running a complex water system continues to rise. Your bill helps to maintain and upgrade a vast infrastructure that allows us to collect, treat and deliver safe, reliable water, while also providing for essential fire protection services.

You’ll see some slight increases in your water bill starting April 1, 2017. Here are the answers to three questions you may be asking:

  1. Why are you raising my rates?
crews placing concrete for storage tank at Hillcrest

Crews work to place the concrete floor of one of the new Hillcrest treated water storage tanks on Dec. 10. Denver Water is in the middle of a $100 million project to improve the safety and reliability of its Hillcrest facility by replacing two 15-million-gallon underground water storage tanks with three 15-million-gallon tanks, and a pump station.

We have a large, intricate system with a lot of aging infrastructure. With a 5-year, $1.3 billion capital plan, we’re staying on top of the upgrades and new projects needed to keep this system running.

(Watch the video at the top of the page to see the kinds of projects, like replacing failing underground storage tanks and aging pipes.)

To keep up with this necessary work, we are increasing the monthly fixed charge on your bill to help us even out our revenues over the year so we can repair and upgrade our system. This means less reliance on revenues from how much water customers use, which has become increasingly difficult to predict in recent years given the more frequent and extreme weather fluctuations.

  1. How much is my water bill going up?

That depends on the type of customer you are and how you use water. Your bill is comprised of a fixed monthly charge and charges for how much water you use.

Every customer will see an increase to their monthly fixed charge. If you’re like most residential customers who have a 3/4-inch meter, that charge will increase from $8.79 to $11.86 per month.

To help offset the fixed monthly charge, the charge per 1,000 gallons for many customers will see a small decrease in 2017.

Adding up those two elements, if you live in Denver and use 115,000 gallons of water a year in the same way you did in 2016, you can expect to see an annual increase of about $29, which averages out to a monthly increase of about $2.40 a month. (Summer bills are typically higher because of outdoor water use.)

If you live in the suburbs and get your water from one of our 66 distributors, your bill will be higher than Denver resident’s. That’s because the Denver City Charter requires that suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount.

  1. You ask me to use less water and then raise my rates. Am I being penalized for conservation?

We always encourage conservation and the efficient use of water. In fact, rates would be higher without our customers’ conservation efforts; we’d have to build more treatment and distribution facilities to keep up with the demand for water.

For example, your conservation efforts are saving Denver Water an estimated $155 million on a new treatment plant and storage facilities because it doesn’t have to be as big as we originally estimated. That’s $155 million we don’t have to recover through rates and charges.

No one likes paying higher bills, but consider the overall value of water. Most Denver Water customers will still pay about $3 for 1,000 gallons of water.

And while rates are going up, Denver Water is committed to keeping water affordable, particularly for the essential indoor water use that is vital for drinking, cooking and sanitation. In 2017, customers will continue to pay the lowest rate for what they use indoors.

 

If you’d like to talk over your bill with someone, contact Denver Water’s Customer Care team at 303-893-2444, and a representative will help you calculate your individual bill impacts, based on your personal water-use information.

Hidden underground, and ready to go with the flow

Whatever the demand, 30 storage tanks ensure reliable water delivery. Here’s how we keep them ready.

By Kim Unger

How many times do you turn on the faucet or flush the toilet every day? Is it the same amount, at the same time, every time? Probably not. No matter when or how often you need safe, clean water from your tap, it’s right there waiting. But how?

Underground storage tanks.

Inside a water storage tank

A peek inside one of Ashland’s new storage tanks. Construction is expected to wrap up in June 2017.

You may not realize it, but Denver Water has 30 tanks across our service area. They provide a buffer to allow our treatment plants to operate at consistent flows, while the tanks handle the highs and lows of water demands. This reduces energy costs and strain at the treatment plants, and it means that you never have to wait for treated water.

Just like pipes, dams and treatment plant equipment within our water system, storage tanks need maintenance and repairs to ensure reliability. Over the past few years, Denver Water has been replacing and upgrading the tanks, making sure we can provide water well into the future.

Take a look at this animated video to see how storage tanks work — and preview an upcoming project in southeast Denver.

In Waterton Canyon, Black Friday is for the birds

After nearly two years of sporadic closings, a major construction project is finally complete. Time for a Turkey Trot!

By Travis Thompson

In the spirit of the holiday, I want to give thanks for Waterton Canyon.

As an outdoor enthusiast with two young children, the canyon has become our family sanctuary. In 15 short minutes we can be on a trail — actually a Denver Water service road — large enough for the kids to ride their bikes without impeding others, while we gawk over the varieties of birds, reptiles and mammals along the way.

Like others who love the canyon, our time in this oasis has been limited since the spring of 2015, when the High Line Canal diversion dam, halfway up the canyon in the South Platte River, deteriorated to the point that it needed to be replaced.

Since then, it’s been nearly two years of intermittent, months long closures and restrictions on public access while crews worked to rebuild the dam.

It was a long and challenging process, but construction on the dam is officially complete.

 

On Nov. 25, hikers will be allowed back into the canyon just in time to burn off the Thanksgiving stuffing, gravy and sweet potato pie.

Just as grateful as I am for this recreational retreat next to the city, I’m even more grateful for the true purpose of the canyon: to provide 1.4 million people in the Denver metro area with clean drinking water.

As explained in “The ‘trails’ and tribulations of Waterton Canyon,” the No. 1 priority of this working facility is to store and send water to two of Denver’s three drinking water treatment plants. That means infrastructure maintenance and upgrades are frequent and must take priority over recreation.

In fact, the next weekday closure is already looming. A separate construction project wrapping up at Strontia Springs Dam, located at the top of the 6.5-mile canyon, involves heavy equipment, creating unsafe conditions for recreationists for the last three weeks of the year.

This certainly won’t be the last time the gates are closed to the canyon, either. So, here’s my advice:

1) Take advantage of the times when Denver Water is able to safely allow recreation on its service road. 2) If you see a wild turkey in the canyon the day after Thanksgiving, you might not want to look him in the eye.

Turkeys in Waterton Canyon

Wild turkeys, including these two, are frequently spotted in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy of Waterton Canyon enthusiast, Lori Bollendonk.

 

 

Into the dark, under the Divide and out the other side

Inspecting Roberts Tunnel: What it’s like going through a 23-mile concrete tube thousands of feet underground.

By Jay Adams

 

 

This is not your typical road trip. Twenty-three miles long and more than 4,000 feet underground, navigating Roberts Tunnel is more like driving a convertible through a car wash in the dark.

And for the Denver Water team that inspects this critical piece of infrastructure, it’s a big task, and not for the faint of heart.

Inspection Team left to right: Nate Soule, Lithos Engineering inspector; Tim Holinka, West Slope operations supervisor; Garret Miller, Roberts Tunnel supervisor; Doug Sandrock, safety specialist; Jay Dankowski, mechanic; Erin Gleason, dam safety engineer.

Inspection team (left to right): Nate Soule, Lithos Engineering inspector; Tim Holinka, operations supervisor; Garret Miller, Roberts Tunnel supervisor; Doug Sandrock, safety specialist; Jay Dankowski, mechanic; Erin Gleason, dam safety engineer.

Starting in Summit County, Roberts Tunnel carries water from Dillon Reservoir, under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork of the South Platte River in Park County before heading on to customers in Denver. Completed in 1962, the tunnel took 16 years to build and can deliver more than 480 million gallons of water a day to the Front Range. It’s nearly as long as the Chunnel under the English Channel.

“It’s an impressive piece of engineering,” said Erin Gleason, a Denver Water dam safety engineer. “We inspect the tunnel every five years to check for debris and look for any structural issues.”

On Sept. 21, a six-person inspection team went into the tunnel entrance at Dillon Reservoir and spent four hours driving through the 10-foot diameter passageway to the tunnel’s east portal, near the town of Grant in Park County.

“When we do tunnel inspections, we’re looking for shifts and cracks in the concrete lining,” Gleason said. “We compare notes from past inspections to see if there are any changes that could lead to future problems.”

Before the inspection begins, Denver Water drains the tunnel so the team can go through, but it’s not completely dry — especially at the entry point where the tunnel runs under Dillon Reservoir.

“It’s definitely wet at the beginning,” Gleason said. “Pressure from the water in the reservoir seeps through the rock and concrete and drains into the tunnel.”

The inspection team arrives at the tunnel's eastern portal near Grant in Park County.

The inspection team arrives at the Roberts Tunnel east portal near Grant in Park County.

While the water makes for a soggy ride, Gleason said seepage is not unusual to see inside tunnels and is not considered a major problem. The tunnel is basically dry after the first mile.

“We didn’t find any defects,” said Garret Miller, Roberts Tunnel supervisor. “It was a long ride, but this is something we have to do to make sure the tunnel can deliver water to our customers.”

A tunnel engineering consultant rode with the inspection team and declared the tunnel’s concrete lining to be in excellent condition.

“It’s really a team effort to pull off inspections like this, and we had an outstanding team,” Gleason said. “With regular inspections and maintenance, this tunnel will last well into the future.”

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:

album-101-21-south-platte-flood

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.

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.”

Gross Reservoir Expansion Project takes a giant step forward

State certification moves this critical project closer to reality, and cooperation is the key.

By Matt Wittern

 

As a native Coloradan and lifelong flyfisherman, I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to sell trout a line. I’ve encountered many frustrated fisherman in my day, and remember too many days when I’ve counted myself among them.

No matter what you hear or read about how to be successful in the sport — tippet size, line length, fly pattern, cast placement — success all comes down to one word: approach.

Gross Reservoir has a surface area of 418 acres. Once the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is completed an additional 424 acres will be added to the reservoir’s surface area.

Gross Reservoir, pictured here, has a surface area of 418 acres. Once the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is completed an additional 424 acres will be added to the reservoir’s surface area.

And that same word, as It turns out, applies to how Denver Water recently secured Gov. John Hickenlooper’s endorsement and a state water quality certification for the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir that found the project will result in a net environmental benefit for the state.

Here are the technical details: The Section 401 certification under the Federal Clean Water Act, or more succinctly, a 401 certification, comes from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The certification is one big step forward for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

Without diving too much into the weeds (where personal experience teaches that you’re just going to get snagged and lose a couple flies), this is a REALLY big deal, and not just for Denver Water, but for the environment and interests on the West Slope, too.

“I think there are benefits on both sides of the Divide on this project,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Western Resource Advocates, one of Colorado’s most respected and influential environmental groups. “Denver Water has guaranteed that when there are temperature fluctuations that threaten the health of the river, there will be additional releases. In the driest years, Denver Water can release additional water downstream, and that helps rivers across the West Slope.”

Let’s face it: In the past, Denver Water’s approach to these issues has been flawed, and like a fisherman using a DuPont lure, shockwaves and damage were left in its wake. But today’s Denver Water is much more like a successful flyfisherman who takes into account the environment, notices nuances in the currents, and observes and reacts to changes in the hatch.

Denver Water changed its approach to one of cooperation and relationship building, and in so doing found solutions to this challenging project.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead (left), accepts the 2016 River Stewardship Award from Colorado Trout Unlimited executive director David Nickum.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead (left) accepts the 2016 River Stewardship Award from David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

“We were involved in a very lengthy battle with Denver Water over the Two Forks project some 25 years ago,” remembers David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “At that time, the idea of Trout Unlimited and Denver Water working together would have been difficult to imagine. I think that we’ve seen just a sea-change in Denver’s attitude toward really trying to work with partners in those basins, to understand that those are legitimate concerns and considerations – that we can actually achieve win wins by all working together, listening to each other, understanding our various concerns and looking at the fact that we do have a common interest in watersheds like the Fraser.”

The conditions included in the 401 certification provide for long-term monitoring of stream temperature, nutrients, metals and aquatic life with an adaptive management strategy for responding to water quality impairments, if detected. The certification builds upon the cooperative process that helped get us here and the manner in which fishermen hone their skills in the sport. It’s called Learning By Doing. CDPHE describes Learning By Doing as:

… a cooperative process that has a goal of maintaining or improving the “stream environment” in the project area. An adaptive management strategy is employed to make decisions about allocating resources to meet the goal. The management committee includes representatives from Denver Water, Grand County, the Colorado River Conservation District, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Municipal Subdistrict), Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited.

Beyond working collaboratively, Denver Water has made additional commitments and earmarked millions of dollars in funding to enhance the environment as part of our broader approach to secure approval for the project. These include committing additional funds to multiple water improvement and stream restoration efforts in collaboration with West Slope county officials, Trout Unlimited and other interested parties.

Kind of like when you hook a magnificent trout with a perfect cast, this approach is instructive, rewarding and encourages us to do it more.

5 questions about getting the lead out of Denver

No amount of lead in our water is safe. But replacing potentially hazardous lead service lines is no small task.

By Travis Thompson

Lead service lines, like the one pictured here, were initially installed by builders most likely before or during the mid-1950s and are owned by customers.

Lead service lines, like the one pictured here, were initially installed by builders most likely before or during the mid-1950s and are owned by customers.

You’ve read about Flint, Michigan, a community in crisis after lead levels spiked following a series of water supply and operational changes.

This tragic failure has sparked a national dialogue on the safety of our drinking water and a positive movement to eliminate the risk of lead.

Many communities across the country are now re-examining their approaches and fixing the problem where they find it, including Denver.

Here are five questions – and answers – about getting the lead out of Denver homes:

  1. Is our drinking water safe?

First, no amount of lead in drinking water is safe.

Last year, Denver Water collected more than 35,000 samples and conducted more than 68,000 water quality tests.

Lead isn’t present in the mountain streams and reservoirs that supply our water, or in water when it leaves our treatment plants and travels through our system’s water mains.

Yet, lead can still show up in the water coming out of your home faucet. That’s because, for some homes, the service lines that bring water from the water main in the street to your home are made of lead. Household plumbing fixtures like faucets may also contain lead.

Just because a home has a lead service line, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is leaching lead into the water.

  1. So how can I find out?

The only way to know for certain if you have lead in your drinking water is to have it tested.

Call Denver Water at 303-893-2444 or use this online form and we’ll send you a sampling kit to collect the water. Then we’ll test the samples so you’ll know if you’re at risk. The sampling kit and the test are free.

You also may choose to have your water tested by an independent lab. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides a list of labs and fees.

If your water tests positive for lead, you can protect yourself by using a filter certified for lead removal. A list of filters can be found on The National Sanitation Foundation’s website. Make sure the filter is NSF Standard 53.

You may also have your service line tested to see if it is made of lead. If it is, we encourage you to replace the line. We recommend using an experienced, licensed plumber for service line testing and replacement work.

The most common source of lead in treated drinking water is a customer’s plumbing.

The most common source of lead in treated drinking water is a customer’s plumbing.

  1. Where are the lead service lines?

Pinpointing how many Denver-area properties have lead service lines and where they are is not easy.

In Denver Water’s experience, homes and buildings most likely to have lead service lines are those built before or during the mid-1950s, but we simply don’t have enough information to know exactly when and where lead was used by plumbers and builders in our service area.

We are researching regulations, plumbing codes and policies from prior decades when lead was a commonly used material for a better understanding on where lead service lines may exist in the Denver metro area.

Because Denver Water doesn’t own the service lines, we don’t have records of where the original lead service lines have been replaced with a non-lead material, such as copper.

We’re working with our available data to see if we can glean enough information to better identify homes at risk. You can help us narrow the scope of our research by calling 303-893-2444 to report if you know you have a lead service line.

  1. What’s Denver Water doing?

Long before the Flint crisis thrust lead into the national spotlight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was already working on regulatory changes and rules to guide communities and water utilities on removing lead from private service lines. But those changes are not likely for a few more years.

“We’re not waiting for the new regulations,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “The Flint situation lays bare this simple fact: Our communities will be safer in the long run with no lead service lines in the ground.”

Until new policies are developed, Denver Water has enacted an interim lead replacement plan:

When our construction crews encounter a lead service line during main breaks, pipe rehabilitation or pipe replacement, we will replace that line entirely with copper. We also will provide homeowners with detailed information regarding their water quality.

In addition, we will provide homeowners with a filter and offer to test the water at no cost after we replace the service line, because lead can still be present in internal plumbing fixtures.

  1. Who will pay to replace all those lead service lines?

That’s the toughest question of all. The American Water Works Association estimates there are 6.1 million lead service lines still in the U.S., and the estimated cost to remove them is $30 billion.

“Replacing lead lines involves shared responsibility among utilities, customers, government and other stakeholders,” said Lochhead. “As a community and as a broader society, we need to have a serious discussion on how we get the lead out.”

Those conversations have already started at local, state and federal levels. All options are on the table: changes to plumbing codes, property disclosure requirements and potential sources of funding the cost of service line replacement.

Until those policies are clear, Denver Water will continue to provide sampling kits, offer testing and other resources, and replace lead service lines when we find them as part of our regular construction efforts, Lochhead said.

 

Go to the Denver Water website to learn where water meets lead, how to know if your home is at risk and ways to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water.

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