Posts Tagged ‘dillon reservoir’

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.”

When Mother Nature flakes out, just add water

Water-sharing agreements provide yearly snowmaking operations for six Summit and Grand county ski areas.

By Jay Adams

 

 

It’s finally starting to look a lot like winter in the Colorado Rockies — just a little later than normal. Mother Nature delivered some much-needed snow at the end of November to boost a ski season that’s been dealing with warmer temperatures and limited snow this fall.

Luckily, ski runs have a solid base waiting for fresh powder, thanks to snowmaking and a helping hand from Denver Water.

Resorts typically rely on early-season snowmaking to cover the slopes. In years when Mother Nature is slow to deliver, snowmaking operations are even more critical to the ski industry.

Snowboarders at Arapahoe Basin

Snowboarders enjoy early-season conditions on man-made snow at Arapahoe Basin.

“If we didn’t have snowmaking right now, we wouldn’t be open,” said Alan Henceroth, chief operating officer at Arapahoe Basin ski area in Summit County. “We can’t make snow without water.”

Enter Denver Water.

Through a water-sharing agreement with Denver Water, A-Basin diverts water from the North Fork of the Snake River and stores it in a small retention pond at the bottom of the ski area. The ski area then pumps the water up the mountain to 20 snowmaking machines.

“When we’re at full capacity, we’re using 1,000 gallons of water per minute,” Henceroth said.

Denver Water has senior water rights in Summit County, but allows A-Basin to borrow 97.4 million gallons of water each ski season to make snow. The ski area returns the water in the spring when the snow melts and flows into the streams and rivers that feed Dillon Reservoir — Denver Water’s largest storage facility.

Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Frisco Adventure Park, Keystone and Winter Park also have similar agreements with the utility, which shares 1.1 billion gallons of water with the ski areas each year.

“Letting them redirect water from the streams onto the mountain is a way to get multiple uses out of every drop,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “The ski areas get their water to make snow, and we catch it after they use it.”

Denver Water has very senior water rights in Grand and Summit counties dating back to the 1920s and 1940s before their resorts were open or made snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

A 1985 agreement with Summit County allowed Denver Water to share water for snowmaking in the county.

The 1992 Clinton Reservoir Agreement and the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided the additional framework for ski areas to borrow Denver’s water rights to divert water from streams in Grand and Summit counties.

“The agreements show that people on both sides of the divide can work together and manage water so it benefits as many people as possible,” Bennett said.

Because 20 percent of the water is lost to evaporation in the snowmaking process, the ski areas have their own additional water rights stored in Clinton Reservoir that would be used to pay back the lost water, if needed, during a severe drought.

“When it comes to water, we’re all connected,” Henceroth said. “We’ll ski on the snow this winter, and next summer they might be drinking it down in Denver.”

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.”

New kids on the block — on tour!

I joined my fellow newbies to get a first-hand look at Denver Water’s collection system.

By Kristi Delynko

Employees board a pontoon boat and head out across Dillon Reservoir to see operations from the water.

Employees board a pontoon boat and head out across Dillon Reservoir to see operations from the water.

Did you know the town of Dillon used to be located right underneath where Dillon Reservoir is today? Or that Williams Fork Dam’s hydroelectric plant generates enough electricity to help power the remote mountain communities that surround the reservoir?

These are just a few of the fun facts I learned last week on a tour of Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. Not everyone gets to see the inside of a hydroelectric plant, or go behind the scenes at a reservoir, but as a newbie at Denver Water, I was able to join 41 other employees to get a special look inside Denver Water’s operations.

Denver Water offers training programs and tours to help employees through the onboarding process. And let me tell you, what we do at Denver Water is complex, making the learning curve pretty steep.

“It’s important for employees to see the entire system to understand the role each of them plays in delivering safe, quality drinking water,” said Arleen Hernandez, learning and organizational development coordinator.

My colleagues and I piled onto a tour bus and traveled into the mountains to get a first-hand look at Denver Water’s collection system. Along the way, Dave Bennett, environmental scientist, explained Denver Water’s intricate water collection system and a history that dates back to the mid-1800s.

We discovered how that history continues to influence the business conducted at Denver Water today. “Learning about water rights was particularly interesting,” said finance analyst Emmanuel Lubuye, one of my fellow tour attendees. “Seeing how the actions of earlier pioneers at Denver Water laid the foundation for acquiring water rights early on was fascinating.”

Hydro Operator Rick Geise shares the importance of Dillon Reservoir to our water supply and the vital partnerships Denver Water maintains in the community.

Hydro Operator Rick Geise shares the importance of Dillon Reservoir to our water supply and the vital partnerships Denver Water maintains in the community.

We traveled up winding mountain roads, and with our heads spinning with facts and figures, finally arrived at Dillon Reservoir for a perfectly timed pontoon boat ride. John Blackwell, hydro supervisor; Nathan Hurlbut, utility senior technician; Tim Holinka, source of supply manager; and Rick Geise and Andrew Stetler, hydro operators, took us out onto the reservoir. We peppered them with questions about the day-to-day responsibilities of a hydro operator and learned more about the history of the reservoir.

So what about moving an entire town? Yes, Denver Water actually moved the town of Dillon to build the reservoir, including the local cemetery. There weren’t many questions about the logistics of moving a cemetery — most of us choosing to leave the details to our imaginations — but we did learn a lot about the partnerships between Denver Water and the surrounding community, particularly the cooperation with the Dillon and Frisco marinas and the fishing and water sport industries.

“It was interesting to hear how hard Denver Water works to balance diverse needs, from getting water levels up for the marina to providing free water for snow-making to the ski resorts and getting it back later as snow melt,” said Kate Legg, records and document manager.

We continued to hear the theme of partnership throughout the tour as we headed up to Williams Fork Reservoir, which offers free camping, gold medal fishing, big game hunting and other recreational activities. We met Ryan Rayfield, hydro supervisor at the dam, who shared the challenges of living and working in a remote area, as well as what the three hydro operators do at Williams Fork 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We have a responsibility to take care of the dam and keep the hydroelectric plant running, but we also work hard to engage with the community recreating at the reservoir. It’s important we are good neighbors,” said Rayfield.

Not only does Williams Fork play an important role in recreation, water storage and flow management for Denver Water, it also houses Denver Water’s second highest producing hydroelectric plant, which we toured. Equipped with two generators that can produce an output of 3,700 kilowatts per hour, the hydroelectric plant generates enough power to run the Williams Fork systems, the residences on-site as well as providing power to many of the surrounding mountain communities.

Employees gather in front of the Williams Fork dam after touring the hydroelectric plant.

Employees gather in front of the Williams Fork dam after touring the hydroelectric plant.

“It’s not every day you get to see how water generates electricity,” said my co-worker Julia Keedy, raw water planning engineer.

Keedy’s job at Denver Water involves simulating river and reservoir operations, including Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. “Since I am a visual person, it was helpful to see the areas around both reservoirs and to learn about their operational constraints from the actual operators,” she said.

The tour also helped Kate Taft, sustainability program manager, better understand how her job fits into the Denver Water mission, as well as increasing her passion for conservation. “I have always been a strict conservationist when it comes to water, but now I am even more conscious of the water coming out of my faucet, knowing all the work it takes to get it from the mountains to my glass.”

Of course, getting to know other employees in the organization is one of the advantages of taking part in trainings, and it was great to meet other employees throughout the organization and learn more about how all of our jobs add vital pieces to the Denver Water puzzle.

When the river runs through it

In most years, water use in the city brings bountiful rapids to grateful kayakers.

By Katie Knoll

2016 08 15 085456

Kayakers on the South Platte River during BaileyFest 2016.

In August, more often than not, Denver Water responds to customer demands by releasing water through the Roberts Tunnel from Dillon Reservoir.

And in those years, that action creates the perfect conditions for kayaking at a time when flows are too low for the sport on many other rivers.

And that’s when we get BaileyFest.

The popular kayaking event runs on a stretch of the North Fork of the South Platte River from Bailey to Pine and has a national reputation for Class IV-V rapids.

“We are really excited in years where conditions align to help make BaileyFest a reality,” said Jeremy Allen, who works with Dave Bennett to coordinate the Roberts Tunnel flows as part of Denver Water’s Planning Division. “This is a great partnership, and we look forward to working with the kayaking community on this event in years to come.”

The event can only be held in years when Denver Water needs to bring water through the Roberts Tunnel to meet water demands in Denver. But all the different groups involved in developing the South Platte Protection Plan acknowledge the value of whitewater recreation in the region. In fact, the plan — a landmark agreement developed by local water providers, government agencies, environmental and recreation groups — includes enhancing flows for kayaking in the actual agreement.

IMG_0179

The author (right) with event organizer Pete Bellande.

There is a family-like feeling among the kayakers who attend BaileyFest. I was honored to attend this year — my first time! — and learned more about the event from the organizers and volunteers, including Pete Bellande and Ian Foley.

I was pleasantly surprised (and a little embarrassed) by the raucous welcome I received from the crowd when the organizers introduced me as a representative from Denver Water. Afterward, a string of happy kayakers stopped by to introduce themselves and say thank you.

I can confirm that a good time was had by all — and by me. BaileyFest has recruited a new fan, and the kayaking community may soon be welcoming a new member. After being a part of the fun, how could I resist joining in next year?

Take a look for yourself by checking out this video from Vimeo user Kaelan Hendrickson.

You can fish. You can boat. But you can’t swim.

The very complicated reason swimming isn’t allowed in our reservoirs: Too. Cold.

By Jimmy Luthye

Taking a page out of the #SochiProblems playbook, officials in Rio di Janeiro are imploring athletes to be careful if they compete in an outdoor swimming event. Apparently, the water is roughly 1.7 million times more worrisome than the threshold for concern in the United States or Europe.

Rio di Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic games, and some serious water quality concerns, particularly for outdoor swimmers. Photo credit: sama093, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rio di Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic games, and some serious water quality concerns, particularly for outdoor swimmers. Photo credit: sama093, Flickr Creative Commons.

Wow.

Naturally, we’re quite fortunate we don’t have to worry about those issues in our system, which includes 12 major reservoirs and ample recreation opportunities.

So then, why can’t people swim at any of our facilities?

Is it because we’re worried it would drum up too many people at our reservoirs, making it difficult to operate our facilities?

Nonsense — the more the merrier!

Is it because we’re worried about water quality issues stemming from human contact with the water?

Well, maybe at one time, but not anymore. In the 1980s, the Colorado health department issued a guidance that discouraged body contact in water supply reservoirs because of water quality concerns. Since then, however, water treatment processes have improved and that guidance has been repealed, meaning we no longer have to worry about body contact and water quality.

Alas, the real reason swimming and other water contact sports aren’t allowed is all about safety. Of your body.

“The bottom line is that the water in our reservoirs is too cold for prolonged skin contact,” said Brandon Ransom, Denver Water manager of recreation. “When you pair that with a lack of medical supervision, it’s just not a risk that makes sense to take.”

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, home of the "highest triathlon in the world" — the 106 Degree West Triathlon — coming Sept. 10, 2016.

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, home of the “highest triathlon in the world” — the 106 Degree West Triathlon — coming Sept. 10, 2016.

If that’s the case, what about the upcoming 106 Degree West Triathlon happening at Dillon Reservoir in September? Why are those athletes allowed to swim in the reservoir?

“The decision to hold the triathlon at Dillon Reservoir is not one we took lightly, nor one we made alone,” Ransom said. “The Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee came together in agreement, working with local emergency responders to make sure this event is heavily monitored and conducted in the safest manner possible.”

The committee, known as DRReC (pronounced “D Rec”), includes representatives from Summit County, the U.S. Forest Service, the Town of Frisco, the Town of Dillon and Denver Water who come together to make important decisions about recreation at Dillon Reservoir.

The 106 Degree West Triathlon is a USA Triathlon-sanctioned qualifying event and involves elite, highly trained athletes competing in a 56 mile bicycle ride, a 13.1 mile run and a 1.2 mile swim, with medical professionals standing by, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

And that’s not normally the case.

Even in the summer months when the weather is warm and all the snow has melted, the average water temperature at Dillon Reservoir sits in the low 60s. For comparison, Rio Olympians will be swimming in 71-degree water outdoors and 82-degree water indoors.

So, while we don’t have to worry about the same water quality issues as they have in Rio, there’s still no swimming, save for special circumstances like the 106 Degree West Triathlon.

Don’t fret, though; there are still plenty of recreational opportunities throughout our system that aren’t as risky. Take a look!

And check out the video below for more about the 106 Degree West Triathlon.

Saving the frogs of Lake Titicaca — in Denver?

To study the endangered amphibians, Denver Zoo researchers needed to mimic Peru’s famous lake. Enter Dillon Reservoir.

By Tyler St. John

The team shows the Frisco Police Department, Telma, a underwater robot that could become a resource for the department in the future.

The team shows the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Telma, an underwater robot that could become a resource for the Sheriff’s Office to use at Dillon Reservoir in the future.

As a water utility in the dry West, promoting conservation has become a way of life for our employees. So when we heard that our partners at the Denver Zoo were taking on a new conservation effort, we were ready to pitch in.

The zoo, after all, is already saving on average 214 million gallons of water annually compared to levels used in 1999.

But this time, the zoo is tackling a very different kind of conservation project — to help save the critically endangered frogs of Lake Titicaca, high in the Andes Mountains on the border between Peru and Bolivia.

That’s right. Frogs.

As reported in the Denver Post, the frog population has declined by as much as 80 percent, in part because of mine pollution in Lake Titicaca and overly aggressive harvesting of the amphibians, which are valued by Peruvians for their ability to boost fertility and mental clarity.

The Denver Zoo acquired 20 tadpoles for study and to develop a breeding program, and officials believe they are the only Lake Titicaca frogs in captivity in the northern hemisphere.

To help them in their research, the zoo has teamed up with four students from Longmont’s Skyline High School, who built an openROV robot, named Telma. This underwater device can operate at twice the depth of a recreational SCUBA diver and videotape the conditions.

Before sending Telma to Peru, the device needed to be tested in conditions that mimic those at Lake Titicaca.

Alicia Christensen and Craig Rahencamp from the Denver Zoo drop the robot into the waters of Dillon Reservoir.

Alicia Christensen and Craig Rahencamp from the Denver Zoo drop the robot into the waters of Dillon Reservoir.

That’s where Denver Water comes in.

As it turns out, conditions at Dillon Reservoir are the closest to mirroring the environment of Lake Titicaca, according to Axel Reitzig, robotics and computer science coordinator for the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools.

Dillion Reservoir sits at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet, with a water temperature in the 50-degree range, which is similar to Lake Titicaca.

On June 10, the students were ready to put their robot to the test. The team of six took a boat out to the depths of Dillon Reservoir, and dropped it in.

“Though we struggled with controlling the ROV at times, we learned a lot about Telma,” said Reitzig. “Our time at Dillon Reservoir definitely prepared us for this final test before sending the ROV off to Peru.”

Telma will now be delivered to Arturo Munoz, the scientist studying the frog in Peru as part of the Bolivian Amphibian Project. Munoz will use the ROV to study the frog and collect important data he can’t currently collect.

“Our goal now is to create a cheaper design and then work with different organizations for research, education and conservation,” said Reitzig.

Want to see a Lake Titicaca frog for yourself? Visit the Tropical Discovery exhibit at the Denver Zoo where you can meet two of them up close.

A frog of Lake Titicaca. Photo credit: Denver Zoo.

A frog of Lake Titicaca. Photo credit: Denver Zoo.

Floatin’ on the 4th: Making waves on the Blue River

Dillon Reservoir’s water managers help extend the whitewater rafting season while meeting customer needs downstream.  

By Jay Adams

 

 

Nothing says Fourth of July in Colorado like a day of rafting on a mountain river. Paddling through rapids is as much a tradition in our state as fireworks, hot dogs and apple pie.

Our nation’s birthday is one of the busiest days of the year for whitewater rafting. But there’s no rafting without rapids — and that’s where Dillon Reservoir comes in.

With a capacity of 257,304 acre feet, Dillon Reservoir in Summit County is Denver Water’s largest storage site, supplying 30 percent of Denver’s water. Water managers work to balance the demands of Denver customers while supporting the recreational economy on the Blue River and Dillon Reservoir.

“In the spring and early summer, Denver Water carefully manages outflows from Dillon Reservoir,” said Cindy Brady, water resource engineer at Denver Water. “We try to provide reliable and predictable rafting flows on the Blue River below Dillon Dam.”

Whitewater rafting through the spectacular alpine scenery beneath The Eagles Nest Wilderness area on the Blue River. Photo courtesy of Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting.

Whitewater rafting through the spectacular alpine scenery beneath The Eagles Nest Wilderness area on the Blue River. Photo courtesy of Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting.

In years with above-normal mountain snowpack, water planners gradually increase the outflow from Dillon to make room for the spring runoff that fills the reservoir. The approach minimizes high water through the town of Silverthorne and helps extend the rafting season.

“Instead of having a really high flow early on and then having it drop to an unraftable level, Denver Water manages the water so we have optimum flows as long as possible,” said Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting, sending rafters down class 3 whitewater trips on the Blue River for 30 years.

As Dillon Reservoir’s recreational role grew, Denver Water began working closely with Summit County and the rafting community to manage the river flows. “We work with the whitewater industry to understand their flow needs and communicate to them what to expect each year,” Brady said.

The best flows for rafting are when the river is running between 1,100 and 1,400 cubic feet per second, Foley said. “Knowing how much water is coming down is incredibly important when we plan our rafting season,” he said.

Outflows from Dillon Dam into the Blue River reached their highest level of the season at 1,490 cubic feet per second on June 15 and are expected to drop as the runoff slows and outdoor watering picks up in Denver.

“It’s a constant balancing act,” Brady said. “We always try to meet the interests of everyone to enhance the recreational experience.”

Fillin’ Dillon: Reservoir hits 84-billion gallon mark

Managing our biggest storage site is a balancing act of water needs, recreation and river flows.

By Jay Adams

 

 

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County filled to capacity early Monday morning, a welcome sight on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“Seeing it fill is always a relief,” said Cindy Brady, water resource engineer. “Dillon is a huge part of our water supply, so when it’s full, it means we had a good snow year.”

Dillon is Denver Water’s largest storage reservoir, capable of holding 257,304 acre-feet of water. That’s nearly 84 billion gallons or enough to fill 80 Mile High Stadiums. Dillon has hit its high mark all but nine times since it first filled in 1965.

The Blue River basin, which feeds Dillon Reservoir, also provides an average of 30 percent of Denver’s annual water supply, enough water for 320,000 homes every year.

Ten Mile Creek is one of three tributaries that drain into Dillon Reservoir.

Ten Mile Creek is one of three tributaries that drain into Dillon Reservoir.

The reservoir hit its capacity elevation of 9,017 feet above sea level on June 20, thanks to above-normal snowpack this past winter combined with efficient water use in the Denver metro area. The mountain snow runoff reached its highest point on June 11, when water from the three tributaries poured 2,048 cubic feet per second of water into the reservoir.

To put that in perspective, imagine a wall of 2,048 basketballs rolling into the river every second.

 

Denver Water built Dillon in 1963 to ensure Denver had an adequate water supply for its growing population, but the reservoir’s role has grown in the past five decades.

“Our primary goal is to fill the reservoir every year,“ Brady said. “Over the years we’ve built partnerships with the community to balance mountain snowpack and customer demand in Denver with boating on Dillon and river flows downstream.”

And that makes Dillon one of Denver Water’s most complex reservoirs to manage.

Dillon and Frisco Marinas adjust to Dillon Reservoir's changing water levels every summer.

Dillon and Frisco Marinas adjust to Dillon Reservoir’s changing water levels every summer.

“What happens in Denver has a direct correlation with Dillon’s water level,” Brady said. “If water demand goes up in Denver, more water has to be diverted under the Continental Divide to the Front Range.”

Water managers also try to minimize the impact of high water below Dillon Dam in the town of Silverthorne by regulating how much water they release from the reservoir during high springtime flows.

On June 11, outflow from the dam into the Blue River reached 1,490 cubic feet per second, without any issues or concern along the river.

Coordinating downstream water rights, maintaining a quality fish habitat and providing stable rafting flows are also taken into account in Dillon’s operating plan.

“It’s important to work with the Summit County community,” Brady said. “It’s good for us to understand their needs and it’s important that, if we can’t meet their needs, they understand why.”

Denver Water’s goal is to keep the reservoir as close to full as possible through Labor Day, but maintaining that level is dependent on weather conditions, water use in Denver and other factors.

For example, during the drought year of 2003, Denver Water pulled 162,000 acre-feet of water from Dillon through the Roberts Tunnel. The reservoir dropped to 35 feet below capacity on April 27, 2013.

Frisco Marina in Sept. 2012, shows the impact of drought and demand on Dillon Reservoir.

Frisco Marina in Sept. 2012, shows the impact of drought and demand on Dillon Reservoir.

But in 2015, after a wet spring and summer in Denver, customers let Mother Nature do the watering for them and water managers only needed 19,400 acre-feet of water from the reservoir. The reservoir filled on July 1, and remained full through Sept. 12.

“People think managing water is easy, but’s it’s really a complex matrix,” said Bob Evans, manager of the Dillon Marina. “Tourists from around the world travel here to see this place. That’s why it’s so important to work together to manage and protect this valuable resource.”

Snowpack totals? It’s all part of March Madness

Hammered by this month’s snowstorms, Summit and Grand counties provide a big boost to our water supply.

By Jay Adams

 

 

March in the Colorado Rockies can be as wild as a half-court buzzer beater in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The first week of the month was dry and unseasonably warm. The second week brought a bounty of snow, and some parts of Summit and Grand counties picked up more than 30 inches. Week three saw 70-degree temperatures in Denver, followed by a blizzard and more heavy snow in the mountains.

Call it our own version of March Madness.

That kind of volatile spring weather is why Denver Water’s planning team remains cautious about predicting the snowpack yield until mid-to late-April. “Weather in March is like the basketball tournament,” said Nathan Elder, water resource engineer. “We really don’t know what we’re going to get every year.”

The frozen Snake River east of Keystone is one of Dillon Reservoir's three main tributaries.

The frozen Snake River east of Keystone is one of Dillon Reservoir’s three main tributaries.

The latest storm delivered impressive snow totals at Denver Water locations. Gross Reservoir in Boulder County picked up 20 inches of wet snow, which contained 2.13 inches of water. Strontia Springs Reservoir in Waterton Canyon received 13 inches of snow with 1.43 inches of water and Cheesman Reservoir in Douglas County received 10.5 inches of snow with 1.07 inches of water content.

Mountain snow provides 80 percent of Denver Water’s water supply (rain accounts for the rest), and March and April alone produce an average of 25 percent of the collection system’s annual precipitation.

“The snow we’ve been getting over the past two weeks has been really good for the mountain snowpack,” said Elder. “We’ve definitely seen a nice spike upward on the charts this month.”

It certainly didn’t look that way earlier this year. “Across most of February and early March we had warm temps and dry conditions and melted quite a bit of snow,” said John Blackwell, Dillon Reservoir operations manager. “But now winter’s back, which is creating a bit of madness here in Summit County.”

Snowpack — in the areas of the Upper Colorado and South Platte River basins where Denver Water captures its snow — was above normal in December and January, below normal in February and then back above normal in late-March.

Colorado River March 24 snowpackSP March 24 snowpack

On March 14, snowpack in the Colorado River basin stood at 100 percent of normal and snowpack in the South Platte River basin was 95 percent of normal. After two weeks of snow, the two basins shot up to 109 and 107 percent respectively, on March 24.

March and April are critical months for deciding whether the year’s snow totals will produce a championship season of water, or merely play runner-up to previous years.

While this year’s snowpack is looking good, it will likely fall short of the all-time championship seasons in Denver Water’s collection areas. Snowpack peaked at 166 percent of normal in the Colorado River basin in 1984 and an incredible 203 percent of normal in the South Platte basin in 1997.

Even in an average snow year, it’s common to see ups and downs on the snowpack charts. “Some years you’re constantly hit by small storms, other times you get nailed with one huge storm like we did in the spring of 2003,” Elder said.

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County stood at 93 percent full on March 21, 2016. The historic median for this time of year is 87 percent.

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County stood at 93 percent full on March 21, 2016. The historic median for this time of year is 87 percent.

Denver Water’s reservoir levels are above average for this time of year, and Blackwell hopes more snow this spring will fill Dillon Reservoir this summer. “We’re still cautious, we’re optimistic, and the next couple weeks are critical,” he said.

With more snow in the forecast for the last week of March and the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center showing a 40 percent chance of above-average precipitation for most of Colorado in April, the rest of the snow season is looking good. “We’re getting there,” Elder said. “We can’t say we’re good yet, but we are heading in that direction.”

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