Posts Tagged ‘Recreation’

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.”

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.

 

 

The “trails” and tribulations of Waterton Canyon

Why this wild retreat next to the city is such a great attraction — and why we’ve so often had to close its gates.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam last spring before high water flooded the site.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam last spring before high water flooded the site, resulting in the need to return this fall to finish the project.

By Travis Thompson

With school starting and pools closing, Labor Day weekend is considered the unofficial end of summer.

This year, it also marks the end of weekday recreation in Waterton Canyon for about three months.

Recreationists will only be able to access the trail on the weekends while construction crews inhabit the canyon during the week. Read more about the 2016 fall construction impacts here.

With more than 100,000 visitors a year, it’s no secret that Waterton Canyon is one of the most popular outdoor recreation amenities for Coloradans and tourists alike. But as a key Denver Water operational facility, the attributes that make this canyon so great can also lead to unexpected closures.

Let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs of this special place.

Why it’s great: Well-maintained trail for hikers, bikers and horseback riders

The road for Denver Water employees to access the canyon facilities and Strontia Springs Reservoir doubles as the canyon trail for recreationists. Because this is a vital road for our operational crews, it’s always well maintained, providing optimal conditions for a family-friendly hiking and biking experience.

Challenge: As a working facility, there are times when infrastructure and maintenance projects create unsafe conditions for the public, prompting us to close trail access.

Why it’s great: A scenic mountain experience without having to venture far from the city

Within minutes of starting the 6.5-mile hike up the canyon, visitors are engulfed in nature, losing sight of the Denver suburbs that are right around the corner. And as the South Platte River cascades along the canyon path, the echoes of the flows bounce off the valley walls, providing an escape from the everyday din of the city.

Challenge: Environmental conditions can change quickly in the canyon. During dry times, forest fires can spark in the area. When it floods, the beautiful winding river trail turns into a hazard, as high waters ascend the river banks. In either extreme, one thing is certain: the canyon gates will be locked.

Why it’s great: The wildlife experience

The canyon is home to rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, bears and more than 40 species of birds.

Challenge: The wildlife is a highlight for visitors, but the animals are exactly that — wild. As we learned with last year’s bear situation, there are times when it’s necessary to keep the public out of nature’s way.

 

We love Waterton as much as you — for its natural beauty as well as its vitality to delivering our customers water.

When the construction crews move out and it’s safe for hikers and bikers to rush back in, we’ll reopen the canyon for weekday use.

But there will come a time when we’ll have to close it again. So when we do, know that it’s done to maintain a safe environment for the recreational users and workers who share the canyon.

Looking to branch out during the closure and find other recreational opportunities? See what some other Denver Water facilities have to offer:

Colorado-Reservoir-Recreational-Activities-Infographic

Contributing: Jamie Reddig

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.

Working in tandem

Water resource engineer, Nathan Elder, brings the beauty of bicycling to the visually impaired.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler, former administrative assistant in the Planning Department for Denver Water, in front of Union Station after a ride from the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, along the South Platte.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler, former administrative assistant in the Planning Department for Denver Water, in front of Union Station after a ride along the South Platte River.

By Kristi Delynko

For Nathan Elder, nothing beats cruising the South Platte bike trail, or racing around the 50 miles of trails surrounding Dillon Reservoir, feeling the wind in his face and seeing the beauty surrounding him.

And sometimes, he takes someone with him.

Elder, a water resource engineer at Denver Water, volunteers for Eyecycle, a not-for-profit volunteer run organization that pairs sighted riders with visually impaired and blind adults on tandem bikes.

“I love riding, and it’s great to be able to share that experience with someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to ride outside,” Elder said. “It’s great to see the stokers – the riders in the back – get outside in the fresh air and enjoy themselves.

“Many of them cycle inside on stationary bikes, so being able to help them get outside to ride is really rewarding,” he said.

Elder joined Eyecycle about five years ago, when he came across their booth at a Denver Century Ride event. He now serves as the organization’s vice president, focusing his energy not only on leading rides, but also on recruiting volunteers, performing bike maintenance and helping the organization raise funds.

He’s a master of mountain and road bikes, but before joining Eyecycle, Elder had never ridden a tandem. “It’s definitely different,” he said. “It’s much heavier, slower and harder to maneuver.” Eyecycle provided the short training he needed to become a captain, and Elder has been guiding trips ever since.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler starting their ride at Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler starting their ride at Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton.

Constant verbal communication is the key to a successful ride, he said. He lets the stoker know when they need to slow down, stop or turn. And in between providing directions, Elder enjoys chatting with his fellow riders.

“I get the opportunity to get out and ride and meet new people, and our stokers get to experience the thrill of outdoor riding,” he said.

In addition to many 15- to 20-mile rides each season, Eyecycle also helps riders participate in longer events, like the MS 150 – a two-day, round-trip ride between Denver and Fort Collins to benefit Multiple Sclerosis. Eyecycle riders also have participated in Pedal the Plains, the Cheyenne Sunrise Lion’s Club Ride for Sight, Ride the Rockies and other popular biking events.

“It’s great because they can get out and ride in these events to support other causes and really feel they are making a difference,” Elder said.

So, what do you need to volunteer? Not much, he said

“If you have a water bottle and a helmet, you can be a volunteer,” he said. The group’s fleet of tandem bikes are all donated, many by Davinci Designs, a local company that specially builds bikes for this purpose.

“The bikes are really custom. They have independent pedaling, meaning each rider can go at his or her own speed. This is great for a new rider who may not be as comfortable riding, or one who may need to coast a bit more,” Elder said.

Visit the Eyecycle website for more information. After a short training, you’ll be out and about on Colorado’s beautiful trails, giving the ride of a lifetime to a blind or visually impaired person.

A selfie-less view of wildlife in Waterton Canyon

Wherever your outdoor adventures take you, being mindful of snakes, bears and other animals is a must.

Read and follow the signs, like the one pictured here, throughout Waterton Canyon to learn how to safely interact with the wildlife.

Read and follow the signs, like the one pictured here, throughout Waterton Canyon to learn how to safely interact with the wildlife.

By Tyler St. John

With a footprint larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, the opportunities to experience and observe wildlife in its most natural form are vast at Yellowstone National Park.

But as Public News Service story recently explained, park officials are shifting their focus from the 67 species of mammals that call this park home to the 68th found in this park every single day — humans.

Ryan Atwell, the park’s new social science coordinator, described the challenges his team faces with social media. “Every other person seems to be taking a selfie, or looking at a phone instead of watching where they’re walking,” he told Public News Service.

Sound familiar? Last summer’s story about visitors in Waterton Canyon using selfie sticks to snap photos with bears made local, national and even international headlines.

The bear activity in the canyon was so extreme in 2015 that Denver Water and Colorado Parks & Wildlife had to close the canyon for two months to protect both animals and humans.

This year, the canyon gates are open, but don’t be fooled. Bears, snakes, sheep and many other species still call Waterton home — and we humans have to watch our step.

So if you plan on hiking the 6.5-mile canyon this summer, we recommend stopping at each of the rest areas — aptly named after some of the most common mammals, birds and serpents found in the canyon — to hydrate and learn more about these popular canyon dwellers.

Let’s take a trip up to the canyon to learn more:

Mile Marker 0.25: Mule Deer Rest Area

Not to be confused with the while tailed deer, the mule deer has large mule-like ears (almost the length of their whole head) and a black forehead with a light grey face. While they may look cute and harmless, these animals can weigh upwards of 400 pounds. Turn those camera phones around the right way and use the zoom feature from a distance to capture these guys.  Their favorite feeding times are dawn and dusk, so get to the canyon early for the best chance to see them in action.

Mile Marker 0.6: Great Blue Heron Rest Area

Standing 4-feet tall with a wingspan between 6 and 7 feet, the Great Blue Heron is considered one of the best fisherman in the canyon. This bird can swallow fish much larger than its skinny neck would suggest. This heron does not reach full adult coloring until three years of age, so if you spot one with colorful head plumes, you’ll know it has been catching fish for quite some time. You are most likely to catch a glimpse and snap a picture of the bird while it is out foraging at dawn or dusk. Just don’t get too close, or it will start to squawk loudly and fly away.

These twin cubs and other bears actively foraging in the canyon led to a two-month closure of Waterton Canyon in 2015. Photo courtesy: Lori Bollendonk

These twin cubs and other bears actively foraging in the canyon led to a two-month closure of Waterton Canyon in 2015. Photo courtesy: Lori Bollendonk

Mile Marker 1.9: Black Bear Rest Area

Starting in early May, black bears begin coming out from their winter slumber, skinny, hungry and desperate for food. The bears typically hang around until September, when they finish bulking up for hibernation season. During this time, bears will forage for 20 hours a day.

We’ve spotted a couple different types of bear in the canyon this year. If you spot one yourself, please keep a safe distance and watch these other tips from a couple of ‘Da Bears Superfans.

Mile Marker 3.1: Mountain Lion Rest Area

The Puma Concolor, “cat of one color,” is an extremely rare sight. The Colorado Trail Foundation reports up to two mountain lion sightings in this area each year. If you do manage to catch a glimpse however, use extreme caution. Mountain lions can be as large as 8-feet long and weigh upwards of 150 pounds. They can also leap at least 15-feet straight up in the air and 40-feet forward. If you find yourself face-to-face with one, do not back away. Stand tall and stare the cat right in the eyes. Mountain lions like to stalk and chase down prey, so if you start to run you’ll just look like a slow moving meal.

Mile Marker 4.5: Rattlesnake Rest Area

Colorado is home to around 30 species of snake, and the only venomous ones are the rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes use their camouflage to blend into their surroundings instead of engaging with people. That being said, if the snake starts rattling that tail, you are too close and need to back away. Since the rattlesnake will most likely be hiding from you, watch where you’re putting your hands and feet. The last thing you want to do is grab a rock to help yourself over an obstruction in the trail, only to end up grabbing a snake.

Mile Marker 6.2: Bighorn Sheep Rest Area

Waterton Canyon is currently home to about 70 of Colorado’s state animal, the bighorn sheep. Aptly named for its enormous horns (which alone can weigh upwards of 40 pounds), you are most likely to see the slightly smaller desert bighorn sheep in Waterton Canyon, as they live in canyon country of Western Colorado. Their most active times are in the morning and late afternoon.  It’s not uncommon to see the sheep along the canyon road. They may look friendly, but as always, it’s important to keep your distance. If threatened, the sheep will undoubtedly charge and that is one battle you are sure to lose.

 

Still looking for more adventure? From the top of the canyon you can continue your exploration on the Colorado Trail.

Just make sure to follow Atwell’s advice and practice “safe selfies” by not approaching wildlife and enjoying them from a safe distance.

A herd of bighorn sheep on the Waterton Canyon trail.

A herd of bighorn sheep on the Waterton Canyon trail.

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.”

4 feet deep — and counting

Antero Reservoir already refilling with water; rehab project on track for late November 2017 completion.

By Katie Knoll

Crews work on final grading of Antero Dam in May 2016 following the installation of a new barrier wall inside the dam in 2015. Thanks to on-schedule construction timelines and a wet winter, the reservoir is expected to fill to a depth of 13 to 15 feet this year.

Last year, we emptied Antero Reservoir to clear the way for significant repairs to the 100-year-old dam. (Get the lowdown on the project by reading Draining Antero Reservoir: Where will all that water go?)

We’re happy to report that the project has persevered through harsh weather conditions and unpredictable construction timelines and remains on schedule. The current phase of the project — the installation of a barrier wall inside the dam — is on track to be completed by the end of this year, and construction of the new spillway will begin in 2017. Construction is scheduled to be completed in November 2017 — earlier than originally expected.

Thanks to the wet winter, we have good news for the fishing community. We have begun refilling the reservoir and already reached a depth of 4 feet. While we still won’t see a return to normal reservoir operations until late 2017 at the earliest, judging from our runoff predictions, we anticipate filling another 9 to 11 feet this year. Depending on snowpack conditions in 2017, Antero could reach its maximum level of 18 feet by next summer.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out all the other incredible fishing opportunities available in Park County!

Too much river runs through it

High water from melting snow closes river access to the South Platte, halts diversion dam construction.

By Jay Adams

Denver Water has closed access to the South Platte River in the lower portion of Waterton Canyon due to high water.

Denver Water has closed access to the South Platte River in the lower portion of Waterton Canyon due to high water running through the High Line Canal diversion project site.

High water and safety concerns related to the inundated High Line Canal diversion construction project site have closed access to the South Platte River in lower Waterton Canyon.

“The river is running fast right now and we want people to be safe,” said Brandon Ransom, manager of recreation. While the canyon trail will be open on consecutive Sundays, May 1 and May 8, recreationists will only have access to the river in the upper canyon from mile marker 3.2 to Strontia Springs Reservoir at the top of the canyon.

Denver Water expects to open the Waterton Canyon trail seven days a week beginning Sunday, May 15. Ransom said river access in the lower canyon is likely to remain closed until river flows reach a safe level and Denver Water can better evaluate how the project site is responding to the higher flows.

The high water also has postponed construction of the new High Line Canal diversion dam, a replacement for the original dam built between 1880-1883 to divert water from the South Platte River to Denver for agriculture. The wooden structure deteriorated over the years and was damaged beyond repair by high water during the 2015 runoff.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam before high water flooded the site.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam before high water flooded the site.

Denver Water engineers hoped to have the replacement dam completed by May 1, but they put the project on hold when the river spilled into the construction site after a wet spring. Crews are now cleaning up and securing the dam construction zone.

“This is the challenge of building a dam,” said Doug Raitt, construction project manager. “We all wanted to finish the project before the spring runoff started, but with that big April snowstorm and warm temperatures, the river came up sooner than expected and we had to get out.” Construction is expected to resume in the fall when the river recedes.

Without the dam, Raitt said it will be difficult to send water through the canal this spring, but engineers are looking at a temporary solution to make that feasible.

The lower portion of Waterton Canyon has been closed six days a week since February 2016 for the High Line Canal diversion dam repair work. Look for updates on the canyon throughout the coming weeks on denverwater.org.

Watch our behind-the-scenes video showing construction of the new High Line diversion dam.

 

Releasing water in the middle of a drought?

California does it, and so do we. It’s all part of managing a complex water system.

By Dana Strongin

Even in times of severe drought, sometimes a water system has to know when to let go.

Consider the conundrum in water-challenged California, where operators recently doubled the amount of water flowing out of federally run Folsom Lake, a Northern California reservoir.

“You can’t hold on to every drop,” said Shane Hunt, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, which runs Folsom.

AnteroJune2015_close

Water drains out of Antero Reservoir in June 2015 as part of preparations to rehabilitate Antero Dam.

Why would a water system release such a precious resource? We put the question to Nathan Elder, water resource engineer at Denver Water.

“The main benefit of drawing a reservoir down early is to be able to control releases from the reservoir,” Elder said. From a system view, opening space in one reservoir may create the flexibility to fill all of the reservoirs during the runoff season.

Call it science or a miracle, we are blessed to have the gift of Mother Nature’s snows as our primary source of water.

Denver Water’s mountain collection system spans about 4,000 square miles and houses a lot of infrastructure — facilities that cannot all be online all of the time. Maintenance and improvement projects, such as upgrading the outlet works at Dillon Reservoir and rehabilitating Antero Dam, are critical to keep the system working well into the future.

Operating reservoirs requires careful thought — including balancing many other important considerations, such as water supply, safety, recreation, the environment and hydropower.

With all of the complexities our planners consider, they can count on one simple fact: Every spring brings warmer weather, and most of the mountain snow will melt. We need a place to put that water to store it for future use.

DillonMay2009_making_room

Dillon Reservoir sits low in May 2009, after operators released water to make room for runoff.

Dillon Reservoir offers a good example. In early February 2014, when Dillon was 94 percent full, we started to make room for the robust runoff expected with snowpack at 163 percent of normal. And in late January 2015, because the reservoir was 99 percent full and we had a healthy snowpack, we began to slowly lower the reservoir.

It’s starting to happen again this year. Dillon Reservoir is 93 percent full, and snowpack above it is 108 percent of normal. In late February we began letting out more water to slowly decrease the reservoir level and benefit hydropower production at the same time. It’s possible we could decide later to release water at a higher rate to make more room for runoff.

But it’s way too early to know for sure. Denver Water operators keep their eyes on the skies and weather forecasts so they can stay nimble if conditions change quickly.

Either way, releasing reservoir water is not necessarily a loss. “Water released from Dillon is used to generate hydropower,” Elder said. “If conditions present themselves, releases can be managed and timed to prolong rafting season on the Blue River.

“The water may not go to customer’s taps, but that does not mean it is not put to use.”

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