Posts Tagged ‘Water quality’

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.

Warm weather, wildfires and watersheds

How reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires improves the quality of water flowing into our reservoirs.

By Steve Snyder

Not cool, bro.

Land near Cheesman Reservoir was severely damaged after the 2002 Hayman Fire.

Watershed lands near Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir were severely damaged after the 2002 Hayman Fire.

That’s one way to describe the warm, dry fall we experienced in Colorado this year, not only from a temperature standpoint, but from a broader view of what these conditions mean to our water supply.

Denver Water gets almost all of its supply from mountain snowmelt, so the lack of snow so far is a bit concerning. But weather like this also has a big impact on another part of our system — our watersheds. As melting snow travels downhill, it may pass through forests, farmland and even commercial, industrial and urban areas. This land is called a watershed, and it directly impacts the quality of water that eventually gathers in Denver Water’s reservoirs.

And warm fall weather only increases the risk of wildfires in our watersheds. In fact, a recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the effects of climate change are making forests in the Western United States drier and easier to burn, thus increasing the risk for large, catastrophic wildfires.

“Catastrophic wildfires in our watersheds have impacts on so many levels,” said Christina Burri, a watershed scientist at Denver Water. “They are devastating for communities and the environment, but they also impact our water quality. When water runs through watersheds scorched by catastrophic fires, rainfall picks up sediment and ash which harms the water quality in our streams and reservoirs.”

Climate change makes it even more challenging to protect watersheds against catastrophic wildfires, she said. “This year is a perfect example. The wildfire season is longer, and the risks are greater.”

But Denver Water works with other agencies and local communities to mitigate those risks, Burri said.

From Forests to Faucets, a partnership between Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service, focuses on forest treatment and watershed protection projects in priority watersheds critical to Denver Water’s water supply.

Through the Upper South Platte Partnership, Denver Water works with local landowners, government officials and other community members to manage forests and protect and improve the health of the watershed in counties where our water supplies flow.

And Denver Water planners work directly with communities to ensure public drinking water resources are kept safe from future contamination. Denver Water worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Coalition for the Upper South Platte to create a source water protection plan for the Upper South Platte Watershed and implement that plan with Park, Douglas, Jefferson, and Teller counties.

A restored and thinned forest in Jefferson County in the Upper South Platte Watershed.

A restored and thinned forest in Jefferson County in the Upper South Platte watershed is much less susceptible to catastrophic wildfires.

“Our watersheds are the first filter through which our source waters run,” said Burri. “We have a really good source of water in our system, but if we don’t have a healthy filter for it, it causes more challenges down the line when we treat water. We have to make sure those filters are in the best shape possible.”

Preserving the environment and promoting high-quality water. Now that is cool, bro.

Anytime is a good time to test for lead in your water

If you missed lead prevention week, follow these tips to check your home plumbing and reduce your risk.

By Dana Strongin

We hope that National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (Oct. 23-29, 2016) prompted you to check your home for common sources of lead, which can range from paint to pottery.

But it’s always a good time to test for lead, and we can help, when it comes to your water.

Denver’s water supply is free of lead. But your service line or household plumbing may be made of lead, and that can leach into your water.

Denver Water lead test kit

Denver Water offers customers a free lead testing kit.

If you’re concerned about the water in your home, the first step is to get a water quality test. Denver Water customers can request a free test, and the state keeps a list of other options.

Our sampling kit comes with three bottles, which must be filled with water from the same faucet. (See this video for all of the single-family kit steps.) This helps us analyze water from throughout a home’s entire plumbing system, to help determine the source of any lead.

Whether or not you use our test, it’s important to understand where water meets lead: within a home’s plumbing, after it leaves Denver Water’s system.

Sources of lead in your home include:

Sources of lead

There are several potential sources of lead in a home’s plumbing.

  • Faucets and faucet parts made of brass, especially if they were installed before 2014.
  • Pipes made of lead or galvanized iron.
  • Copper pipes connected with solder made of lead, which was common before 1987.
  • A lead or galvanized service line, which connects your home to the water main in the street. Homes built before the mid-1950s are the most likely to have lead service lines.

To better understand your home’s plumbing, you might want to hire a plumber, said Steve Price, coordinator for Denver Water’s lead reduction program.

“You can’t necessarily see everything your faucet is made of. The same goes for service lines, because they run underground,” Price said. Experienced, licensed plumbers can test service lines and — if needed — replace lines, pipes or fixtures.

Get more tips for reducing your risk of exposure to lead through drinking water. Helpful resources on preventing lead poisoning from soil, paint and other sources include the EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More stories about lead:

A fine dam relationship — for more than 25 years

Where do Taiwanese engineers go to learn about recycled water? To a trusted resource: Denver Water.

By Steve Snyder

Word gets around.

Denver Water's Dave Brancio shows a delegation of Taiwanese engineers the filter beds at Denver Water's Recycling Plant.

Plant supervisor David Brancio shows a delegation of Taiwanese engineers the filter beds at Denver Water’s Recycling Plant.

When you do something well, whether it’s running a repair shop, a restaurant or even a water utility, people will seek out your expertise.

Even if it means traveling halfway around the world to do it.

A group of engineers from Taiwan recently visited Denver Water’s Recycling Plant to better understand how we provide recycled water to our customers. It was part of a larger information-gathering trip to the U.S. so the Taiwanese engineers can help their government set national standards on water quality.

“As urban development has increased across Taiwan, flooding damage and a deteriorating urban water environment have become public concerns,” said James Guo, Ph.D., a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado Denver, and a primary organizer of the tour. “Denver Water has a strong reputation around the world for its work in recycled water, so this delegation was anxious to learn more. Plus there is a long history between the organizations.”

Taiwanese delegations have been visiting Denver Water since 1991, thanks in part to James Guo’s wife, Lucy Guo, a retired Denver Water employee who worked in information technology for 33 years.

The first Taiwanese delegation to visit Strontia Springs Dam in 1991. (photo courtesy of Lucy Guo)

The first Taiwanese delegation to visit Strontia Springs Dam in 1991. (Photo courtesy of Lucy Guo)

“I’ve helped facilitate a number of visits between Taiwan’s government and Denver Water,” Lucy Guo said. “It all started with a sister dam program with their country. Strontia Springs’ sister dam in Taiwan is Feitsui Dam.”

Wait. A sister dam?

“It’s similar to a sister cities program,” Lucy Guo said. “It promotes knowledge transfers and exchanges between two groups.”

James Guo said the engineers left the Recycling Plant impressed with the many partners Denver Water works with to provide recycled water. And despite the thousands of miles that separate them, James Guo said engineers from both countries are connected by their dedication to water and water quality.

“It’s a great experience for everyone involved,” James Guo said.

And a dam fine concept.

Strontia Springs Dam (left) and Feitsui Dam in Taiwan have been "sister dams" since 1984. (Photo courtesy of Taipei Feitsui Reservoir Administration)

Strontia Springs Dam in Colorado (left) and Feitsui Dam in Taiwan have been “sister dams” since 1984. (Photo courtesy of Taipei Feitsui Reservoir Administration)

Is your water service line made of lead?

This easy, do-it-yourself check of the pipe that brings water into your home is a good place to start.

By Dana Strongin

nprsilverorgray

To check your service line’s material, use a key or coin to scratch the pipe’s surface, as NPR shows here.

When it comes to the risk of exposure to lead — and its serious health impacts — there’s more than one place to look. Since lead was once used in everything from gasoline to household plumbing to paint, the toxic element can be found in many places in our community.

And while there’s not lead in the water Denver Water delivers to your home, the risk of lead leaching into clean water increases if you have lead pipes or plumbing fixtures.

If you’re wondering whether your drinking water is contributing to your risk for lead exposure, the first place to check is your service line, the pipe that connects your home to the water main in the street.

National Public Radio created an interactive online tool to help residents take on this task, but it’s best to see this tool as a starting point.

nprtool

This interactive tool from National Public Radio walks you through a few easy steps to check your water service line for lead.

 

“While we encourage you to check your line by doing this simple “scratch” test, keep its limits in mind,” said Steve Price, a civil engineer who coordinates Denver Water’s efforts to reduce the community’s lead exposure. “This test tells you what you can see, but you still can’t see what’s buried underground.”

It’s not unusual to learn a service line contains two or even three different metals, because many have been replaced in sections with various materials over time. If yours is made of lead or galvanized steel, we encourage you to replace it. Galvanized pipes, if connected in tandem with a lead pipe, can attract and later release lead particles into drinking water, potentially affecting the quality of your water.

“Any time two metals come together, that point becomes more corrosive,” Price said. “The pipe is more likely to corrode and release particles attached on the inside, including iron — which causes discoloration — and lead.”

So why not just call Denver Water to ask what your service line is made of? Here’s why: Denver Water doesn’t own the service lines. You do. So we don’t have records of exactly when and where plumbers and builders installed lead pipes. In many cases, you may not have these records either.

To get a more definitive answer, consider hiring an experienced, licensed plumber for service line testing and, if applicable, replacement work. You can also take other steps to reduce your risk of lead exposure, including requesting a water quality test for lead from Denver Water.

 

More stories about lead:

Why is all that water pouring into the street?

Flushing stagnant water out of our hydrants, all in the name of high-quality H2O.

By Steve Snyder

 

Steve Lovato gets the same question all the time.

“Why are you wasting water, especially if we’re in a drought?”

As a system quality supervisor for Denver Water, Lovato is charged with flushing more than 3,000 hydrants and blow-off valves in our distribution system. That means he opens hydrants all around the metro area — letting lots of water rush out onto the streets.

Why?

“These hydrants sit at the end of a water main, so water isn’t constantly circulating like in other parts of the system,” said Lovato. “When water sits in a pipe too long, the quality isn’t as high as when it leaves our treatment plants. Flushing the hydrants brings that water quality back to where we want it.”

So every year from April to October, Lovato and his team open hydrants to get rid of stagnant water, but not without a lot of preparation first.

“We look at the size and length of the water mains before we go out, so we have a good idea of how much water it will take to flush a particular area,” Lovato said.

On average, about 1,000 gallons of water is flushed before the water is back to Denver Water standards. That amount represents a very, very small amount of our total annual consumption — about 0.01 percent.

But as you can imagine, opening hydrants in a busy area tends to draw a crowd, so the crews put up signs and hand out informational pamphlets explaining what Denver Water is doing and why.

And boy, do people love to watch.

“We have kids come up to play in the water,” Lovato said. “We have people who fill buckets to put on their gardens and lawns.”

And yes, people ask him why we’re “wasting” so much water.

“They have a lot of questions, but when we tell them we are making sure they have high-quality water, they are very accepting of what we are doing,” Lovato added.

As the hydrants spew water, Lovato watches for clarity, while testing the temperature and water-quality levels. When everything meets Denver Water’s standards, Lovato seals the hydrant and moves on to the next stop. Each hydrant takes about 10 to 15 minutes to flush. But the impact is more lasting.

“It’s important to make sure people have great quality water,” Lovato said. “That’s the thing I love about my job.”

Labor Day the Denver Water way

Employees work 24/7 to keep the water flowing.

By Denver Water staff

The need for water doesn’t shut off on weekends or holidays — including Labor Day. So while many folks are enjoying a day off from work Monday, employees from disciplines across Denver Water will be on the clock.

Whether responding to a main break or performing daily tasks that can’t skip a day, we have many employees who cover shifts 24/7 to ensure our customers always have clean, safe water to drink.

Learn who they are.

Note: This slideshow may not work depending on the type and configuration of your Web browser. If that’s the case, click here to view it.

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.

Are millennials less aware than everyone else about water?

Maybe not, according to our very unscientific poll. But like many of us, a little more education wouldn’t hurt.

By Tyler St. John and Dave Gaylinn

 

As a member of the much-maligned millennial generation, I took it a bit personally when a recent state-wide water quality survey suggested that 20-somethings lack a firm understanding of water issues in Colorado.

I’m very conscious of the ire my generation seems to draw from the rest of the populace on a host of issues, not just water. We’re too self-absorbed, people say. Too concerned with views to our Twitter and Instagram accounts.

I personally think that’s absurd, so I happily took on my toughest assignment to date at Denver Water: Hit the streets, find some millennials and ask them some basic questions about water.

And pray they came through for me.

This was hardly scientific; I couldn’t disprove the research results, which found that, compared to other age groups, millennials were more likely to be unsure about the source of their tap water and most likely to say it came from the faucet, bottle or store.

But at least I could see whether a selection of random millennials off the street might rise above those conclusions.

First, some good news: Like many health-conscious Coloradans, the millennials I spoke with took their water consumption seriously and said they drank plenty of water every day.

They also said that Colorado had some of the best tasting water in the country, adding that they trusted the source of all that clean, clear goodness.

Then, we ran into some trouble.

When I asked, “Where does our water come from?” my fellow millennials looked at me as if I were asking a trick question.

tsj

The author explains the journey of water, from mountain snowpack, to rivers and streams, to reservoirs, to treatment plants, to tap.

If you work at Denver Water, as I do, then you know our source water originates as snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, flows into the rivers and streams that feed our mountain reservoirs, and then on to our water treatment plants and from there, delivered to your tap.

But would a random millennial on the street know this? When all the water you use is coming out of a faucet, you have to work a little bit to find out how it gets there in the first place.

Unfortunately, one young lady answered that the water just came out of the faucet, period. But others were on the right track.

Finally, I wanted to feel out my age group on conservation, and those answers varied greatly. Everyone was certainly aware that it’s better to conserve than to waste, but not everyone thinks about it as much as they should.

There was no right or wrong answer to this question — except for the guy who said he rode his bike a lot — but the general consensus was that we all need to take steps to get the most out of our water supply and conserve.

All in all, not a bad showing from my peers. Despite a few hiccups, millennials on the streets of Denver certainly are not as unaware about water as the research might suggest.

If anything, it just proves we can all stand to learn more about water.

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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