Posts Tagged ‘watersheds’

Early season turnaround bodes well for water supply

Despite a parched start to winter, snowpack levels are on track thanks to a snowy December and early 2017 storms.

Denver Water's Winter Park crew works around the clock to ensure facilities are accessible during snowstorms.

Denver Water’s Winter Park crew works around the clock to ensure facilities are accessible during snowstorms.

By Travis Thompson

Like carpenters, water supply managers use an assortment of tools to get the job done. But instead of tape measures and hammers, their tool boxes are filled with charts and graphs, computer models and good old-fashioned experience.

With 80 percent of Denver’s water supply coming from snowmelt, no tool is used more during the winter months than the charts showing snowpack levels in the mountains above Denver Water’s facilities.

And this year is proving to be one of the more interesting in recent memory.

With more than half of the snow season still ahead, water managers have already seen near historic lows and highs to kick off the winter.

“Our team was starting to sweat a little bit this fall — literally and figuratively — with the unseasonably warm and dry weather,” said Dave Bennett, water supply manager for Denver Water.

In late November, snowpack levels in areas feeding the streams and rivers that flow into Denver’s mountain reservoirs were only 10 percent to 20 percent of normal.

Denver Water’s reservoirs were still above average because of the good water years carried over from 2014 and 2015, as well as efficient water use in the Denver metro area.

But the dry start to winter had Denver Water planners on edge.

“I knew that a couple of good storms would have us back to normal,” said Bennett. “It was too early to panic — well, that’s what I kept telling myself at least.”

Thankfully, he was right.

On Jan. 5, water supply manager Dave Bennett talked to 9News reporter Colleen Ferreira about the improved snowpack levels in Denver Water's collection area.

On Jan. 5, water supply manager Dave Bennett talked to 9News reporter Colleen Ferreira about the improved snowpack levels in Denver Water’s collection area.

In December, Denver Water’s Colorado River basin collection area received almost double the amount of accumulation than normal, with approximately 60 inches, making it the sixth snowiest December for this area over the past four decades.

Similarly, the South Platte River basin collection area that feeds Denver’s reservoirs received approximately 40 inches of snow compared to the normal 20 inches, making it the fifth snowiest December in this location over the same 40-year time period.

Couple that with the early 2017 snowstorms, and snowpack levels are now 137 percent and 128 percent of normal in the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds — and, it’s still snowing!

It was such a significant turn of events that Bennett was featured on 9News, talking about the importance of the recent snow, not only for water supply but also for Colorado’s greatest asset: outdoor recreation.

“I’ve never seen an early season turnaround like it,” said Bennett. “But we still have a long way to go. A lot can happen between now and spring — the months we rely on the most for snowpack are still ahead of us.”


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.

Mothering nature — one day at a time

When it comes to protecting our most precious resource, every day is Earth Day.

By Dana Strongin

Mother Earth does a lot for human life, and she deserves her day of honor — which is scheduled for today, April 22.

But what about the other 364 days?

At Denver Water, we take environmental stewardship seriously, every single day. This means we are always taking measures big and small to protect and care for our Earth.

So, in honor of Earth Day, here’s a paperless shout-out — and just a few examples of the many ways we work to serve and support our environment every day.

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.

Mines draining to Denver? Not on our watch.

Contaminated waterways are in the spotlight, but what does this mean for your drinking water?

Water quality investigators gather samples all year long. Aubrey Miller (left) and James Berrier, drill through two feet of ice on the Colorado River near Kremlin to gather samples.

Water quality investigators gather samples all year long. Aubrey Miller (left) and James Berrier, drill through two feet of ice on the Colorado River near Kremlin to gather samples.

By Travis Thompson

After the Animas River vividly meandered through mountains and towns like an orange-colored serpent as a result of the Gold King Mine spill in early August, conversations ignited about abandoned mines in Colorado.

While this topic is very serious, it isn’t new. Mines have such a prominent place in our state’s history that there are tours and museums dedicated to mining’s past, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s replica mine shaft exhibit.

So, what does this mean for Denver Water? A recent Denver Post article could leave customers wondering about the water quality impacts from some of the mines in Denver’s watersheds. While the article accurately notes that the water treatment processes keep contaminants from impacting drinking water, there are additional reasons why your water is safe from these mines.

Zeke Campbell, Denver Water’s superintendent of water quality and treatment, explained that Denver Water’s work to provide the highest quality water begins well before it reaches the treatment plants.

“We monitor the water throughout our collection system, including in rivers, streams and reservoirs,” said Campbell. “Our water quality tests don’t detect a measurable level of contaminants from mine drainage.”

Last year, Denver Water collected more than 16,000 samples and conducted more than 60,000 tests from the mountains to customer taps.

But what if a spill were to occur within one of Denver’s watersheds?

“We’ve developed models to help us determine how long it would take a spill or leak to reach certain points within our system, and our employees are trained to stop contaminants from spreading,” said Bob Lindgren, Denver Water’s superintendent of source of supply. “We also work closely with local authorities, first responders and stakeholders to maximize the response during any issues across our water collection system.”

And, if a Gold King Mine-sized spill occurred, Lindgren said that Denver Water has some ability to move and pull water from different sources, isolating the contaminated area while continuing to provide clean water from other locations throughout the system. “Having multiple storage facilities in different watersheds, three water treatment plants and redundancy built into our distribution system provides us with additional operational flexibility.”

This flexibility is important, which is why Denver Water continues to design and build a more resilient and balanced system as an added safeguard for when emergencies occur.

“Most important, our employees are working around-the-clock to ensure we continue to deliver safe, great-tasting water directly to your tap,” said Campbell.


Youth and water – following a water drop

Denver Water's teacher resource packet illustrated the water cycle from a local viewpoint.

Denver Water’s Teacher Resource Packet illustrates the local water cycle.

Last week’s Youth Education blog post, Youth and water – our future depends on it, focused on watersheds, where the journey of water begins within Denver Water’s collection system. Watersheds are only a small portion of the complete water cycle, however, so this week we’ll look at the water cycle in its entirety.

Week two: Journey of water – the water cycle

Online resources

  1. How does water move through the water cycle? The Project Wet Foundation’s chapter on The Water Cycle provides information, activities, vocabulary and much more around the never-ending movement of water.
  2. The U.S. Geological Survey provides an interactive graphic highlighting how Earth’s water is always changing form and moving around the Earth. Start with the beginner diagram and work your way up to the intermediate and advanced diagrams for a comprehensive study of the complete water cycle.
  3. Who better than Bill Nye the Science Guy to provide an entertaining lesson on the water cycle? Check out this fun episode.

Charts, graphs & maps

Denver’s water arrives in an annual water cycle that starts primarily in the mountains as snowpack during the winter and early spring. This snow buildup is followed by spring runoff, then rainstorms in the late summer. The amount of water available for people to use varies from year to year and in different regions of the state. Take the Journey of Water from the time it falls in the mountains until it swirls down the drain in your bathroom.

Click here or on the graphic to launch the Journey of Water.

Click here or on the graphic to launch the Journey of Water.

Online activities

The Blue Traveler (Project Wet) – Students play the role of a water droplet moving through the complex and endless water cycle journey. This guide provides instructions for classroom use.

Steve Spangler Science makes learning the water cycle fun through this interactive game for the classroom where students represent water molecules traveling through the water cycle.

Recent water news


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