C o l o r a d o F o u n d at i o n f o r Wat e r E d u c at i o n | W i n t e r 2 0 1 3
Turning o n t he
Why We Pay More For Water Today Water Infrastructure That Demands Attention
Protecting Human Health and the Environment Through Water Treatment A Step-By-Step Bathroom Makeover That Makes WaterSense Opportunity + Conservation = Water Headwaters | Winter 2013
CFWE Mission in Motion Cultivating Participation Speakers Increase Water Fluency Last year, the Colorado Water 2012 Speakers Bureau reached more than 2,800 community leaders and civic group members, helping them speak fluent water. CFWE couldn’t let all that momentum pass us by. Rather than ending the Speakers Bureau program with the close of 2012, CFWE adopted the program and will continue to engage volunteer speakers to increase water awareness across the state. Welcome the new and improved CFWE Speakers Bureau! This year, we’re working with a diverse group of talented speakers who will reach out to civic groups and talk about drought and the value of water in Colorado. CFWE kicks off the new program with an updated presentation and handouts for speakers and educators to use—we’ll double our reach, speaking to more community leaders than ever before. Find a water speaker near you at yourwatercolorado.org.
CFWE Extends its Gratitude December is always a hustle and bustle, and we all struggle to find time to fit everything in. With that said, we are extremely pleased that so many supporters found time during the holiday season to show financial appreciation for CFWE as we wrapped up a successful end-of-the-year giving campaign. More than 98 supporters demonstrated their passion for balanced and accurate water education by donating over $11,000. These donations mean a great deal to us—they allow us to continue delivering the outstanding educational programs you all know and love us for. Thank you once again from the team here at CFWE!
In Recognition of Leaders in Water Education Graduates of the 2012 Water Leaders course learned how to more effectively problem-solve and navigate conflict and diversity.
Apply Now for the 2013 Water Leaders Program
The Colorado Foundation for Water Education is proud to announce the recipient of our 2013 President’s Award, Jim Isgar. A state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Jim was an integral member of CFWE’s creation 11 years ago as a former state senator. The award pays tribute to those who demonstrate steadfast commitment to water resources education. Join us in thanking Jim for his advancement of a greater understanding of water in Colorado. We will also bestow our Emerging Leader Award to Amy Beatie. Amy has been the executive director for the Colorado Water Trust for more than five years and is a graduate of CFWE’s Water Leaders Program. Congratulations, Amy! A ceremony will be held to celebrate their work in April 2013 in downtown Denver. Tickets will be available at yourwatercolorado.org in early March. We hope to see you there!
Are you a mid-career professional that desires to have a long-term impact on Colorado water issues? Do you wish for a network of similarly minded peers? Do you want to further develop the leadership skills you possess, while focusing on those most important for a career in water? If so, the CFWE Water Leaders Program may be for you! Through this program, you will gain understanding of leadership challenges in Colorado water, explore how your personal strengths equip you to face those challenges, and create a long-lasting group of friends and colleagues. A survey of employers who sent staff members through the program found marked growth in their employees’ confidence and self-awareness, their ability to self-reflect, and their leadership skills. Employers noted that they also benefited from the knowledge the participants’ gained and the new relationships they built during the program. Applications to take part in this unique experience are now available at yourwatercolorado.org. They are due February 15, 2013.
Keep the Feedback Coming We asked. You answered. To improve our educational offerings and capacity to provide relevant programs to our members, CFWE conducted our second annual survey of members and top CFWE supporters in December 2012. Respondents relayed how they use both our Citizen’s Guides and Headwaters magazine, and let us know how accurate and balanced they feel these publications are. Ninety-eight percent of respondents said that Headwaters was “very or
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
moderately helpful” in helping them understand current Colorado water issues, and 94 percent of members use it as a reference. What topics would supporters like to see us cover? Top responses were drought, supply and demand, and population growth on the East Slope. This input will help staff set goals to reflect our members’ educational needs and preferences, and ensure that our work remains relevant and useful. Thanks to all participants!
Defining Values To manufacture 1 liter of your favorite bottled beverage takes about 2.26 liters of water if you prefer Coca-Cola, 1.37 liters if you’d rather hydrate with Nestle Water, and 4.07 liters if your drink of choice is a Coors beer.
CFWE staff (left) gear up for the Nestle Waters tour stop.
On Tour With CFWE CFWE is gearing up to offer a water tour near you! These interactive programs help participants to define and understand the many values and uses associated with water in Colorado. Join us in exploring the value of water in your life at any of these upcoming CFWE tours. Sign up to be notified as registration becomes available for specific tours at yourwatercolorado.org.
CFWE tour participants (above) got an inside look at the MillerCoors water treatment facility in December 2012.
• March 8, 2013—Learn how climate science and water resources are connected at the National Ice Core Laboratory in Lakewood. • May 2 and May 16, 2013—Explore how urban waterways are managed, restored and protected on an Urban Waters Bike Tour in Denver. • May 30-31, 2013—Get a taste of Grand Valley water, agriculture and energy issues on the Lower Colorado River Basin Tour. • June 20-21, 2013—Gain understanding of the relationship between river health and transbasin diversions on the Upper Colorado River Basin Tour. • July 17-19, 2013—Broaden your perspective on interstate water issues on the Platte River Tour in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.
Headwaters Stories Step Off the Page
F o u n d at i
o n F o r Wat e r e d u C at io
Hot Topics in Colorado Water
n | Fa l l 2012
Get ready to learn about the hottest topics in water! CFWE is creating one-page Water 101 fact sheets covering drought, wildfire and other on-demand subjects. These fact sheets can be downloaded from CFWE’s website for your reference or distribution. They’re ideal for public speaking engagements, classroom presentations, or as a quick guide to get an overview on a popular water topic. Check out existing fact sheets, and come back for many more this year at yourwatercolorado.org.
Keeping Water on
Colorado’s Farm s Coping With Dro ught and a Competitive Wat er Market Agricultural Water Rights 101 Tasting the Fru its of the North Fork Val ley’ s Lab or Qua lity + Scarcit y + Opportu nity
ers | Fall 2012
= Water 1
Grown in Colo iStock.com (3)
As the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s cornerstone publication, Headwaters reaches thousands of Coloradans each year through engaging and balanced storytelling. Numerous individuals and groups find it an effective educational tool to both increase awareness of water as a scarce resource and examine water-related values and uses. CFWE is now taking Headwaters on the road! A panel discussion at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention will reveal the production process from conception to delivery. Journalists, sources and reviewers from the Winter 2013 utilities-focused issue and the Fall 2012 agriculture-focused issue will give a behind-thescenes look at their respective articles. Convention attendees will hear how farming practices are evolving in the face of shrinking water supplies and get an inside look at the nuts and bolts of transporting water to and from the tap. Look for future Headwaters events as CFWE brings the faces, voices and stories from the magazine’s pages to life.
e, Mountain stat For the Rocky ns agriculture mea d, foo lity qua open space and ine economic eng a boon to the an
By Caitlin Colem
2012 ers | Fall
Headwaters | Winter 2013
How much of one’s life should a job constitute? Depending on your point of view, it could be something that occupies your time from 9 to 5 and pays the bills, or something that defines you and gives you much more than a paycheck. I don’t believe there is one universally right answer—we each have our own work-life balance that (hopefully) suits our lives. I will qualify the next statement, as I do not have much professional experience outside the field of natural resources management, but it seems to me there is a noticeably large portion of those who work in and around water whose jobs are Nicole Seltzer, CFWE Executive Director
a meaningful part of their lives. Surely the responsibility to provide clean, adequate water to Colorado communities is one to take seriously—and even honor. Our water and wastewater infrastructure keeps disease rates low, our rivers free from pollution, and the economic engine turning. I am proud to work alongside so many who display obvious passion for their work. Some of those people are interviewed and profiled in this issue; their stories and perspectives resonate. Much of the work of water happens behind security gates, and this rare glimpse inside water utilities’ day-to-day probably doesn’t do justice to the importance or sheer impressiveness of what they accomplish. I will go so far as to say that your local water treatment plant operator is an unsung hero. As the Colorado Foundation for Water Education wraps up Water 2012, I am thankful for many other unsung heroes—all those who volunteered their time, resources and money to make Colorado’s Year of Water such a success. Partners, new and old, stepped up their water education contributions. More than 600 volunteers made a priority of communicating water’s importance. Those like the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Encana and Xcel Energy gave meaningful sums of money to make it happen. Others such as Continuing Legal Education of the Colorado Bar Association and Colorado Humanities gave organizational resources that helped exceed the goal of reaching 500,000 Coloradans with a message of water’s value. With so much more left to do, it’s easy to just move on to the next project. But I would be remiss if, at the start of a new year, I did not stop and express my gratitude to everyone who helped CFWE thrive in 2012. Our annual report is available online. The list of donors and volunteers grows each year. I hope you will take a second to view the names of those who helped Colorado “speak fluent water” in 2012, and if your name isn’t on there yet, we can surely find a home for your talents! Wishing you a peaceful, prosperous and enjoyable 2013,
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Water is… 8 A Source Why wildfires disrupt water supplies and have water utilities working in the forest, too; When it comes to source water protection, prevention is best; Opportunities to lend a hand protecting local water sources.
9 Conservation How utilities maximize efficient water use; Watering restrictions and conservation messages help stretch scarce water supplies; Outdoor water use trivia.
10 Snow Mountain snowpack serves as a natural reservoir, but that reservoir is at risk; Snowmaking can make up for some lack of natural snowfall, but has its limitations; An Arizona ski resort becomes the first to make snow with treated wastewater.
12 Opportunity Why water and wastewater utilities are gearing up now to fill job vacancies; Cheat sheet for entering the water utility workforce; Water utility recruiters are going green.
Turning o n the
36 DIY: Have a WaterSense Weekend Water conservation is a great excuse for a bathroom makeover. Plan a weekend to change out three bathroom fixtures for their water-saving counterparts, and watch the savings, both in water and energy costs, roll in. By Frank Kinder
13 The Rising Cost of Bringing Water to a Faucet Near You By Caitlin Coleman Water rates have gone up dramatically over the past 20 years, and customers want to know why. Utilities aren’t out to turn a profit; they’re just trying to keep up with their own rising costs—for everything but the kitchen sink. 18 Beyond the Tap By Jerd Smith A labyrinth of water infrastructure lies beneath our city streets. And it’s getting old. Just what does it do for us, and how much attention—and funding—will its maintenance and replacement require? 23 The Art and Science of Pricing Water By Chris Woodka Some utilities get tax dollars, others don’t. Some charge higher tap fees for new development, while others have higher rates. Ultimately, every utility must bill customers for their water use in order to cover costs, but each does so differently. A look at the not-so-simple process of setting rates, and why we aren’t all paying the same. 28 Water Quality’s Front Line By Dan Gordon Water moves into and out of our homes daily, coming in clean and going out dirty. On either end, someone is treating that water to keep it varying degrees of clean. Regulations stipulate the contaminants that must be filtered out, whether the water is destined for our bodies, our lawns or our rivers. It’s a protective barrier that wasn’t always in place.
On the Cover: Steve Ryken of Ute Water Conservancy District in the Grand Valley.
Steve Hellman climbs out of the mechanical room at Aurora’s Charles A. Wemlinger water treatment plant.
Headwaters | Winter 2013
Contributors Caitlin Coleman is a writer and program associate with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Originally from New York state, where she grew up with a septic tank and well, reporting her story for this issue (“The Rising Cost of Bringing Water to a Faucet Near You,” page 13) gave her a new appreciation for utilities. “I’ve worked on water quality issues caused by limited wastewater treatment in impoverished areas, but that’s an extreme,” Caitlin says. “Talking with water utility managers about their role in securing the health and safety of a community, allowing cities and towns to prosper—it’s no different, but their service is something we all value.”
Colorado Foundation for Water Education 1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.yourwatercolorado.org
Board Members Gregg Ten Eyck President
Jerd Smith is a Colorado-based writer and editor with a special interest in water and conservation issues. Reporting on water infrastructure for this issue (“Beyond the Tap,” page 18), Jerd says: “Let’s face it, there’s nothing very glamorous about a buried water pipe, and for decades they’ve been largely ignored by the general population. But deep within the bowels of water delivery systems, fascinating things are starting to occur that will help local water providers deliver water in ways that are less expensive and more efficient than we’ve ever seen.”
Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.
An editor and reporter for the Pueblo Chieftan, Chris Woodka makes a guest appearance writing for Headwaters this issue. He has reported on water issues for the Chieftain since 1985, specializing in large-scale water projects throughout Colorado. For 12 years, Chris was the president of a small ditch company west of Pueblo that mainly served hobby gardens. Today, he just farms bluegrass, relying on the Pueblo Board of Water Works for his water supply. In preparing his story on water-rate setting for this issue (“The Art and Science of Pricing Water,” page 23), he became so bogged down in numbers that he nearly forgot to shut down his sprinkler system for the winter months.
Becky Brooks Nick Colglazier Lisa Darling Steve Fearn Rep. Randy Fischer Jennifer Gimbel Greg Johnson Pete Kasper Dan Luecke Trina McGuire-Collier Kaylee Moore Reed Morris Sen. Gail Schwartz Travis Smith Andrew Todd Chris Treese Reagan Waskom
First-time Headwaters contributor Dan Gordon returned to Colorado after growing tired of being buffeted by hurricanes in south Florida. He and his wife now live in La Junta, near where he grew up at Fort Lyon. “As a kid, I didn’t think much about water or the lack of it in this part of the world,” says Dan. Since returning, he has a new interest in how Coloradans share their water and how they built systems to deliver it for urban and agricultural uses. For this issue, he dove into the subject of water treatment (“Water Quality’s Front Line,” page 28). A 30-year veteran of newspapers, he has worked for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Barton Glasser is a commercial and editorial photographer based in western Colorado. In photographing water-based stories, Barton is repeatedly astonished by the engineering feats, vast infrastructure and great cooperation that are involved. He is grateful for the people that help make it possible for us to have the water we need to live, work and play in the West. His photography appears throughout this issue (“Beyond the Tap,” page 18, and “Water Quality’s Front Line,” page 28). Photographer Kevin Moloney, based in Denver, jokes that he drives for a living and takes pictures on the side, given the vast stretches of road between assignments around the Rocky Mountain West. Photo shoots for this issue (“Beyond the Tap,” page 18, and “The Art and Science of Pricing Water,” page 23) kept him closer to home in Erie and Aurora, where he couldn’t help but notice how quiet and lonely automated water plants feel these days. Kevin’s work has regularly appeared in Headwaters, as well as the New York Times, publications of the National Geographic Society, and many other publications.
Matthew Staver is an editorial and documentary photographer based in Denver. “Creating visual permanence in a world of relentless motion” is more than a tagline for Matthew; it is an ongoing mission that he strives to achieve during every commission. His assignment for this issue (“The Rising Cost of Bringing Water to a Faucet Near You,” page 13, and “Water Quality’s Front Line,” page 28) took him to Vail and the Eagle River Valley. He hopes his photographs reveal water utilities’ connection to the environment in a way that helps foster a better understanding of this often underappreciated and evolving subject.
Rita Crumpton Past President
Eric Hecox Secretary
Alan Matlosz Treasurer
Nicole Seltzer Executive Director
Kristin Maharg Program Manager
Caitlin Coleman Program Associate
Jennie Geurts Administrative Assistant
Adam Hicks Development Officer Mission Statement The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue. Acknowledgments The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks the people and organizations who provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue. Headwaters Magazine is published three times a year by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Headwaters is designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2013 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 Edited by Jayla Poppleton. Designed by Emmett Jordan.
T h i n g s To D o In This Issue: Jayla Poppleton, Editor
On a bright sunny morning
in December, I
donned my hardhat obediently and followed my hosts toward the sound of rushing water. It had been nearly 16 years since I visited a wastewater treatment plant in college, and I couldn’t remember being quite so excited then. But now, I was nearly giddy as I caught my first glimpse of the grayish water tumbling around a sharp corner. Peering gingerly over the cement wall, I wondered if the wastewater below could be coming from my own neighborhood in northeast Denver. Could this be the very water we had used hours earlier that day in our showers and sinks—and our toilets? Moving at high speed, it all blended into one big, murky river, and I was spared from imagining I might be seeing my next-door neighbor’s you-know-what. Barbara Biggs, governmental affairs officer, and Marty Tiffany, plant operator, were graciously giving me a personal tour of the Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility of the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in north Denver, where nearly 2 million people’s wastewater is continuously processed. As we crossed a bridge over the west-bound interceptor canal to view several coming in from the opposite side of the city, I was impressed to note labels denoting sources as distant as “Golden.” At that moment, the dirty water was coming in at a rate of 150 million gallons per day for treatment. Nearly two hours later, after trekking around the enormous plant and receiving patient answers to my many questions, I had a pretty good handle on exactly what Marty, Barbara and their colleagues accomplish for the community. As we watched the treated effluent pour into the South Platte River, it was comforting to know the water had been meticulously treated and tested to meet the many state and federal water quality standards in place for our protection. The whole process was pretty incredible, and I highly recommend taking a similar tour if you ever have the opportunity. Despite the extent of our daily reliance on water, not to mention our dependence on its arrival and departure from our homes, many of us remain largely ignorant of what goes into moving, storing, treating and delivering it. We know we have to pay our bills or our water service could be shut off, but we don’t really know exactly what we’re paying for. What do water utilities really do? How do they keep up with the nonstop, and often growing, daily water demand of their communities? And what role do they play in protecting both public health and the environment? In this issue, we invite you to explore these questions and more as we delve into the realm of water and wastewater utilities. Next time you turn on your tap and clean water comes out, you’ll have a better idea of what—and who—made that small miracle possible.
n Jayla Poppleto
Apply for CFWE’s 2013 Water Leaders Program (inside front cover).
Attend Headwaters’ first live discussion, where its stories will step off the page (page 1).
Lend a hand to protect the source of your drinking water (page 8).
Check out what Americans nationwide have to say about water infrastructure (page 16).
Visit your water utility’s website for a water quality report and tips on in-home water infrastructure maintenance (page 22).
Compare water rate structures for a handful of Colorado utilities (page 25).
Learn how to decipher your water bill (page 26).
Find out which ingredients in your personal care products aren’t removed by wastewater treatment (page 33).
Swap your old bathroom fixtures for their water-saving counterparts (page 36).
Follow your flush through the wastewater treatment process (page 32).
Headwaters | Winter 2013
Walking On Water Winning photo submission by Steve Vanderleest Staff from the Glenwood Springs Water and Wastewater Department traverse along an 800-foot pipeline that brings raw water bound for Glenwood from Grizzly Creek. The pipeline, accessible by foot trail, was 90 years old when it was replaced in 2002. Materials had to be delivered by helicopter.
Headwaters Photo Contest
See your photo in the next issue of Headwaters magazine! The Colorado Foundation for Water Education is now accepting entries of professional and amateur photographs that tie in with the topical focus of upcoming issues. The winning photo will appear on this two-page format, while other photos may be used throughout the magazine. Find contest rules and details on future topics at www.yourwatercolorado.org.
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
A Source > Conservation > Snow > Opportunity
Headwaters | Winter 2013
Water is A Source
Going to the Source
quality of its water. Monitoring is something Colleen Williams, source water protection specialist for the Colorado Rural Water Association, frequently recommends to the water utilities she works with. By establishing a baseline for water quality, communities can track what is showing up in their water over time and watch for red flags. “It’s really important to have some way that they would know that there is a problem in that water source,” says Williams. Some communities face concerns about oil and gas drilling, others with abandoned mine drainage or septic tank maintenance. Then there’s fire and drought—two of the biggest concerns, Williams says. Fortunately, much of Colorado doesn’t have contaminated water, she adds. A lot of the focus is on prevention—keeping water clean in the first place is far more cost-effective. Williams also recommends public outreach and information sharing: “We want the community to encourage everyone to become a stakeholder, to become a steward of that drinking water source.” —Caitlin Coleman
USDA Forest Service
Communities take pride in the quality of their drinking water—or they worry about it. Either way, protecting the source of the water supply can be both personal and a matter of public health. Source water protection work is in progress across Colorado, but looks different depending on the locale. Activities range from addressing nonpoint sources of pollution such as farm fertilizer runoff or contamination from roads, to reducing access to reservoirs or promoting forest health. Grand Junction developed a watershed protection ordinance in 2007 after Genesis Gas and Oil acquired leases to drill within the Plateau Creek watershed on the Grand Mesa, a source of the city’s water. Residents were concerned about the potential impacts of drilling—particularly hydraulic fracturing—on their drinking water supply. To deal with these concerns, stakeholders including the cities of Grand Junction and Palisade, Genesis, federal land managers and local citizens came together, agreeing to a set of best management practices once drilling began. Genesis has avoided developing its leases within the watershed so far. In the meantime, Grand Junction is funding a water monitoring study to establish a baseline for the
Aerial mulching is used to stablize soil in the Monument Gulch area in Larimer County after the High Park Fire.
Lend a Hand to Protect Source Water
Get involved in protecting your drinking water with volunteer opportunities around the state: >> High Park Restoration Coalition: High Park and Hewlett Gulch fire restoration work is underway near Fort Collins through a coalition of organizations that includes Wildlands Restoration Volunteers; Trees, Water and People; and Rocky Mountain Fly Casters. Expect to help seed native grasses, plant native trees and shrubs, install erosion control structures and apply mulches, primarily on private lands. Visit www.wlrv.org. >> Coalition for the Upper South Platte: CUSP teaches communities how to live with and survive fire in the 2,600 square-mile Upper South Platte watershed that stretches southwest from Denver nearly to Buena Vista. CUSP’s most immediate work is with the Waldo Canyon Fire. Volunteer to help with sandbagging, erosion control, revegetation and chipping wood for fire prevention. Go to www.uppersouthplatte.org. >> Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado: Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado is also working on High Park Fire and Waldo Canyon Fire projects, among others. See www.voc.org. >> Local Watershed Group: The Colorado Watershed Assembly supports the efforts of grassroots, nonprofit groups working to protect watersheds. Find out if a group near you is involved with source water protection work at www.coloradowater.org.
—Caitlin Coleman 8
Protecting Water From Fire In 2012, wildfires blazed across Colorado landscapes, incinerating thousands of forested acres and leaving barren slopes and loose soils. The same was true during the drought of 2002, when water utilities saw fires wreaking havoc on their water sources. Water providers have since invested more heavily in restoring and protecting their watersheds from fire. “We learned that water infrastructure is more than pipes and dams,” says Travis Thompson, media coordinator for Denver Water. “For Denver Water, our ‘infrastructure’ encompasses more than 2.5 million acres of land in 13 counties. Our investment in these watersheds is a long-term commitment to keeping them healthy decades from now.” Deep in a healthy forest, a web of strong root systems holds soils in place, sustains vegetation and naturally filters water. Intense fire destroys that network, leaving ash, sediment and burnt debris with no anchor. Storms that follow bring those sediments rushing in torrents down mountainsides— and into streams and water supplies. Even a small rain can trigger large ash flows after a fire, says Eric Reckentine, deputy director of water resources for Greeley Water. Last summer, northern Colorado’s Poudre River ran black with ash from the High Park Fire, while the Clifton Water District to the west of the Continental Divide saw a muddied Colorado River full of burnt pine needles, ash and other debris after the Pine Ridge Fire. In June 2012, Greeley and Fort Collins stopped drawing water from the Poudre because of ash. In normal years, flows from the Poudre supply about 25 percent of Greeley’s water. To prevent ongoing damage to water quality, utilities like Greeley must stabilize burn-area soils and promote new plant growth—yet they don’t always own the land surrounding their water supplies. Instead, they partner with organizations like the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, volunteer groups and private landowners to restore forest health by mulching and seeding, planting trees and shrubs, installing erosion control bars and sediment traps, and thinning trees prone to future wildfires. This work doesn’t come free. Greeley Water expects to share a $9.9 million investment in High Park Fire remediation with the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins as well as three nearby districts collectively referred to as the Tri-Districts, with partial reimbursement from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Denver Water plans to spend $16.5 million on forest treatment projects over a five-year period. The U.S. Forest Service will match the utility’s investment, enabling them to target more than 38,000 acres in priority watersheds. —Caitlin Coleman
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Waste Not, Want Not She’s got her headphones on—must be listening to some chart-topping song. No, in fact, water utility employees routinely conduct leak surveys, listening with headphones or setting up equipment to sound for leaks, then repairing broken pipes. Such actions can save millions of gallons each year of a limited—and increasingly expensive—resource. All utilities unavoidably lose some water through leaks, broken meters, water main breaks and more. As utilities detect and fix leaks, they prevent larger breaks and cut costs. “If you’re buying more water than you need, that’s not very efficient at all,” says Roby Forsyth, distribution and collection manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. The district completes a leak survey of its entire distribution system at least twice each year, sounding through sections of water main that need more analysis. Leaks, large to small, can sound like water rumbling through rapids in a river or like the spraying noise you hear if you put your finger over a faucet. By reducing water loss, utilities can bill for more of the water that’s running through their systems. They also save energy and treatment costs by not pumping as much soon-to-be-lost water partway through the system.
Improving efficiency is just one way utilities maximize their water supplies. They also run conservation programs to raise public awareness about water use, encourage water savings and reuse water. As water reaches customers, many utilities encourage wise water use through tiered rate structures, rebates on low water-use devices, public education campaigns, xeriscape demonstration gardens, water use audits and more. For water providers that deliver 2,000 acre feet or more each year (2,000 acre feet typically meets the needs of about 5,000 households), such actions were stipulated by the state legislature in 2004 in the form of water conservation plans. These providers must develop and implement, then periodically evaluate and revise, a water conservation plan or they become ineligible for financial assistance from the Colorado Water Conservation Board or Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. The conservation plans are meant to further promote a range of sustainable practices that water utilities across the state, many of which have reduced demand by 20 percent over the past decade, may already employ. —Caitlin Coleman
Did You Know?
of residential water in Front Range urban areas is used outdoors, primarily to water turf, making lawn watering the largest demand on municipal water supplies.
of water are required to sustain each square foot of buffalograss for a season. The more commonly seen Kentucky bluegrass needs 18 to 20.
Courtesy Denver Water
is the time of day that bookends efficient lawn watering hours. Watering after 9 p.m. and before 9 a.m. helps reduce evaporation losses due to hot and windy weather.
of flower bed irrigation needs can be cut by using mulch, which reduces evaporation from the soil surface.
Denver Water’s “Use Only What You Need” messaging is highly visible around the metro area.
Source: CSU Extension
Watering Restrictions: Conservation Measure or Drought Response? Water monitors in Castle Rock pass their summer cruising around town, enforcing mandatory watering restrictions during the peak water use months of June, July and August. From their vehicles, they scan for wasteful watering or watering at the wrong time or on the wrong day, and educate customers. The “water cops” of Castle Rock didn’t just come out for the 2012 drought; the town has implemented this aspect of its conservation program every summer since 1985. Castle Rock is not the only water provider that includes watering restrictions in its regular conservation plan. Denver Water and the cities of Brighton, Thornton and Greeley are among many who implement such restrictions—often limiting watering days and times—regardless of drought conditions. Denver Water, for example, asks that from May 1 through October 1 customers water between 6 p.m and 10 a.m., refrain from watering during rain or wind storms, avoid
watering sidewalks and streets, and only water three days a week. The restrictions are enforced by “Water Savers,” who hand out warnings for first-time offenders. After that, fines start at $50; multiple offenders could have their water service shut off. Similarly, the city of Thornton has a water waste code; however, Thornton only hires patrols when responding to drought. Utility water conservation and drought mitigation efforts are often completely separate programs, but they can piggyback off each other. Many Colorado cities implement water conservation plans year-round through marketing, rebates, customer education and watering restrictions—but during drought, those messages intensify. “The efforts that we’re making now in educating and communicating to our consumers about water conservation is what is getting us through the 2012 drought,” says Joseph Burtard, public Headwaters | Winter 2013
relations officer for the Ute Water Conservancy District and chairman of the Drought Response Information Project (DRIP). DRIP is a product of the 2002 drought, when the four water providers in the Grand Valley— Ute Water, the city of Grand Junction, the town of Palisade and Clifton Water District—came together to create a drought plan. Through DRIP, the utilities promote conservation year-round through outreach channels such as radio and television ads targeting residential and commercial water use. When the 2012 drought struck, DRIP was able to quickly reach out to customers, asking them to implement voluntary watering restrictions. “Conservation awareness and behavior helps prepare communities for drought conditions,” Burtard says. “I think everybody saw that this year across the state.” —Caitlin Coleman 9
Water is Snow Reclaimed wastewater, also called treated effluent, must meet water quality standards to protect all applicable uses of the receiving water body. Regulation 84 of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division is in place to further protect public health if reclaimed wastewater is to be reused for nonpotable uses such as landscaping.
Recycling Hits the Slopes:
Where does your snow come from?
This winter the Arizona Snowbowl resort just north of Flagstaff became the first in the world to make snow entirely from reclaimed, treated wastewater effluent. The plan has been a long time coming. In February 2012, a federal appeals court put an end to a 10-year legal battle brought by a coalition of environmental groups and 13 American Indian tribes by ruling in favor of Arizona Snowbowl. The decision will allow the use of treated wastewater effluent from the nearby city of Flagstaff to powder the resort’s slopes. Opponents cite the desecration of sacred land, health concerns and ecological impacts of chemicals that may remain in the effluent-based snow. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reclaimed water is already being used for snowmaking in Maine, Pennsylvania and California, as well as in Canada and Australia—but none of these resorts use effluent alone. Although the use of reclaimed wastewater effluent to make snow hasn’t yet been tried in Colorado, it is used for other purposes, such as watering city parks. Until the recent decision, Arizona Snowbowl was short a water supply to use for snowmaking. Now, after spending approximately $12 million on legal fees and infrastructure to move the reclaimed wastewater uphill from Flagstaff, its snow machines are running. Many Colorado ski areas also face challenges in securing sufficient water supplies for snowmaking, and a few reclaim water in their own way to compensate for slim streamflows in winter months. Loveland Ski Area recaptures up to 70 percent of its manufactured snowmelt, storing it in an off-site reservoir and releasing it to make up for river diversions the following year. The practice, called a substitute water supply plan, doesn’t go so far as to cut river diversions for snowmaking at the point of diversion, but it does allow the ski area, with its relatively junior priority water rights, to keep making snow when it otherwise legally couldn’t take water from the stream. —Caitlin Coleman
Bring on the Snow Liquid assets is a term used by money managers, but should it not also apply to the recreation industry? For resort communities and the snow sports industry across Colorado, water that falls as snow is a tremendous asset; the entire state depends on the income it generates. But what happens when there isn’t enough? “Snow trumps all,” says Greg Ralph, marketing director at Monarch Mountain. “Snow is why they come here.” Low snowpack, as experienced during the 2011 to 2012 winter, draws fewer skiers to the slopes. In some cases snowmaking can make up for that loss, but to a limited extent. Last year, Monarch received only 195 inches of snow, just more than half its average 350 inches. This, along with Monarch’s no-snowmaking policy, caused a 19 percent decrease in skier visits. “It was devastating,” Ralph says. Collectively, the 22 Colorado Ski Country USA resorts, which include Monarch and most other major ski resorts except for those owned by Vail Resorts, weren’t hit quite as hard, seeing an 11.9 percent decrease in skier visits compared to the five-year average. Colorado Ski Country USA 10
also attributes this decline to the dry and warm 2011 to 2012 winter—West Slope precipitation was 43 percent below average. Aspen Snowmass faced only a 1.8 percent decline in skier visits last year. But Aspen has a strong international clientele, people who book their trips months in advance. The resort isn’t heavily reliant on Front Range traffic, says Jeff Hanle, director of public relations at Aspen Snowmass. That doesn’t change the fact that Aspen received only half its average annual snowfall. Aspen Snowmass used its early-season snowmaking, though limited, to cover high traffic areas where natural snowfall wouldn’t have been sufficient, says Hanle. Resort managers might make more snow if they could, but snowmaking has its limitations. Most resorts divert directly from streams during winter months, when rivers run low. If their water rights are behind other users in line, or the stream is below stipulated flow levels, they may have to shut off their blowers. Snowmaking is also limited by temperature—if it’s not cold, there won’t be snow. Other limiting factors can include high operating costs and community water and energy needs.
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Historically, Aspen Snowmass starts making snow November 1 and stops before Christmas each year—the resort is limited by its water right decree from pulling water from Snowmass Creek after December. In the future, they may have more flexibility. In July 2012, Aspen Skiing Company purchased rights to a portion of the water stored in Zeigler Reservoir, located on the mountain. The $3.25 million agreement with Snowmass Water and Sanitation District will prevent low flows from being further depleted by snowmaking withdrawals in Snowmass Creek and allow for later-season snowmaking. The resort will also save on energy costs previously used to pump water uphill from the creek. “For environmental reasons, for efficiency reasons, for making-snow-at-optimumtime reasons, this was a huge deal for us…a winwin-win-win grand slam,” says Hanle. Still, although snowmaking technology has improved, it’s not the same as skiing fresh powder, Monarch’s Ralph contends. “Most of the time nature takes care of us pretty well. Skiing on all-natural snow—it’s one of our marketing attributes.” —Caitlin Coleman
© Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies
University of Utah graduate students Annie Bryant (left) and McKenzie Skiles collected dust samples from a snowpit at Rabbit Ears Pass between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs in 2010. Dust events, which can cause snow to melt faster, leave behind dark layers in the snowpack.
Courtesy John Marr and the Niwot Ridge LTER program archives
Nature’s Reservoir at Risk “Colorado’s mountain snowpacks are the first and foremost reservoir for Colorado water supplies,” says Chris Landry, executive director for the Silverton-based Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. Most of Colorado’s water supplies are first banked as snowpack before they flow into constructed reservoirs. That natural snow bank is beginning to face pressures, creating challenges for Colorado’s people, environment and water managers. Between 60 percent and 90 percent of the water used in the western United States is mountain runoff, says Mark Williams, a researcher at the Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research at the University of Colorado. At Williams’ research station on Niwot Ridge, 20 miles west of Boulder, 87 percent of annual precipitation falls as snow. “If we had rain instead of snow during the winter, it would just run off and leave our system,” explains Williams. Instead, snowpack accumulates and remains frozen in the mountains all winter, melting throughout the spring and summer and feeding rivers. By the end of June, only half the snow at Niwot Ridge is gone, with plenty remaining to melt in July and August, when summer temperatures heighten irrigation demands for lawns and crops. “That water is released from the snowpack when we need it the most,” Williams says. According to a 2012 U.S. Geological Survey study based in part on Williams’ research, however, Colorado snow is melting—and fueling peak runoff—two to three weeks earlier than it did in the 1970s. Changes are related to warming climate trends and are additionally affected by phenomena such as “dust on snow” and heightened evapotranspiration rates for forest plants. All causes lead to the same effect—earlier and pos-
sibly reduced runoff. When Colorado’s snow melts early, water comes to people and water managers before it can be fully put to use. Reservoirs and water storage can help trap and hold water for use later in the year. But Williams believes reservoirs aren’t enough to ease concern surrounding overall reduced runoff: “We can’t engineer our way out of it through the construction of new dams.” Impacts reach beyond Researchers take climate measurements near an elevation of 12,000 feet on Niwot water managers—forests Ridge, 20 miles west of Boulder, in the 1950s. can’t intentionally bank water. When snow melts early, water may run off reflectivity and causes snow to melt faster. Landry before forest vegetation can use it; then soils dry and others, including Brad Udall at the University out. “Your fire danger just goes through the roof,” of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment, have Williams says. shown that dust is a factor in early and rapid runoff. Compounding the effect of early snowmelt on The amount of dust settling on the Rocky Mounwater supply, plant activity may also begin earlier, tains, according to their joint report published in the resulting in increased evapotranspiration; plants 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Scirelease more water to the atmosphere, further re- ences, has increased over the past 150 years by as ducing runoff. A 2010 study coauthored by Landry much as 600 percent. found that runoff was decreased by about 5 percent Temperature, snow depth, snow water equivawhen plants became active earlier in the year. lents, radiation and other factors all play a role in Another contributing factor is what’s known as early or reduced runoff as well. When there just plain dust on snow. The Center for Snow and Avalanche isn’t a lot of snow, for example, snow melts earlier. Studies’ data show as many as three to 12 dust “Precipitation is still the principle factor determining events each year. When dust from lands disturbed snowmelt behavior,” Landry says. “First and foreby agriculture or development settles on snow, the most you have to have a snowpack.” dark layer absorbs more of the sun’s heat, reduces —Caitlin Coleman Headwaters | Winter 2013
Water is Opportunity
Working With Water: A Career Awaits
>> Connect directly with water utilities: For drinking water, wastewater and stormwater utility employment opportunities, resources and training programs in Colorado, visit getintowaterco.org. For national opportunities, check out workforwater.org. Looking for a job with a specific water or wastewater utility? Many offer apprenticeship and internship programs. >> Gain technical training and on-the-job experience: Colorado’s community colleges and water utilities are collaborating to provide technical training for treatment plant operators and technicians. Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood and Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs started training programs a few years ago. West Slope utilities saw a similar need and created a training program with Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction. The first class from Western will graduate with associate’s degrees in Applied Science in Water Quality Management in 2014. >> Pursue a college degree to be used in water utility work: The rate at which students earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees in science and technical fields has declined in the United States from one in six in 1960 to just one in 10 in 2000, according to the Water Research Foundation. Colorado’s top colleges and universities offer programs in higher education that would give any graduate an edge when applying for a water or wastewater utility job. Check out these top Colorado water programs: >> Metro State University of Denver’s new One World, One Water Center offers an interdisciplinary water studies minor. >> The Water Center at Colorado State University offers water courses or a water minor. >> The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University has degree programs and continuing education courses.
sources for water utility professionals. “We’re losing that knowledge, and we’re losing the people who saw working at utilities as a good, stable profession that supported their family and gave them a sense of well-being that their job makes a difference to others.” To fill open positions, some utilities have established training programs and recruitment websites. Many utilities are specifically in need of operators and technicians. There are also plenty of other jobs in the field, from engineers and project managers to biologists and communication specialists. At Ute Water Conservancy District in the Grand Valley, water treatment operators at the highest certification level are making $57,000 annually with benefits. With a high retention rate—99 percent this past year—the district hasn’t yet needed to recruit. “We’re a steady industry,” says Kalanda Isaac, who works in human resources and risk management at Ute Water. “The pay and benefits are generally quite good, and I think people like knowing that they’ve done something good for people.” —Caitlin Coleman
© iStock.com (2)
Career-Ready Training Opportunities
Stability and reliability—that’s what we expect from our water utility service. Those are also the qualities one finds in water utility sector employment. And, along with the element of social responsibility, those are the qualities water utilities hope will attract the next generation of employees. According to the Water Research Foundation, as much as 31 to 37 percent of the water workforce could retire within the next 10 years. Even without the looming exodus of retiring baby boomers, the water utility sector, which includes both drinking water providers and wastewater treatment, is expected to need additional employees in coming years—up to 45 percent more—in order to adapt to more stringent regulations, add and replace pipelines and treatment plants, and meet the demands of a growing population. Although the high level of expected turnover poses a challenge for utilities, it’s a great opportunity for job seekers. “A lot of people retiring have been there forever,” says Cynthia Lane, who directs sustainability programs for the American Water Works Association, a nonprofit educational association that provides re-
A water utility employee changes out a reverse osmosis filter in a water treatment plant.
Water Recruiters Wear Green The slogan, “If you’re going green, you got to think BLUE,” adorns the cover of a career pamphlet from an American Water Works Association chapter in Texas. Closer to home, the Pueblo Board of Water Works includes “promoting environmental values” on its career brochure. They hope the message, which highlights water utilities’ role in resource stewardship and sustainability, will resonate with the next generation of employees. “The millennial generation reacts to a different message than baby boomers in what is important to them in taking on a job or starting a career,” says Paul Fanning, public relations administrator at the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Fanning uses “green talk” when speaking with younger potential employees as it has a more inspirational and emotional appeal, he says. And why not? “We say that at heart, we are the original green industry,” says Cynthia Lane with the American Water Works Association. While it’s a shift for people to view utility jobs as green or progressive, public and environmental health rest in the hands of water and wastewater utilities, Lane explains. Perhaps blue really could be the new green. —Caitlin Coleman
—Caitlin Coleman 12
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
By Caitlin Coleman
The good old days. Remember when movies were just $0.20, when the town of Vail was tiny, and when “conservation” wasn’t part of your vocabulary? Or remember just 10 years ago when water bills were half what they are today?
The Rising Cost of Bringing Water to a Faucet Near You Things have changed. As water services have expanded to meet demand, so too has the cost of those services. “There is no difference between a water bill, an airline fare or the cost of McDonalds,” says Peter Binney, manager of sustainable infrastructure for Merrick & Company and former director of Aurora Water. “People see costs going up and they think, ‘What the heck is going on?’”
A gallon of bottled water at Safeway goes for $1.29. For the same price, Denver Water delivers 498 gallons directly to customers’ homes. Headwaters | Winter 2013
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Water rates have surged in the past decade, doubling across much of Colorado. Nationally, according to the American Water Works Association, water and wastewater charges for 1,000 gallons of water have increased annually by 4.7 percent and 4.9 percent respectively—a rate nearly double the annual Consumer Price Index increase of 2.5 percent. (By comparison, the average electricity rate in Colorado increased by just 1.6 percent between 1990 and 2011.) At the same time, the roles of water and wastewater utilities have changed, and the environment they operate in is wrought with expense. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job of making people understand, appreciate and support why our water bill is what it is,” Binney says. The charges on customers’ water bills incorporate more than just the volume of liquid that pours from the tap or flushes down the toilet. They cover the cost of hiring and training staff, building and maintaining infrastructure, installing improved technology to meet regulatory requirements, paying for electricity to pump and treat water, providing water for firefighting and other emergency services, protecting existing water sources and acquiring new ones, planning for drought, and more. Water utilities exist to meet community needs; many are public entities. Some, like Aurora Water, operate within the city government structure and are governed by the city council. Others, like the Greeley Water and Sewer Department, are governed jointly by the city council and an appointed board of directors. Then there are the special districts, like the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, quasi-municipal corporations governed by an elected board of directors. In all cases, water and wastewater utilities fill a necessary role across Colorado. “The ability to provide low-cost reliable service is absolutely essential to a community’s quality of life and economic viability,” says Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager in water services at Colorado Springs Utilities. Keeping Pace With Growth Early public water systems in the United States expanded substantially in the early 20th century, largely due to fire danger. Cities were highly flammable and needed a consistent, high-pressure water supply capable of dousing fires. Giant infernos in San Francisco and Chicago provided the impetus for resizing pipes across the country. Today’s engineers continue to size pipes in order to meet demand for firefighting, as opposed to drinking water or toilet flushing, says David LaFrance, executive director of the American Water Works Association. Public water systems have since evolved further, making our water safer to drink, and treating our wastewater so thoroughly that many water-borne diseases
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have been virtually eliminated. In many cases, utilities have innovated and allowed communities to grow, Binney points out. Look at Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s, Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s—the water systems they had in place were stifling growth because they were too small, but the communities didn’t let infrastructure define them; they built ample water systems to meet their needs. The same was true in Colorado’s Eagle River Valley, where the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has been consistently growing since the 1962 founding of Vail. As the resort community matured, the district had to keep pace. “We were having to make large investments in infrastructure,” says Becky Bultemeier, finance manager for the Eagle River district. Now, Front Range cities like Aurora continue to face the realities of providing water— and collecting wastewater—for a large and growing population. “There was no question in the minds of the mayor or chambers of commerce that as people wanted to locate there [in Aurora], they were going to be able to provide the services,” Binney says. Aurora Water had to figure out how to meet the demand, and the expanded infrastructure meant an increase in rates. “It’s a question of what kind of community do you want to live in? A community that can suit your needs?” The city of Grand Junction made a different decision when, in the 1950s, it chose not to expand its system. People outside city limits wanted to connect with the city’s water system, but Grand Junction didn’t think there would be enough growth in the Grand Valley area to warrant running water lines to those outliers, says Rick Brinkman, Grand Junction’s water services manager. In 1956, those without water service formed a conservancy district—Ute Water. In the 1970s, Clifton Water District also secured a more reliable source from the Colorado River. Today, the three systems are connected, but abut one another, limiting each other’s growth. “We just got surrounded,” Brinkman says. “We [Grand Junction’s water services] haven’t grown very much because we’re pretty much landlocked.” Investing in Tomorrow Just as communities decide on growth for public water systems and utilities respond to that direction, the public, water boards and city councilors strive to keep water rates in check. Public water entities are nonprofits, and because they operate in a monopolistic setting, there are some controls placed on their finances. Many have some ability to establish funds that roll over from year to year, used to stabilize revenues or build up capital for infrastructure projects. But, for the most part, they operate based on their costs of service in a pay-as-you-go system. Ultimately, the vast majority of the
Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
Becky Bultemeier (left) oversees finances for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in Vail, in a balancing act to keep revenues on par with fixed costs and capital improvements. At the end of 2012 (right), about 30 miles of pipeline—more than half of what will be needed—had been installed for the Southern Delivery System regional water project. The project, slated for completion in 2016, will transport water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to communities as far north as Colorado Springs.
revenue a water utility uses to provide for the community comes from customer water rates. “Rates,” reiterates Greg Kail, director of communications for the American Water Works Association. “That’s how they pay for their operations and manage their assets into the future.” In addition to rates, utilities charge tap fees when a new house or business comes online. In theory, tap fees should cover the costs of expanding water and wastewater systems, but big projects still have to be financed in advance. Municipal systems typically fund major repairs and other infrastructure work by issuing bonds that are repaid over time. Since the economic downturn, many cities haven’t experienced ample growth to finance the infrastructure they built to accommodate expanding populations. “There are no more tap fees coming in; that’s dried up,” Bultemeier says of the Eagle River Valley. So, to service its debt, the district relies more heavily on existing customers. “That puts pressure on our rates.” The American Water Works Association conducts a state-of-the-industry survey each year, speaking with about 2,000 utility professionals. The same issues regularly rise to the top: water infrastructure needs, regulatory challenges and the ability of utilities to finance those needs. Those same issues weigh heavily on utility managers in Colorado, and have been magnified in recent years by the challenging economy. Much of Colorado’s infrastructure was built 30 to 50 years ago, or earlier. In the meantime cities have been able to rely on that infrastructure without making additional large capital investments. “Our generation
has not experienced that cost before,” Kail says. “It was our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents who put most of the pipes in the ground. We’ve arrived at a new moment in our country’s history.” The severity of the need to update infrastructure varies by utility. Vanderschuere estimates that about 75 percent of Colorado Springs Utilities’ budget is allocated for repairing and modernizing infrastructure. Some of the city’s infrastructure dates back to the 1800s, while the most recent segments were built between the 1950s and 1970s. Colorado Springs is also looking toward the future; the utility is in the process of building its Southern Delivery System, laying more than 50 miles of pipe to deliver water stored in Pueblo Reservoir northward to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West. The project’s first phase will cost about $1 billion, to be paid over 40 years by customers and developers through increased water rates and tap fees. The job of meeting demands for growth, however, is largely viewed differently by utilities than it was 50 years ago. Since large water projects have become increasingly difficult to permit, cities are putting more effort into managing demand—focusing on conservation and efficiency to better use available water. Not only is conservation a public expectation, it comes back to cost, Binney says. Large capital projects cost hundreds of millions of dollars. “Public ratepayers, policy makers, city councilors…they expect you to find ways to solve problems so you don’t go through the rate increases,” Binney says. “Water conservation is the minimum point of entry to actually running any utility now. And it’s a good thing.” Headwaters | Winter 2013
At the same time, water conservation poses its own set of financial challenges. Utilities need a budget to staff conservation programs, fund outreach campaigns and finance rebates. When conservation is effective, water suppliers collect less income because consumption drops, while costs to utilities to continue providing services remain fixed or increase over time. “I call it the near-perfect storm,” says Bultemeier. “We’ve spent years telling people, ‘Don’t buy our product,’ and we’ve built facilities for growth. Now people are buying less and the growth is coming slower than projected, so our current customers have to pay those fixed costs.” Adapting to New Challenges Those fixed costs are going up in the Eagle River Valley and elsewhere. New state nutrient regulations are requiring utilities to better treat their wastewater for nitrogen and phosphorous, which can produce large algal blooms in water bodies. When those plants die off, the decaying matter deprives the water of oxygen, posing problems for aquatic life. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires states to limit nitrogen and phosphorous pollution. Now, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will require 44 facilities to install additional treatment—total costs are estimated at $1.5 billion. “This is a big deal,” Bultemeier says, with emphasis. Small utilities are exempt from complying with the new rules, and the largest utilities are better able to distribute the cost of treatment plant upgrades among their many customers. Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is just big enough 15
This graphic is courtesy of Xylem
Connect with the American Water Works Association’s Only Tap Water Delivers Facebook page to learn more about investing in water infrastructure: www.facebook.com/OnlyTapWaterDelivers.
that it has to comply, and because of its topography, the district uses three wastewater treatment plants, each of which is subject to the new regulations. “We’re looking at a $90 million improvement in wastewater over the next 10 years,” Bultemeier says. “Those are not numbers we’ve ever used before. Our last improvements, when we totally improved the wastewater plants in the ‘90s, we spent $20 million.” Of course, even $20 million is a lot of money. The city of Longmont plans to spend $20 million to comply with the new nutrient regulations—that is in addition to $20 million in other upgrades the city had already planned to complete during the same time period. The upgrades will be funded through rate increases that will raise the average Longmont household’s monthly sewer bill from $22.08 in 2012 to $35.80 by 2018. Small commercial users and multi-family buildings will face higher bills. Initially, bonds and cash will cover the costs of the projects—repaid by rate-
payers over the next 20 years. Then there are federal regulations that serve to protect water quality, but can drive up costs. “As the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts continue to move forward in time and more stringent regulations spin off of those, we have to employ techniques and technologies which can be very costly to remain in compliance,” Vanderschuere says. “From an industry perspective, it’s going to be expensive.” Still, the national and state regulations on water quality serve a key purpose. By limiting contamination from both man-made and naturally-occurring substances, they ensure waterways remain vibrant and healthy, and protect humans from life-threatening illness— benefits that, if understood, most customers would likely be willing to pay to preserve. The American Water Works Association runs an “Only Tap Water Delivers” campaign to raise awareness about water utility service. “It plays on the fact that water is out of sight and out of mind. The advertisements bring
that water infrastructure above-ground and ask the customer, ‘If only our water infrastructure could talk to us, what might it say?’” Kail says. “I think it’s having an impact, but we’re talking about many decades of people paying under $3 for 1,000 gallons of water. When you think about what we pay for less essential things, it really is astounding.” The cost of water, for the utility and the customer, will only continue to climb, right along with the cost of electricity and infrastructure and the price of securing new water supplies in an increasingly competitive market. It is, after all, a scarce resource, and without substitute. And for that, people will simply have to pay. “I think this is a major change for water, how we provide the service,” Binney says. “The real water utility managers are social scientists, communicators, team leaders and strategists. We in the water industry need to do a better job of working with communities, having them understand what the value of water is.” q
Ann Te r r y S pe c ia l Dis t r i c t A sso c i a t i o n o f C o l o r a d o
Ann Terry is a familiar face at the state Capitol. There she represents special districts from around the state, helping legislators to understand their specific concerns. For the past three years, Terry has served as executive director of the Special District Association of Colorado, dividing her time between advocacy work, project management, and meetings or trainings with any number of the organization’s 1,355 member districts. Many of the special districts SDA represents have some tie to water and sanitation services, but they also provide a wide range of other functions, including fire protection, hospital and emergency care, parks and recreation, and library services. “The common tie is that these are local governments created for specific purposes,” says Terry. In all cases, citizens came together to tax themselves or charge usage fees in order to provide a needed service to the community. “It’s my ideal government,” says Terry. “Special districts are the closest form of government to the people. All are governed by a board of elected officials, so they answer to the people and property owners who they represent.” With a law degree and a background of serving as a lobbyist at the Capitol and in Colorado criminal justice, Terry took the helm at SDA in 2009. Her ability to understand complex issues and bring a new perspective to those issues made her a perfect fit for the position. Now, as part of SDA’s three-member advocacy team, Terry works
to both construct and shape public policy that affects member districts. In 2010, she worked to defeat measures 60, 61 and 101, which would have eliminated certain taxes special districts rely on. “They [the referendums and proposition] would have been harmful to all forms of local government,” says Terry. Currently, SDA is working with fire districts and the Colorado Division of Fire Safety on several bills related to wildfire issues. And, she says, “We are actively monitoring the new state nutrients requirements [for wastewater treatment] very closely. We are concerned with the unfunded mandate to districts to achieve compliance.” Terry believes her ability to interact with all kinds of people with diverse backgrounds has helped her bring a customer service approach to her job. “I love the idea that special districts affect Colorado in such a positive way, and that I have a chance to interact with not only SDA members, but with other local governments, as Colorado works toward a healthier economy,” she says. For member organizations, SDA’s annual conference features educational and training opportunities and assistance through its leadership academy, individual workshops, publications and board member trainings. In addition, districts can post their transparency notices on SDA’s website, where the public can access board member names and contact information, meeting dates, and mill levy information. At the Capitol, Terry takes every opportunity to share special district success stories. “For the public and state legislators to understand the successes, we need to highlight special districts and how they can be used to assist a community.” —Jayla Poppleton SDA will host its annual conference for members in Keystone in September 2013. Anyone interested in presenting hot topics in water is invited to apply beginning in February or March at www.sdaco.org.
Headwaters | Winter 2013
Beyond the Tap A mostly buried network of infrastructure calls for our attention
By Jerd Smith
New pipe awaits installation in Aurora (top). Bruce Chameroy (right) completes daily inspections at Erieâ€™s water treatment plant to ensure the automated system is running smoothly.
It is just after 8 a.m. on a bright fall morning in Erie. At the Lynn J. Morgan Water Treatment Plant, Evelyn Crocfer, a plant operator, and Bruce Chameroy, chief of operations, have been on the job for an hour. They work in a sunny, window-filled room that is part operations center and part gleaming laboratory. Dozens of water samples taken from different sites around the system sit on a counter. As a quality control measure, Crocfer checks the samples for various constituents first thing, carefully recording results as residents begin their day. Across the room, a large computer screen glows with diagrams of the water treatment plant and the delivery system. This supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system Kevin Moloney
gives a detailed, underground view of everything water-
related, from old town Erie out to its polished Vista Ridge neighborhood and golf course.
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Ninety-one percent of Coloradans get their domestic water from surface supplies such as reservoirs, lakes and rivers, while the other 9 percent rely on groundwater tapped by wells. Source: Colorado Division of Water Resources Headwaters | Winter 2013
Chameroy and Crocfer check the computer and know almost instantly how much water is being consumed throughout the system, and what the capacity is in various storage tanks and reservoirs. This morning, the plant is quiet. It has adequate treated water stored to meet the day’s forecasted demand of 1.5 million gallons. This is enough water for Erie residents to cook breakfast, shower and get their children off to school. By contrast, that number exceeds 7 million gallons on hot summer days when sprinkler systems kick into high gear, and the plant ramps up to run nearly at capacity. Chameroy and Crocfer are members of a full-time staff of seven responsible for ensuring that Erie’s rapidly growing population has enough water each day and that the precious liquid is safe to drink and tastes right. Their day starts with an inspection of this hypermodern water treatment plant, an automated facility that has sophisticated sensors, pressure gauges and filters that work around the clock so that Erie, population 20,000 and counting, can run its water system with a handful of people working 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. seven days a week, instead of the 24hour staffing older facilities require. Most water utilities use SCADA systems
now, but large utilities, such as Denver Water still staff their systems round-the-clock. No matter how they’re staffed, water utilities must work closely with police and fire departments and residents to ensure they can respond quickly if and when there is an emergency. Sophisticated alarm systems tell oncall operators if there’s been a sharp change in water pressure, for example, which may indicate a major water main break. Delivery systems are often supplied by vast collection systems that capture and transport mountain runoff. Erie, for instance, gets most of its water from the upper Colorado River west of the Continental Divide, through the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Erie’s water arrives each day, having originated as snowmelt on some of the tallest peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, via a 13-mile tunnel beneath the Continental Divide, many miles of additional tunnels, multiple reservoirs, and a 37-mile pipeline that comes down from Carter Lake. From there, the water is delivered into raw water storage and held for treatment. Roughly half of the water Front Range residents use comes from West Slope rivers. But dozens of communities, such as Castle Rock
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and Parker, rely on groundwater pumped from deep in the ground. Regardless of the water’s source, it all must be treated, and treatment methods vary depending on water quality and the utility’s age. A Growing Investment As Chameroy and Crocfer go about the quiet, vital work of delivering water, hundreds of other water professionals repeat the same rituals across the state. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, some 2,050 public water systems are in operation here, ensuring Coloradans have enough water to cook, clean, water lawns and manufacture everything from beer to shoes. Erie is one of the smaller systems in Colorado, and it is dwarfed by giant water delivery systems such as Denver Water. Once water reaches Erie, for instance, the town uses roughly 125 miles of pipeline to carry both raw and treated water for its 20,000 residents. Denver, at the opposite end of the scale, has about 3,000 miles of pipes for a system that serves 1.3 million people. Whether the system is large or small, every foot of pipe must be monitored, maintained, repaired and replaced. It’s a massive invest-
ment each utility must make every year, and the size of that investment is growing. Denver Water, like other utilities, keeps careful track of its infrastructure. Water main breaks are major problems for utilities because they usually require extensive excavation to access and repair, are highly visible, and often disrupt traffic. Industry guidelines indicate that there should be no more than 15 main breaks annually per 100 miles of pipe, and Denver aims even lower, for no more than 13. The utility uses an extensive set of matrices to determine—based on age, use and location—which mains are likely to break, then sets out to repair or replace them ahead of time. Nationwide, America’s aging water infrastructure is being eyed warily as governments study how best to replace old systems and make sure new water systems can meet the demands of a growing populace and ever-stricter water quality regulations. According to a new report by the American Water Works Association, “Buried No Longer,” U.S. communities must spend more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to replace old water systems and install enough new storage and delivery capacity to cover additional growth.
Denver Water’s system is more than 100 years old. According to Greg Fisher, manager of Denver Water’s demand planning and budget, the expected lifetime of a traditional piece of water pipe is 60 years. So Denver, more than a young utility such as Erie, has larger maintenance costs to deal with aging pipes. Denver Water will spend $100 million maintaining its system in 2013. That amount will rise dramatically, peaking at $150 million annually around 2016 when the utility begins construction on the proposed Gross Reservoir expansion and replacement of its Moffat Treatment Facility, which was built in 1922. Denver, like many utilities, will finance this work using the fees it collects from customers. Because of its size, Denver typically goes to the bond markets to issue its own bonds, using the proceeds to fund capital projects. It then pays off those bonds using money generated by water rates and fees. Smaller communities typically don’t have the ability to go to the bond markets for large sums of money. And that’s where agencies such as the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority come in. Each year, communities can borrow money from the authority to finance water delivery and treatment projects. In 2013,
the authority will have $40 million available for drinking water projects and about $74 million available for wastewater. The authority created its loan pool in 1989, issuing bonds and loaning out the proceeds to water utilities at low interest rates. This year the rate is about 2 percent. The authority also obtains grant money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2009, the authority received a one-time allotment of $56 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. So far, the authority has been able to provide loans to most of the communities that have requested them, but the need is increasing, says Keith McLaughlin, the authority’s assistant director of finance. According to McLaughlin, Colorado communities are projected to need roughly $8.2 billion over the next five years to repair and build drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. Some groups are advocating that Congress create a new finance authority to help fund infrastructure projects across the country. But many Colorado utility officials said they’re not interested in using federal money, in part because it comes with too many strings attached. “Our philosophy is that water should pay its own way,” says
Ted Ro t t in gh a u s Tri- C ou n t y Wa t e r C o n se r va n c y D i st r i c t
If you live outside city limits in Montrose, Ouray or Delta counties, you are likely getting water that has Ted Rottinghaus’ stamp of approval. As assistant manager in charge of operations for Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Rottinghaus is responsible for the quality of water the district supplies across a service area covering 336 square miles in the Uncompahgre Valley. Rottinghaus, who grew up on a farm outside Olathe, 10 miles north of Montrose, worked his way up over a 40-year period from his entry level position as a member of Tri-County’s operations and maintenance crew, a job he got straight out of high school. During that time, he served for 30 years as field superintendent, before moving into his current position last year. In addition to quality control, Rottinghaus also works on analysis and design for upgrades to the system. Though he spends more time in the office now, he still loves to work outside and tries to get out in the field most afternoons to check on his crews or attend to whatever else needs doing. That could include repairing water breaks, flushing the system to keep water from becoming stagnant, or monitoring residual chlorine from the treatment process to make sure levels are within limits. The district does not have its own water treatment plant, but receives treated water from the Project 7 Water Authority, which has a plant east of Montrose. Much has changed since Rottinghaus first came on at Tri-Coun-
ty in 1972. For one thing, the system had just been completed then, and served approximately 1,200 homes in mostly rural areas. Now, it serves 6,500 homes in rural areas and subdivisions. The technology, too, has changed. Work that once required onthe-ground monitoring and paper maps has been replaced by a computerized supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. Books and books of as-connected drawings are now collecting dust as field crews instead refer to laptop computers housed in every truck. “Now, it’s easier and faster,” says Rottinghaus, referring to the task of locating and monitoring buried parts in the system. “I was leery about giving up my paper map, but I finally did.” Most of Tri-County’s incoming personnel are hired as laborers, as Rottinghaus himself was. From there, they’re encouraged to take seminars and continue learning in order to advance to operators and supervisors. The crews must have a good working knowledge of the system they’re operating in order to keep the water flowing. They must also understand pumps and electrical systems and pressure-regulating valves. “There’s a 3,000-foot elevation difference from the low point to the high point in our system,” explains Rottinghaus. “Some of our system we have to pump, and the rest of it is gravity-fed. They have to know where all the pumps are at and which direction the water is supposed to be running. Most people don’t understand what it takes to maintain a pressurized system.” At the end of the day, Rottinghaus finds satisfaction in knowing he is part of providing an essential service to people. And, the occasional phone call he receives from a customer here or there thanking him and his colleagues for a job well done is a small token of recognition that hits home. —Jayla Poppleton
Headwaters | Winter 2013
Kevin Moloney Barton Glasser
Evelyn Crocfer is a water treatment plant operator for Erie, a small community that has implemented a modern, automated system.
Adam Turner oversees Project 7, a cooperative project implemented by a group of West Slope entities in the 1980s as an affordable route to clean water.
Steve Ryken, assistant general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction. “So when a new subdivision comes in, the infrastructure cost is paid for via tap fees.” Each time a new home is built, Ute Water charges a one-time fee of $6,500. Ute Water, which serves 80,000 people in the Grand Valley, is adding roughly 20 to 30 taps a month. That rate is much easier to maintain, in terms of adding new pipes and treatment capacity, than it was just four years ago, when 80 to 100 new taps were going in every month. “Slow, steady growth is healthier, because you can keep up with your infrastructure needs easier,” explains Ryken. Small utilities also find that banding together gives them much-needed political clout and financial muscle to maintain and expand their systems. In southwestern Colorado, several small communities and water districts linked up in 1980 to build a $14 million regional water treatment and distribution system. Cooperation proved the only way to get funding. The system, known as Project 7, serves 45,000 people in communities from Olathe to Montrose to Delta and beyond. By sharing overhead costs, the project ensures even the smallest community has a safe, reliable water supply that can meet increasingly stringent water quality rules. “We think we hit a home run with this,” says Project 7 director Adam Turner. Keeping Costs Down, Service High No one doubts the effort it will take to fund water infrastructure projects in coming years, but utilities are finding ways to reduce those costs using conservation and technology. Denver Water had planned to replace two aging 20-million-gallon treated water tanks and a pump substation. But because the utility is using less water due to improved operational efficiencies and customers’ water conservation efforts, it has scaled back its plans. By building two 10-million-gallon tanks instead, Denver Water expects to save as much as $15 million. It may be able to eliminate the pump station as well. Technology is also making water systems more efficient and less expensive to operate. Twenty years ago, water stored in open reservoirs often grew stale and cloudy as sunlight heated the top layers of the water and allowed algae to bloom. Traditionally, utilities would add chemicals to the water to control the algae. Now towns such as Erie use “Solar Bees,” devices that look like giant bumble-
bees. As their name implies, they’re solarpowered mixers that draw cool, high-quality water from the bottom of the storage reservoirs and pump it to the top, creating a mixing cycle that improves water purity, clarity and taste without using chemicals or electricity. Utilities are also improving their delivery systems to reduce water waste and loss due to evaporation. Erie is participating in a new pipeline project that will replace an open canal previously used for delivery. The new pipeline is expected to reduce evaporation losses by 10 percent. As any water operator will tell you, a good day is when nothing goes wrong and a bad day can happen quickly. Because their work touches the lives of everyone in their communities, water operations staffers rely on constant testing and observation to keep their systems safe and running smoothly. Small utilities such as Erie also rely on their neighbors. One day last summer, Chameroy saw a park maintenance crew spraying pesticide near one of Erie’s reservoirs. He knew immediately he would need to stop taking water from that storage facility. Thanks to an emergency connect that Erie maintains with the towns of Louisville and Lafayette, Chameroy was able to shut down the intake from Erie’s reservoir, open the emergency interconnect, and use water from the partner towns to continue delivering safe water to residents. Sampling quickly determined that the reservoir near the spraying operation had not been contaminated. Without the help of its neighbors, Erie would have had to shut off water to residents while it was analyzing the water. Back at the Lynn Morgan plant, Chameroy and Crocfer continue monitoring the pulse of their small, modern water facility, where big things are afoot. In 2013, Erie’s new recycled water plant will deliver its first water to the city’s parks and the golf course at Vista Ridge. The town’s homeowner associations will be given access to a stateof-the-art rain and moisture system, so that their sprinklers know when trees and grasses in common areas need water and when they don’t. By the end of the day, Chameroy and his team are ready to set the system on auto-pilot for the night. They check their gauges and monitoring systems one more time, make sure their alarms are set in case something needs their attention before morning, and lock their office doors, knowing the people who call Erie home will have all the water they need until the staff members return to their posts in the morning. q
Most utilities are responsible for their delivery systems up to the point where the customer’s service line taps into the utility-owned water main, where that responsibility is transferred to the customer. For troubleshooting advice related to in-home leaks, low water pressure or other problems, check your water provider’s website, which should be listed on your water bill. There you can also find a Consumer Confidence Report, letting you know how your utility’s water quality measures up. 22
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
The Art and Science of Pricing Water Rate setting is no simple task, but there’s a reason we pay what we do. By Chris Woodka
A water delivery wagon makes its rounds in Colorado Springs circa 1895.
Pueblo residents could purchase a 60-gallon barrel of Arkansas River water for 25 cents from the back of a wagon. Anything swimming or floating in it came as part of the deal. It might have seemed like a bargain for a cowboy looking to clean up before a night on the town or seeking a cool drink on a hot summer day. Today, both the treatment of Colorado’s water and the price structure are far more sophisticated. Just as there is a science to treating water to meet standards for health and safety, the pricing of water is closely studied. Water utilities across the state provide water that is much cleaner now, meeting standards that measure contaminants in parts per million, billion or trillion. And that 60-gallon barrel? Today, it would cost just 13 cents to fill from a Pueblo tap. The price of that same Arkansas River water varies as you travel up the road. In Colorado Springs, a growing city located farther from natural water sources, complicated systems transport water over long distances, affecting cost. Customers there would pay nearly twice as much as in Pueblo, given a minimum level of consumption,
and more than three times as much at the top of a tiered rate structure that increases the rate as more water is used. To the north, Aurora Water moves Arkansas River water over mountain ranges into its system in the South Platte Basin to use and reuse until the water is technically “used up.” The city charges customers who use lower amounts of water more than Colorado Springs does, but bills big users a little less. Why the differences? No Industry Rule of Thumb Every system is unique, and every utility has some sort of rate structure that takes into account the cost to buy water, treat it, pump it and maintain the infrastructure that delivers potable water to consumers’ taps. Going back to the Old West example, some of the water might spill from the barrel and there is more wear and tear on the wagon and horses as you haul it further up the road. The American Water Works Association provides guidelines for utilities in setting water rates, but more depends on the Headwaters | Winter 2013
boards that govern cities, utilities or water districts and the nature of water systems. A developed water system with few capital costs likely will be able to keep its rates on a steady plane, while growing communities have to develop strategies that avoid rate shock while paying the bills. Costs for water might depend on source of supply and whether the water comes from a system owned and maintained by the utility or purchased from another provider. If new, permanent water supplies must be acquired, the relative seniority and resulting dependability of the water rights also affects cost. In addition, some special districts rely more heavily on property taxes, particularly for capital improvements, which can offset the need for higher customer charges. But this diminishes flexibility—certain constitutional limits apply to property taxes but not service fees. Water bills may also include sewer and stormwater charges. Beyond those factors, a growing community might require new users to foot the bills. “In simple terms, you’ve built it before they come,” says Rick Giardina of Red Oak Consulting, which assists hundreds of wa23
At Aurora Water, Steve Hellman (left) manages the finances, while Greg Baker (right) manages public relations. Communicating the variables behind water rates is a joint effort.
ter utilities across the country with setting rates and other operational issues. Utilities build the cost of new service into one-time, up-front tap fees—virtually invisible charges included in the price of a new home or business. If those fees are set too low, existing customers could wind up footing a larger bill than necessary. Social considerations also come into play when structuring rates. Some utilities might subsidize a minimum level of consumption to keep the price affordable for those least able to pay. Such an “essential use allowance” is typically based on the amount of water an average household would use for indoor use only. Similarly, a utility could delegate a portion of its revenue toward a payment assistance program. A community might also use rates to attract large commercial users, charging them lower rates while asking residential customers to make up the difference; the benefit could be realized through economic development and an increase in the local tax base. The rate structure could also be used to promote other social goals such as lowimpact development or green infrastructure that conserves water, says Giardina. “In the work we do, the first question we’re asked is ‘How do we compare with others?’ But without peeling back the layers of the onion, there are so many variables.” Financial Realities Elected boards often want to keep prices affordable to keep customers happy, but at the same time use rates to encourage conservation. They must also strike the tricky balance between maintaining revenues to cover today’s costs, while at the same time planning ahead for capital improvements. The job takes leadership and political will— there can be pushback from customers for throttling up rates too quickly. 24
Old West advice: Avoid a lynch mob at all costs. Aurora faced criticism from some ratepayers for increases to pay for the $638 million Prairie Waters Project, which recycles effluent through a complicated well-field, pipeline and treatment system. Its rates jumped 12 percent from 2006 to 2008, and then by 7 to 8 percent in the next two years. The board of the Parker Water and Sanitation District narrowly escaped recall in 2009 when the costs of building the Reuter-Hess Reservoir hit home. And now the proposed $500 million Arkansas Valley Conduit has Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District representatives busy reminding officials in 40 communities of the decade-long planning process that has gone into trying to make the project a reality. Colorado Springs customers are now paying higher rates to cover the cost of the $986 million Southern Delivery System, currently being built. Beginning in 2011, Colorado Springs Utilities told customers to brace for six years of 12 percent annual increases in water rates before the new system is expected to come on-line in 2016. In 2013, the actual rate increase will be 10 percent, and smaller jumps are anticipated in 2014 and 2015. Even little changes can cause big ripples. In Center, a small community in the Rio Grande Basin, a proposal to install meters got residents’ attention last summer because it was feared rates would double. “Public utility governing bodies are torn between public resistance to rate increase and the financial realities of operating and maintaining the system,” says financial consultant Joe Drew. Utilities have about 80 percent fixed costs, while 80 to 90 percent of their operating revenue typically comes from customer charges. Yet they must maintain and replace parts in
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the water system. “In tough economic times, you can’t say that you can’t afford to improve your water system the same way you can’t afford to put a playground in the park,” says Giardina. “A community can say, ‘We’re willing to accept lower levels of services.’ But you can’t deliver half-clean water.” Strategic Rate Setting Nearly every community in Colorado uses water meters to track customers’ water use for monthly or quarterly billing. Some still charge a uniform rate for all customers, regardless of the amount of use. As populations grow, many water providers have implemented tiered rate structures that charge more per gallon as use increases. A few have taken the next step, creating a water budget that reflects a homeowner’s likely needs and past use of water. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is one utility that uses a one-size-fits-all water rate, which means customers pay the same price per 1,000 gallons whether they use 10,000 or 40,000 gallons per month. The reason Pueblo is able to do that is because it has acquired enough water to meet modest future growth needs and uses its excess supply to keep rates low. It also has some of the oldest water rights of any Front Range city, which insures its ability to use water from the Arkansas River that flows through town. Pueblo also strives for only moderate rate hikes by planning for capital improvements years in advance. “My personal philosophy is to use small, steady rate increases,” says Seth Clayton, finance division manager for the Pueblo water board. “You want to keep rates as low as you possibly can, because it provides flexibility for the future.” In the early 1980s, a time of national inflation and local water plant improvements, the Pueblo Board of Water Works upped its rates
The typical Colorado household uses 12,000 gallons of water per month, when averaged over the course of a year, and paid anywhere between $32 and $87 for that water in 2012. Source: Greeley Water
between 6 to 11 percent annually. Then, for nearly a decade there were few increases, but since 1995, the board has inched up its rates between 1.5 to 5 percent annually, but no more. Even during a $60 million supplyboosting acquisition of shares of the Bessemer Ditch in 2009, the board found other ways to soften rate increases. Pueblo routinely uses its water to create other revenue streams that offset the need for higher rates. The water board leases water to farmers, power companies and Aurora to provide between 20 percent and 25 percent of its revenue. During the drought of the last two years, the water board started increasing the price for leasing water both through competitive bids and short- or long-term contracts. After the drought of 2002, the increasing scarcity of Colorado water supplies hit home, and most cities and water districts along the Front Range adopted some sort of tiered rate structure to discourage wasteful water use. In Old West terms, the first barrel of water
well in terms of future rate increases. About 40 percent of the cost of Prairie Waters depends on new development—the tap fee for a single-family home is more than $40,000, compared to $4,000 in Pueblo. But the city can’t afford to put costs on the backs of existing customers should the growth be slow in coming. Aurora has not had rate increases in the past two years, and does not expect to ask for more than a 2 percent increase through 2015. Like Pueblo, Aurora uses sales of leased water to offset costs and avoid rate increases. “This year [a drought] was great for sales, and we’re using the money to pay off the extra debt,” says Hellman. Aurora Water may also sell water to its neighbors in the South Metro area through the Water Infrastructure Supply Efficiency (WISE) partnership. Colorado Springs, one of the first Colorado cities to implement meter reading, started its tiered system in the summer of 2003, during a drought where outdoor watering was restricted. The higher rates kick in at lower levels than under Aurora’s structure.
still might cost 25 cents to cover the basic costs of bringing clean water to the customer. Under a tiered rate structure, the second barrel, perhaps for a really thirsty cowboy, would cost 50 cents. If the cowboy hankered for a bath every night, the third barrel would cost a dollar. According to Stella Chan, financial planning manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, studies have shown that for every 10 percent increase in the price of water, residential users reduce consumption by between 1 percent and 7 percent. Some tiers are steeper than others, and in some cases have been set through trial and error. Aurora Water uses its rate structure—its second attempt at tiered rates— to reflect a higher cost during the summer lawn-watering season. After decades of acquiring new water sources and building Prairie Waters, Aurora now has some of the highest water rates on the Front Range. Still, Aurora Water’s chief financial officer Steve Hellman believes the city of more than 335,000 people has positioned itself
Colorado Residential Water Rate Comparison Source: Rate information on the respective utilities’ websites.
Block or Tiered Rate
Legend Uniform Rate
At 20,000 gallons per month, Denver Water customers paid $108.13 monthly in 2012. The second tier rate applied here is double that of the first tier to discourage wasteful outdoor watering.
Both Greeley and Pueblo have very old, reliable water rights to nearby streams that help them keep rates low whereas some utilities, including Aurora Water, must go to great lengths to both secure and transport water.
$8 $6 $4
Denver Eagle River Water and Sanitation District
Some utilities include a set volume of water with the monthly service charge. For Ute Water, customers can use 3,000 gallons before consumption rates kick in.
Ute Water 0
$ Rate per Thousand Gallons (2012)
Many utilities keep rates low for base levels of consumption. Colorado Springs’ second tier kicks in just after 7,500 gallons, when the utility assumes extravagant indoor water use or some degree of outdoor use.
0 per Pueblo has a uniform water rate; the charge 45,0001,000 gallons 50,000 is the 55,000 60,000 same no matter how much customers use. At 20,000 gallons, customers paid a monthly bill of $51.20 in 2012. Monthly Residential Water Use in Gallons
Residential water users typically pay a flat monthly service fee plus a consumption charge based on a water rate multiplied by the volume of water used. Water utilities structure that combination of charges differently, aiming to cover the myriad expenses associated with delivering clean water to customers’ homes and to achieve certain social goals, such as affordability or sustainability of the resource. Water rates vary widely across the state depending on factors such as the rate of growth, the complexity of the system, or the strength of the water rights portfolio. Headwaters | Winter 2013
“When we look at the average summer usage per residential customer in 2005—the last year that mandatory restrictions were in place—and the average between 2006 and 2011, the [per capita] usage hasn’t gone up,” says Chan. “So, one can conclude that the tiered rate structures and the price signal do encourage conservation.” Another conservation-minded pricing strategy, used in a few communities such as Boulder and Highlands Ranch, is to develop customized tiers based on each customer’s specific needs. These utilities create individual water budgets for each customer based on variables such as customer class, the number of people living in a household and a reasonable allotment for outdoor landscaping needs, plus past use on an account’s record. In Old West terms: “You used a barrel last week, so that’s all we’re bringing this week, partner. You want more? You’ll pay more.” Customers in Boulder who stay within their budget pay a lower base rate. But penalty
rates for exceeding that budget can reach 500 percent of the base rate. Again, the idea is to send a price signal that makes people think twice about the way they use water. In addition to billing through a water budget, the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch, provides detailed information to its customers about how much water outdoor landscaping actually requires. Water bills each month clearly state the water usage goal for each customer. For tiered rate structures or water budgets to be effective, customers must have the ability to track their use and make adjustments. Infrequent billing cycles, for example, limit customers’ ability to coursecorrect in their water use. Conservation Conundrum Pricing strategies that reduce customer water use can also lessen the need to develop new water supplies or fund additional water treatment. But, Giardina cautions that “con-
servation pricing can lead to a permanent decline in water use, and you have to ask, ‘How much lower can we go?’” The Alliance for Water Efficiency, in a paper presented at a 2012 national water rates summit in Racine, Wisconsin, outlined a dilemma facing water utilities nationwide. As people use less water through conservation and efficiency measures, they inadvertently drive up rates. Utilities end up selling less of their product, but still have to cover fixed costs. To make up for decreased sales, they must raise rates further. Customers are effectively penalized for their successes. “The biggest risk for the industry may be building tomorrow’s water supply infrastructure to meet yesterday’s water demand,” authors Janice Beecher and Thomas Chestnutt contend. For small utilities, the job of rate setting is simply a matter of keeping up. La Junta, an Eastern Plains city of 7,000, has embarked on several $1 million-plus projects since 1999, including a reverse osmosis
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Customers pay a flat to monthly service charge how r tte ma no receive water covers much they use. This h as suc ts cos administrative tomer cus and g din rea ter me s the service and constitute of a most reliable portion utility’s revenue.
Some utilities bill monthly; others bill bimonthly or quarterly. The shorter the billing cycle, the more opportunity customers have to react, adjusting their water usage to keep their bills lower.
are applied Consumption charges used at ter wa of me volu to the ed on bas s, res a customer add at the g din rea ter me ter the wa le. This is end of the billing cyc 1,000 per d ate cul cal lly typica total as se rea gallons and may inc water usage goes up.
Utility staff are available 24 hours a day to respond to emergencies, such as main line breaks, detected internally or reported by their customers. Go online to contact your utility at any hour of the day.
also treat Some water providers stewater, wa ’ ers tom their cus Denver while others such as arate sep a h wit ct Water contra provider. wastewater treatment pay sewer In Denver, customers the volume of to ing ord acc s rge cha y, which is water used indoors onl ir February the off ed bas d ate calcul watering is usage, when outdoor unlikely to occur.
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treatment plant, new supply, expansion of the system, two new water tanks and partnerships with nearby districts. “For a town our size, these have been huge projects,” says Joe Kelley, La Junta’s water superintendent. Just as for other water utilities across the state, La Junta must also adjust rates to keep up with increasingly stringent regulatory requirements. Rising energy costs—it takes a lot of power to pump water through a system—also drive up the need for revenue. The charge for 11,000 gallons in La Junta has gone up to $51.71 in 2013 from $43.30 in 2009, a 19 percent jump. The rates are likely to continue to rise in the future, as the community is one of 40 participating in the $500 million Arkansas Valley Conduit. The conduit will provide clean drinking water to communities feeling the pinch of tighter water quality standards. “I think people here are pretty comfortable with the conduit, and realize it is the most economical alternative at this point,” says Kelley. That comfort level might reflect a notion suggested by financial consultant Joe Drew: People in rural communities have a better understanding of where their water comes from. Kelley isn’t so sure. “Even in La Junta, most people think water comes out of a tap,” he muses. Better than from a barrel in the back of a wagon. q
Meter Reading Goes High Tech Utilities across the state are converting to radio technology for reading meters, improving accuracy and eliminating the back-breaking and potentially dangerous job of manually reading meters. Denver Water has converted all of its meters to a wireless system, says Don Logan, Denver Water meter shop foreman. Now, the utility can use drive-by readings for monthly billing. And, says Logan, “Some of our large metered customers have installed equipment specific to one manufacturer that provides a means for the customer to monitor their usage.” Aurora Water also installed wireless meters in a project that began in 1996. And, for $30 customers get a WaterSmart Reader they can stick on their refrigerator, which provides real-time information on water use. Customers are able to monitor their own With Aurora’s WaterSmart Reader, customers can view their water use use in creative ways, says Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s spokesin real-time and zone in on specific man. “We tell customers to zero it out before they go to bed. If household uses. just one gallon moves through there by morning, it could mean a leaky toilet flap,” Baker says. Some customers with large lawns or pools use the household meters to avoid crossing into higher rate tiers, for instance filling a pool until the meter reads 19,999 gallons to avoid hitting the 20,000-gallon bracket. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is in the middle of a 10-year project to convert all of its meters to wireless, and has installed relay stations on utility poles so meters can be read at a central location. Eventually, the information will be made available online to customers. More than half of Pueblo’s meters have been automated so far. Until the project is completed in 2017, the water board will continue spending about $900,000 annually to replace traditional meters with wireless signals. Fort Collins is also in the process of installing water and electric meters which will allow two-way digital communication between the meters and the utility. “The new meters will transfer electricity and water use information more quickly and efficiently to utility distribution and billing systems,” says Steve Catanach, Fort Collins Light and Power operations manager. “This means we can provide timelier customer service, including quicker service connection, early leak detection and better understanding of high electric or water usage.” —Chris Woodka
Bryc e Eme r s o n C lifton Wa t e r D i st r i c t
On any given day, Bryce Emerson can be found somewhere in the Clifton Water District’s 16.75-square-mile service area monitoring water meters. Emerson is Clifton’s only meter reader, responsible for reading more than 11,000 meters each month in an accurate and timely fashion. He completes his task, alone, in just half the time it used to take two people working together. That’s because Clifton Water, which serves the unincorporated communities of Clifton and Whitewater, is most of the way through a full conversion to automated meter reading technology. Of its 11,209 meters, which measure water use in both residential and commercial properties, it has only 1,438 left to go. Emerson spends much of his days performing drive-by readings in a van outfitted with an antenna. As he moves down the road, water use data automatically transmits from the meters he passes and downloads to a computer. Still, there are meters with faulty transmission signals, in addition to those not yet converted. Hopping out of his van, Emerson locates the meter “pit,” and uses a probe to obtain a “touch read” signal to a handheld computer—this is yesterday’s technology, already outdated. Long gone, it seems, are the days when meter readers had to regularly lift up the meter’s lid to visually take a reading. Though he’s only been at it since February 2011, Emerson has become Clifton’s resident meter expert. Not only is he respon-
sible for monthly readings and repairing broken meters, he must also perform quality control on the new system. Emerson methodically works through sampling groups— about 120 meters per month—to make sure the radio read matches the actual read at the meter pit. He also regularly conducts bench tests on individual meters, removing them and bringing them into the shop. “The bench test makes sure the meter is registering the right amount of flow through it,” explains Emerson. The Grand Junction native loves the nature of his work, especially working outdoors. He emphasizes good judgment, problem-solving skills, and the ability to work outside in all kinds of weather as prerequisites for the job. That, and accuracy, which is what meter reading is ultimately all about—ensuring people are billed correctly. “Installing the radio read meters allows us to provide better customer service,” says Emerson. “There’s less chance for human error. And the cost savings are being passed on to the customer.” —Jayla Poppleton
Headwaters | Winter 2013
Water Quality’s Front Line How water treatment makes our water safe to drink and protects waterways
By Dan Gordon
t night, you sleep, maybe getting up to go to the bathroom once or twice. In the morning, you take a shower, brush your teeth to the sound of running water from the tap and make coffee. This daily rhythm of life is unremarkable unless you’re in the water treatment business, where it is known as “diurnal flow.” At the J.D. Phillips wastewater treatment plant in north Colorado Springs, the amount of discharge coming into the plant on a weekday morning can rise 600 percent within a few hours, which is where “water management” comes into play, says the plant’s superintendant William Hoyt. Water management at the plant Hoyt oversees means choosing an appropriate number and size of detention tanks for incoming wastewater to go through firststage treatment. During the detention period, heavier solids settle to the bottom while oil, grease and lighter solids float to the surface. The number of tanks in use must be averaged to maintain treatment levels at both peak and off-peak hours. If the tanks fill too slowly, leaving some of the wastewater in the tank for a longer period, they can become putrefied or “septic.” To most of us, our public water systems— 28
drinking water, wastewater and stormwater—are out of sight and out of mind. What the systems do for Colorado cities and towns, however, is vital, and those systems require vigilance, knowledge and ingenuity to ensure domestic water is safe to drink and that wastewater and stormwater don’t pose a threat to the environment. Only in the past 100 to 150 years have scientists determined the importance of safe drinking water. For most of human history, cities have been spawning grounds for disease, dependent on migration from the outside to replenish their populations. In the United States, the introduction of water filtration and chlorination in major cities between 1900 and 1940 accounted for approximately a 15 percent decline in urban death rates, according to research published in the journal Demography. Before the introduction of filtration and chlorination, city residents died at rates 30 percent higher than rural residents. In the late 1800s, infant mortality was 140 percent higher in cities than in the countryside. Drinking Water Treatment In the 1970s, a rising public awareness of environmental issues, discovery of chemical and organic contamination in public drinking
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water, and the lack of enforceable, national standards led to the passage of several federal environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. That law, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its partners, is the cornerstone of modern drinking water treatment. The Safe Drinking Water Act gave the EPA authority to delegate the primary responsibility for enforcing drinking water regulations to states. Here, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) adopts, implements and enforces the standards set by the federal drinking water program. The state agency has further delegated enforcement of standards for private wells and campgrounds to county health departments. Drinking water treatment plants use a series of processes involving physical, chemical and biological changes to remove suspended material and turn raw water into drinking water. Chlorine is typically used as a disinfectant, added either before the water enters the treatment process or just before it moves into the distribution system. In some Colorado systems such as the city of Thornton, a burgeoning Denver suburb, state-of-the-art technologies are appearing to replace or augment steps in the proce-
Terry Walker, plant operator, checks on one of the clarifiers at Project 7 Water Authority’s treatment plant in Montrose County.
dure. At Thornton’s renovated Wes Brown Water Treatment Plant, ultra filtration (UF) membranes remove suspended solids in the source water, and ultraviolet (UV) disinfection technologies take the place of chlorine to remove pathogens. Pathogenic microbes are the contaminants of biggest concern for water treatment systems, according to Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney. These include bacteria, viruses, giardia and cryptosporidium, which can cause a range of acute sicknesses or even death from diseases like typhoid, cholera or giardiasis. State drinking water standards are the same for all localities, but each system faces its own set of challenges. As a headwaters state, many of Colorado’s drinking water providers are fortunate to draw water upstream from almost all other users. “Colorado has great source water,” says Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, headquartered in Vail. The Eagle River district derives its surface water from watersheds that feed the Eagle River and Gore Creek. But even high country watersheds like these may contain small amounts of impurities from human and natural sources. The Eagle Mine is an abandoned mine in
the EPA’s Superfund program—that cleans up hazardous waste sites—located about 10 miles upstream of the district’s water treatment facility in Avon. Although the remediation plan for the site includes its own wastewater treatment plant—which removes about 175 pounds of zinc daily—district technicians must still be vigilant for metals in the river downstream of the old mine. The community of Las Animas, on the lower Arkansas River in the southeastern quarter of the state, takes its drinking water from wells that tap the river’s alluvial aquifer. Folks there have complained about the region’s hard water since cowboys first dug wells in the canyon lands south of town. In 1997, after an engineering study determined the best way to remove minerals from the water supply was to use reverse osmosis (RO), Las Animas built an RO water filtration plant. The technology is much the same as that of a desalination plant: Pressurized water is pushed through a fine membrane, filtering out contaminants. In a desalination plant, the process yields a salty byproduct, brine. In Las Animas, the result is a “concentrate” of metals and salts that is sent to the city’s waste lagoon to settle before being processed in the wastewater plant. The water tastes much better and doesn’t Headwaters | Winter 2013
play havoc with visitors’ digestive systems, but the system was expensive and caused water rates to rise. Many residents could no longer afford to turn on outdoor spigots, leading to weeds replacing grass and gardens on almost every street. The new technology had another drawback: “After RO, we began having problems with water main breaks,” says plant operator Roy Davis. “A good clean course of water” was at fault, resulting in the collapse of century-old pipes that had previously been supported by mineral deposits that formed on the pipes’ insides. Not all water systems are able to make needed upgrades. For the South Swink Water District, which serves 610 customers in the Arkansas Valley from a 700-foot well, a radioactive contaminant, radium, presents problems that are seemingly insurmountable for an entity with so few customers and scant financial resources. To remove enough radium to meet EPA standards would be prohibitively expensive, according to Norman Noe, the district’s plant operator and secretary-treasurer. And once the radium is removed, there’s the problem of what to do with it. The South Swink district is “under enforcement,” Noe says, meaning customers 29
Matthew Staver Todd Fessenden is director of operations at Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in Vail.
get a notice each month with their bills “more or less” telling them not to drink the water. The district and similar small rural districts are frequently privately owned, nonprofit entities, making them ineligible for grants open to larger water systems. “The CDPHE hasn’t pushed us to install treatment, but we have our backs to the wall,” says Noe. The community’s best hope for a solution is the Arkansas Valley Conduit, Noe says. The pipeline, originally authorized 48 years ago by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, would bring water to 42 communities in the Arkansas Valley and could be completed in 10 years if all goes well. The Eagle River district has its own problems—and solutions—that stem from its high country location. With few dischargers upstream, the Eagle River district’s raw water is of high quality, says director of operations Todd Fessenden. However, during spring runoff, the river carries water that is difficult to treat because it contains a heavier dose of organic materials. Its low temperature also makes it resistant to traveling through filtration membranes, because water gets more viscous as it gets colder. Because the district is consolidated from many predecessor entities, it has, in addition to a variety of water rights, three sets of drinking and wastewater treatment plants, plus 18 groundwater wells. So, during the spring runoff, the district chooses to draw
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water from its wells instead. The groundwater can be cheaper to treat than surface water because it is “essentially already filtered,” Fessenden says. Additionally, demand for water in the district is low during the runoff in late spring, making reliance on the wells easier. Beyond that, the unique setup of three back-to-back-to-back sets of water and wastewater treatment plants permits the district, whose service area runs roughly from Vail to Cordillera—30 miles downriver—to do things other entities can’t. If the river is running low, the district can optimize its operations to enhance streamflows by pumping finished drinking water up-valley so it can be used, treated at an upstream wastewater treatment plant, and returned to the river as outflow upstream of where it was originally taken out. Reuse Systems As the state’s population grows—and it’s expected to nearly double by 2050—utilities are innovating in other ways. Recycling has become a major concern for water providers seeking to reduce the need for new water sources. One method for using water to the last drop is a “purple pipe” system. Purple pipes denote a water system that provides nonpotable water. Denver Water’s recycled water system, which is about halfway to build-out,
is the state’s largest. The system’s recycling plant takes effluent from a Metro Wastewater Reclamation District treatment facility and gives it additional treatment before it is pumped through 18 miles of purple pipe to customers, including Xcel Energy, the Denver Zoo, city parks and golf courses. Once the system is complete, it will offset enough drinking water to serve almost 45,000 homes—and save the unneeded cost of bringing water destined for irrigation or industrial use up to drinking water standards. The state has other purple pipe systems of note: In Colorado Springs, 26 miles of pipe carry nonpotable water—in this case, a combination of raw water and treated wastewater plant effluent—for industrial uses and irrigation. The Colorado Springs system was one of the first reclaimed water systems built in the western United States. In Boulder County, Superior’s reuse system features a combination of treated wastewater and raw water to irrigate 390 acres, including all com-
mercial and multi-family landscaping in the town, as well as parks, medians and some open space, according to Superior Utilities superintendent Dmitry Tepo. Northeast of Denver, a different type of project “recaptures” water to be turned into drinking water. Aurora Water’s Prairie Waters project retrieves wastewater effluent that has been treated and discharged into the South Platte River. Near Brighton, an amount of water equal to Aurora’s wastewater discharge is pumped from riverbank wells, piped to a man-made basin where it percolates through sand and gravel much as it would in a natural aquifer, and pumped back to Aurora to undergo state-of-the-art purification. The project increases Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent—about 3.3 billion gallons of water each year. Prairie Waters wouldn’t be possible if Aurora didn’t import much of its source water from other basins, most notably the Colorado River, but also the Arkansas. If all its wa-
Mart y Tif f a n y Me t ro Wa s t e w a t e r R e c l a m a t i o n D i st r i c t
Marty Tiffany is an environmentalist on the front line. At the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in Denver, where he is one of 22 operators staffing the Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility 24 hours a day, he is ultimately responsible for maintaining water quality in the South Platte River. That’s where the treated wastewater Metro collects via 236 miles of buried interceptor pipes is discharged—after being screened, settled, de-gritted, aer-
ated and disinfected. Metro is a wholesale provider of wastewater treatment, presently contracted by 59 local governments, stretching from Golden out to Denver International Airport, to process water that has been used by 1.7 million people to clean dishes, bathe bodies and flush toilets. Ninety-five percent of the wastewater Metro processes is residential; the rest is commercial and industrial. Tiffany didn’t set out to work in wastewater treatment. But 25 years ago, after a stint at a now-decommissioned Denver primary treatment plant, he started at Metro and has been there ever since. His science-based background—he has a biology degree—made the job, which includes elements of chemistry, biology and physics, a good fit. Tiffany recognizes that for new operators, “the biggest challenge is learning to be cross-trained in every area.” To enter the field, he recommends a good mechanical aptitude, inquisitive nature about how things work, and desire to do something good for the environment. Over the past three decades, Tiffany has seen water treatment progress from simple screening of trash plus primary treatment, in which solids are settled out and removed, to highly technical secondary treatment and soon-to-be-implemented tertiary treatment. Anymore, there are very few wastewater treatment facilities in this 31
ter were native to Aurora’s watershed, the city could only legally use it one time before sending it downstream to other water rights holders. Having purchased water rights from other basins, Aurora is allowed to use 95 percent of its water “to extinction.” “In a perfect system, you could get almost 2 gallons per every gallon. Now we get 1.6 gallons per every gallon,” says Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations. The cost of treating water can vary dramatically, depending on the system. Denver, which relies on mountain watersheds, pays about 18 cents per 1,000 gallons to treat water, while Las Animas, with its RO system, has costs of between 80 cents and $1 per 1,000 gallons for treatment. In Aurora, Baker says the cost of drinking water is too variable and his department doesn’t have a number for it. “[In] wet years like 2009, our treatment costs were low, since we didn’t have to use as many chemicals and pump as much water around
country—none in Colorado—that can get by with primary treatment alone, and only then with a big dilution factor, says Tiffany. Tertiary treatment will be added at the current Hite facility, as well as Metro’s new North Plant which will be under construction soon in Brighton, in order to comply with new state regulations requiring removal of nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater. “In the West, where water is gold, you have to get to a much higher standard,” says Tiffany. To do that, Tiffany and Metro’s other operators must maintain the right mix of air, oxygen, micro-organisms, wastewater and time in the aeration basins that constitute secondary treatment. Much of this is done by instrumentation. Still, says Tiffany, “You have to know what the instruments are telling you.” Operators also use manual probes to verify that the instrumentation is accurate. Tiffany spends his days moving from the control room, where screens show what is happening at 20,000 data points across the plant and throughout the collection system, out through the 170acre plant site. He could be weighing in chemical deliveries, sampling the treated outfall entering the South Platte to ensure compliance with regulations, or monitoring and adjusting the level of oxygen in the aeration basins or chlorine in the disinfection holding area. Operators must also separate and treat biosolids through heat and disinfection. That process yields methane gas, which is captured and re-purposed to provide 40 percent of the plant’s electricity, as well as 80 tons of fertilizer marketed as “MetroGro” per day. As Tiffany works to keep the system running smoothly, the payoff is evident. The South Platte wouldn’t have become the vibrant waterway it is now if it weren’t for Metro—its effluent makes up 85 percent of the river during the winter months. Considered a dead river in the 1970s, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife now characterizes the South Platte as one of the best warmwater fisheries in the state. That’s a source of pride for Tiffany: “The best part at the end of the day is feeling you’ve done something good for the environment, and that you’re protecting public health.” —Jayla Poppleton
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Follow Your Flush SCREENING 1BAR
What happens after you take a shower or flush the toilet? Here, we follow the path of wastewater as it flows through a typical course of treatment. All wastewater is eventually reclaimed, either to provide for nonpotable water uses or to be returned to the stream.
& SEDIMENTATION TANKS 3AERATION 4 FILTRATION
Solids removed during the treatment process can be further treated and safely used for other applications, such as fertilizer.
5 DISINFECTION CHLORINE OR UV
Clean water is returned to the lake, river or stream. 1 Preliminary Treatment: Screens remove larger debris such as sticks or trash as it enters the wastewater treatment plant, and the grit chamber slows water down long enough for sand and gravel to drop to the bottom. 2 Primary Treatment: Also called clarifiers, these large basins hold water for several hours, allowing suspended solids to sink and be pumped out, while grease and oils can be skimmed off the top. 3 Secondary Treatment: A combination of aeration and agitation facilitates microorganisms in coverting dissolved solids into suspended solids, which can then be settled out as in step 2. 4 Tertiary Treatment: Additional processes must be employed to remove nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. In addition, granular filters, such as sand or gravel, or membrane filters can be used to achieve an even higher level of suspended solids removal than is possible in primary and secondary treatment. 5 Disinfection: Chlorine or ultraviolet light is used to remove any remaining pathogenic bacteria in order to protect public health.
our system,” he says. “Fast forward to 2012 and our costs will be much higher. Higher use of Prairie Water exacerbates this—it’s a more energy-intensive system than is our mountain water system.” Wastewater Treatment If the thought of drinking water from a source that is downstream from another system’s wastewater effluent bothers you, consider this: There is no new water in the world. The Earth got its one and only delivery of water 4.4 billion years ago. There is disagreement about how that came to be, but no water is being created or destroyed, only recycled through the eons. Your next glass of water may contain molecules of water that were in the pee of a Columbian mammoth that roamed the Front Range during the Pleistocene Era. Fortunately, Colorado’s public wastewater systems, which collect wastewater from 32
homes and industries, provide an effective layer of treatment between dirty water and the stream—and downstream water users. These systems also owe their genesis to heightened environmental awareness in the late 1960s and 1970s. Passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act was established to eliminate releases of high amounts of toxic substances into rivers and lakes and ensure that water would meet standards necessary for human recreation as well as aquatic life. Wastewater systems must receive a permit—granted by CDPHE following EPA rules—to build and operate plants. A wastewater plant has a variety of tanks of different shapes and sizes, as well as rectangular aeration basins. Solid waste is separated from the water and becomes treated biosolids, suitable for use in landscaping and agriculture. A combination of aeration, gunkeating microorganisms, gravity and a variety of chemicals is used to cleanse the waste-
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water so it is safe to return to a waterway. Wastewater treatment standards for some contaminants can be harder to achieve than drinking water standards because they take into account the uses of a waterway where outflow is discharged. The bar is set high for Eagle River’s wastewater plants because of the aquatic life in the river—it turns out fish are more sensitive to some contaminants than humans. Across the state, localized standards for discharges are set in consideration of downstream recreational, agricultural or environmental uses. Back at the J.D. Phillips plant in Colorado Springs, UV light replaces the addition of the disinfectant chlorine for a final cleansing. The UV system, rare for a wastewater plant, “just uses light, so there are no chemical byproducts,” plant superintendent Hoyt says. “[The UV light] alters the DNA of the bugs so they can’t reproduce,” he explains. “What makes people sick isn’t the bacteria in the water, but
Josh Duncan The Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority used a unique drop structure to prevent the banks of Cottonwood Creek in Arapahoe County from eroding after storm events. Excessive bank erosion can negatively impact riparian vegetation and aquatic life as well as nearby human activities. Stormwater management also aims to minimize pollutants in runoff entering streams from adjacent land surfaces.
the growth of bacteria later.” What really makes the plant unusual, Hoyt says, is its use of recycled whey to add carbon to the treatment process. Because the plant largely processes wastewater from homes rather than industry, it took in too little of the carbon needed to feed the “bugs”— a water-treatment professional’s term for pathogen-munching microorganisms—that do the work of removing nitrates in one of the plant’s cleansing processes. Additional chemical inputs had to be purchased to compensate for the lower carbon levels until a local dairy approached the utility to determine how it could reduce its cost for discharging whey, a byproduct of making cottage cheese, into the wastewater stream. Industries are often required to pretreat wastewater to remove contaminants specific to their processes before putting it into a utility’s collection pipes. Whey, it turns out, is a good source of carbon. Soon, the plant
was taking delivery of whey from the dairy. “Here’s the innovative part,” Hoyt says. “We discovered fermented whey works even better.” Whey had been left in a tank long enough to ferment, and when it was used, its heightened powers were noticed. Total savings on reduced chemical inputs in the first year of whey usage: $80,000. Other wastewater systems have also found ways to achieve savings. Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which serves about 1.7 million people in a service area that includes Denver, Arvada, Aurora, Brighton, Lakewood, Thornton, and Westminster, uses methane produced during biosolids treatment to fuel its plant, freeing up enough electricity to power almost 5,000 homes. The potential here is significant: Three percent of electricity generated in the United States is currently used to power water treatment facilities. According to Barbara Biggs, Metro’s governmental af-
fairs officer, the single largest demand for energy in wastewater treatment comes from the blowers that force air into the secondary treatment process. Stormwater Regulation The third segment of the public water system triad, stormwater, had to wait until the late 1980s for a federal makeover. Research during the late 1970s and 1980s indicated that stormwater runoff from industrial sources, municipal storm drains and construction sites significantly degraded water quality. Passed in 1987, the Water Quality Act requires industrial plants, municipal separate storm sewer systems—often called “MS4s”—and construction sites to obtain permits to discharge stormwater. In EPA parlance, those discharges come from “point sources”—specific outlets such as pipes, ditches and concentrated animal feeding operations.
Some contaminants in personal care products, known as endocrine disruptors, are not regulated or treated for in water supplies. Read labels and be aware of what’s in your cabinet that could be entering the wastewater stream. You can choose to use alternative products, use less of a given product, and properly dispose of unused products in order to help protect water quality. Visit the Consortium for Research and Education on Emerging Contaminants to learn more: www.creec.net.
Headwaters | Winter 2013
Stormwater pollution also comes from “nonpoint sources,” including excess fertilizers on lawns, motor oil and other toxic chemicals lingering on paved surfaces, and bacteria and nutrients from livestock and pet wastes. Nonpoint-source pollution is carried by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up natural and man-made pollutants that then flow into waterways. Urbanization has exacerbated the issue because runoff moves at a faster rate over impermeable surfaces, such as parking lots, and can’t be absorbed by the soil for return to waterways as groundwater recharge. Fast-moving water from storm events can also cause waterways’ banks to erode. Several measures are used to slow the water’s unseemly rush to rivers and lakes, including retention basins and wetlands, as well as screens to block trash. If you’ve ever been to a big-box store with an improbable pond in a corner of the parking lot, it is probably a retention basin—likely dry most of the time, with a drain from the parking lot to channel stormwater. The basin allows water to be absorbed into the ground or evaporate. In Colorado, as in most states, stormwater is managed but not treated before it is discharged into waterways. “People don’t realize that if they over-fertilize, don’t pick up dog doo-doo, it ends up in the river,”
says Kristen Winn, Grand Junction’s public information coordinator and spokeswoman for the region’s 5-2-1 Drainage Authority, which handles stormwater for the entities of Grand Junction, Mesa County, Fruita, Palisade and the Grand Valley Drainage District. Jeff Besse, stormwater specialist for the city of Colorado Springs, spends much of his time educating residents, education being one of the key directives given to MS4s by the EPA. Besse says the effort “focuses primarily on K-8 students, trying to get them to understand early on.” Beyond targeting behavioral change, Colorado Springs relies on citizens to help identify illicit discharges, Besse says. Potential sources of pollution include carpet cleaning services, spray washing, landscaping industries, and cooking grease from restaurants. So what does the future of water treatment hold? What’s certain is that the technology of water purification won’t stand still and that standards and permitting processes will continue to evolve. As technology advances and our understanding of the impacts of chemical and biological agents on human and aquatic health grows, so do our expectations. As Aurora Water’s Baker reminds us, “Agencies are now concerned about contaminants measured in parts per trillion.” Although the EPA has a list of 90 contaminants that must be controlled, it is required
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to periodically post a Contaminant Candidate List and then determine whether five or more of the candidates should be regulated. The agency is now calling for nominations for its fourth list, and there should be no dearth of candidates. As advanced as our regulations and water treatment capabilities have become, there remains a personal level of responsibility in keeping contaminants out of streams and water supplies. “Prescription medication, ingredients in personal care products, some of that stuff we are never going to be able to take out. Triclosan used in antibacterial hand soap, for example, is incredibly resistant to treatment and unnecessary,” says Biggs. “Residents need to be aware.” Whether it’s picking up after a pet to prevent stormwater pollution, locating the dishwasher detergent on the shelf that doesn’t contain phosphorous, disposing of medications properly, or buying the hand soap sans triclosan, we all have a role to play in keeping our water clean. q Learn how to prevent stormwater pollution by connecting with Keep It Clean, a partnership between a half-dozen northern Front Range communities. Consider labeling storm drains to alert people to their connection to rivers, form a StreamTeam to clean up a local creek, or find and share ideas for keeping stormwater clean: www.keepitcleanpartnership.org.
The Colorado Foundation for Water Education would like to express its sincere gratitude to all those who have expressed their passion for our most precious of resources, and whose donations between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012 (fiscal year 2012) have made the work of the Foundation possible.
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DeWolfe • Deere & Ault Consultants, Inc. • Gary Dickerman • Kelly DiNatale • DiNatale Water Consultants • Sarah Dominick • East Grand Water Quality Board • Rodney Eisenbraun • Lewis Entz • ERO Resources Corp. • Megan Estep • Randy Fischer • Thomas Flanagan, Jr. • Forsgren Associates, Inc. • Jennifer Fuller • Subhrendu Gangopadhyay • Marilyn Gary • Geo-Smith Engineering, LLC • Trevor Giles • Margaret Hagenbuch • David Hallford • Hillary Hamann • Wendy Hanophy • Benjamin Harding • Paul Harms • Raymond Harriman • Christine Hartman • Catherine Hayes • Alan Heath • Sue Helm • Callie Hendrickson • Carla Hendrickson • William Hendrickson • Marilyn Hennessy • Mark & Sara Hermundstad • Margaret Herzog • Kyle Hill • John Holdren • Constance Holland • Hannah Holm • Christine Honnen • Barbara Horn • The Hudson Gardens • Terry Huffington • Emily Hunt • Holly Huyck • Nancy Jackson • Robert Jackson • Erin Jerant • Lynn and Joan Johnson • Dawson Jordan • Julie Kallenberger • Keep It Clean Partnership • Russell Kemp • Greg Kernohan • Mike Kiley • Steven Koeckeritz • Betty Konarski • Chris Kraft • Krage Manufacturing, LLC • Krassa and Miller, LLC • Bruce Kroeker • Rod Kuharich • Stephen LaBonde • Lambert Realty • Paul Lander • Katie Leone • Richard Lichtenheld • Joan Lippis • Patricia Locke • Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District • James Luey • Kent Mace • Joe Mahoney • Laura Makar • Steve Malers • Mary Marchun • Zach Margolis • Timothy Martin • Martin and Wood Water Consultants • Donald Martinusen • Murray McCaig • Bryan McCarty • McCarty Land and Water Valuation • John McCutchan • Charles McKay • Bill McKee • Julie McKenna • Patricia Meakins • Mike Mechau • Matt Metcalf • Jim Miller • Minion Hydrologic • Joy Minke • Erin Minks • Harold Miskel • Larry Morgan • Andrew Mueller • David Nelson • Patricia Nichols • Peter Nichols • John Norton • NWCCOG • Stevan O Brian • Dick Parachini • Lindsey Parlin • Jennifer Patterson • William & Donna Patterson • James Patton • Jack Perrin • Drew Peternell • Stan Peters • Pikes Peak Library • Jim Pokrandt • Jayla Poppleton • Rodney Preisser • John Redifer • Chris Reichard • David Reinertsen • Mel Rettig • Rachel Richards • Steve Rogers • Curry Rosato • Kathy Rosenkrans • Ray Ryan • George Saum • Carla Schnitker • Gail Schwartz • Don Schwindt • Security Title Guaranty Co. • Stephen Seltzer • Karla Shriver • George Sibley • Lisa Sigler • Kevin Sjursen • Del Smith • States West Water • Jon Stavney • Faith Sternlieb • Gordon Stonington • Bill Swan • Jim Taylor • Sarah Thorston • Paul Tigan • Andrew Todd • Town of Breckenridge—Water Division • Town of Firestone • Town of Windsor • Bill Trampe • Tri-County Water Conservancy District • Carl Trick • TST Infrastructure, LLC • Meghan Trubee • Paul van der Heijde • Wayne Vanderschuere • Hayes Veeneman • Tom Verquer • Richard Vidmar • Volition Strategies • Marc Waage • Wangnild Real Estate Co. • Russell Waring • Tom Waymire • Robert Weaver • Michael Welsh • Western State Colorado University: Colorado Water Workshop • Richard White • Robert Wigington • Jody Williams • Geoff Withers • Lois Witte • Fred Wolf • Connie Woodhouse • Edith Zagona • Patti Zink Headwaters | Winter 2013
Looking for ways to save water inside the home? Replacing older, inefficient bathroom fixtures with WaterSense-labeled products is easy and affordable for most homeowners. You can spend as little as $200 to get started, and within a few hours you’ll have an upgraded bathroom that saves both water and energy. It’s a win-win! —Frank Kinder
Plan to replace a full bath’s products—showerhead, toilet and faucet—with WaterSense models. Before shopping, take photos and measurements of existing models so staff can help you find new models that fit. At your plumbing supplier, look for the WaterSense symbol on products. Most manufacturers offer coordinating fixtures so you can complete a look for your bathroom. Read packaging instructions to identify needed tools and supplies. Beginners might look for “complete” toilets, which come with riser bolts, toilet seats, wax rings and water supply lines, to avoid additional trips to the store. For showerheads, be sure to have PTFE or “thread tape” to make it leak-free.
empty the water. Carefully remove the old toilet, setting it on towels or newspapers. Follow installation directions to be sure the wax ring is seated and sealed, and that no water leaks when you turn on the valve. Wow, a new toilet! Marvel at your work.
>4< Finally, replacing your faucet will be slightly more complicated. Ensure all parts are present, and that you understand the steps for installation. Make sure the water is off! Before removing the old faucet, confirm your new model will fit. Place towels on the floor and along the cabinet edge to protect your back. Carefully remove the old faucet, clean off the countertop, and install the new one. Check and fix any leaks, and clean up. Bravo!
Similar to Energy Star, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense label launched in 2006 to help consumers identify highefficiency, engineer-tested products that save. WaterSense-labeled toilets, showerheads and faucets are at least 20 percent more efficient than standard models and are guaranteed to work. Depending upon the age, toilets can use 15 to 25 percent of water in the home, while showers and faucets use another 9 percent each. Updating all three may save significantly. For a family of four, the range of water savings for this retrofit is about 500 to 2,000 gallons per month. The older and less efficient your current fixtures, the better the payoff will be. All major brands and suppliers offer WaterSense products, which are available in a range of prices, finishes and models. Many utilities also provide rebates for WaterSense products; check with your local utility for options. Let’s get started!
>2< First rule in plumbing: Shut the water off, and make sure it’s off! Master shut-off valves are usually located in the utility room near a water heater, or in a basement near other utility items. To gain confidence, start with the showerhead. Unscrew the old one, being careful not to mar the surface of the shower arm. Ensure the threads are clean. Next, apply new tape, and attach the showerhead per directions. Check for leaks. Voila!
>3< For toilets, you’ll have to assemble the tank and bowl and possibly other parts; these can be heavy, so you might need a hand. Again, be sure the water is off! Now flush to
You now have an updated, efficient bathroom that looks great, works great, and saves you money. Now recycle the old products (check with your local utility or recycling program), share your story with others, and continue the conservation in other areas of your home. Congratulations on your WaterSense Weekend! Frank Kinder is a senior water conservation specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities. Recent successes include assisting with the first WaterSense-labeled home in Colorado. Colorado Springs Utilities was also recently awarded the 2012 EPA WaterSense Promotional Partner of the Year award.
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Colorado Foundation for Water Educationâ€™s Headwaters magazine is made possible by the generous support of sponsors and advertisers. We would like to extend our appreciation and thanks to the following organizations for contributing financially to this issue of Headwaters: Publication of the
Board of Water Works of Pueblo, Colorado
Headwaters | Winter 2013
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Conser vation works. Snow dances don’t.
Do your part to save water. Along with your help, the League of Water Savers is working hard to make up for what Mother Nature didn’t provide. See what you can do to help conserve water at ThorntonWater.com and find us on Facebook. © Worldways, Inc.
We rely on utilities to provide reliable water and protect human health, but how often do we think about them? Learn about the water infrast...
Published on Nov 20, 2013
We rely on utilities to provide reliable water and protect human health, but how often do we think about them? Learn about the water infrast...