Water we planning, Manning?

The Broncos are the talk of the town, but the next wave of water issues takes center stage in Denver this week.

January 28, 2016 | By: Jimmy Luthye
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Peyton Manning is the king of preparation. Colorado is following his lead when it comes to our water future. Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr Creative Commons.

If you’re a Broncos fan (*Internet high five*), you know that many refer to Peyton Manning by three simple letters that enthusiastically underscore the quarterback’s greatness: PFM.

What has made Peyton one of the best for so long? It all comes down to preparation. That’s why I’d like to propose a more family-friendly moniker — PPM — for good ol’ Peyton “Planning” Manning.

Planning is a big deal in the water game, too. That’s why the top water professionals from around Colorado gather every year in the Mile High City to tackle the daunting water challenges facing our state.

The Colorado Water Congress is holding its 2016 Annual Convention through Friday, at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. And it should come as no surprise that this year’s agenda dives into all things Colorado Water Plan and what comes next.

Assuming you won’t make it to the conference, here’s our quick guide to this year’s major topics, which are sure to make water news for years to come.

  1. First things first: The plan

Success starts with a good plan, and after several years of work and effort, we have a good, though not perfect, water plan.

Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead, front row center, stands with past winners of the Aspinall Award.
From the Colorado Water Congress’ 2014 Annual Convention: Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead, front row center, stands with past winners of the Aspinall Award after being named 2014 Water Leader of the Year.

The plan is our best chance of achieving a sustainable water future. But plans must be followed by actions, and as Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead said recently, the plan “falls short in outlining who is responsible for taking specific actions.”

What does that mean? Basically, the onus falls on all Coloradans to lead the way, for the betterment of our state and our future.

“If we fall back into our long-standing pitfalls of infighting and promoting self-interests, creating this plan will have been a colossal waste of time,” Lochhead said.

Let’s hope the Water Congress finds some solid solutions on how we can avoid that kind of an outcome.

  1. Conservation reigns and recycled water is here to stay

    Purple, which has become the international symbol for recycled water, is used on valve boxes, manhole covers, newer sprinkler heads and even the pipes inside our Recycling Plant.
    Purple is the symbol for recycled water. Our Recycling Plant produces an average of 2 billion gallons of recycled water each year.

R-E-C-Y-C-L-E recyclllleeee. C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E conserrrrve.

Channeling Rocko’s Modern Life (you’re welcome, children of the ’90s), conservation and municipal reuse are huge pieces of the Colorado Water Plan, and major topics at this year’s annual convention. They’ve also been, and will continue to be, pillars of Denver Water’s planning efforts for years.

On the conservation side, our customers have done an incredible job by meeting our 10-year goal of reducing use by 22 percent in the last few years. Our job is to make sure those savings are permanent.

Meanwhile, Denver Water produces an average of 2 billion gallons of recycled water each year. Recycled water starts as wastewater that is highly treated and then used for industrial and irrigation purposes throughout our service area. It reduces the need to use potable (drinking) water for those purposes. Recycled water is not going away, and with a sustainable water future at stake, that’s a very good thing.

  1. No more climate debate — time to deal with wacky weather

Climate change is sure to be another hot topic at the Water Congress. The experts will be talking about climate change policy in Colorado, the nation and internationally, and how those policies all connect. What they won’t be debating is whether climate change is real.

Changing weather patterns and a more volatile climate have enormous implications on everything we do at Denver Water, and a direct effect on our customers.

A recent study found that, in general, climate change might impact the water we receive from mountain snowpack, as warmer temperatures limit how long snowpack lasts into the summer months. And that’s just one of the many unknowns.

Our dry years are becoming drier, our wet years are becoming wetter, and either way, it’s becoming tougher to predict. These are the facts we have to deal with as we work to maintain our system, our infrastructure, and make sure we keep clean, safe drinking water flowing to our customers.

  1. Scaling the legislative “Great Divide”

Water rights, West Slope water issues and land-use planning are also some of the major topics this year.

Great Divide at DU
“The Great Divide” premiered Aug. 6, 2015. Photo credit: Havey Productions.

Regardless of your level of expertise about these critical, yet highly complex issues, Havey Productions’ “The Great Divide” is an absolute must-watch. It really does a masterful job balancing different sides of a very complex subject, telling a comprehensive story about Colorado’s water past, present and future. It sets the framework for the legal discussions coming in the near future.

Haven’t seen it? You can request a screening. And after you watch, compare Denver Water employee reactions with your own.

 

  1. Where will we put the water?

We can’t make more water, so we have to keep looking for new ways to store it. The state water plan calls for an additional 400,000 acre-feet of water storage by 2050.

Denver Water is looking at creative solutions to long-standing water supply challenges. Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), for example, may be part of Denver Water’s all-in approach to prepare for the future.

Bob Peters, water resources engineer at Denver Water, has spent the last two years planning the ASR test.
Bob Peters, water resources engineer at Denver Water, leads our ASR testing efforts.

The process involves pumping treated water underground into aquifers during wet years and pumping it back up to the surface in times of drought. It’s one part of our long-term planning that will help guide our water decisions over the next 40 years.

And we can’t define our future by keeping with the status quo. Peyton Manning is going to the Hall of Fame when his career is over, not because he played it safe, but because he prepared and took calculated risks. He wasn’t afraid, and neither are we.

“In order to meet the challenges of the future we will need to take some risks,” said Lochhead. “We will never risk the health and safety of our customers, but to meet changing climate conditions, create greater market flexibility and explore new policies, we shouldn’t be afraid to take some risks and even to make mistakes.”

OK, you can go back to thinking about Super Bowl 50 now. Go Broncos!

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