Hidden below the street in a 10-foot trench, surrounded by the whirring, clanking and beeping of an excavator, is an operation that looks like a typical road construction project. But this project in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood is different, it’s aimed at protecting Colorado’s most important resource by recycling water.
Recycled water is critical to Colorado’s future, according to the Colorado Water Plan — a first-ever comprehensive strategy to balance Colorado’s growing population with the state’s limited supply of water.
The source of recycled water is the water from faucets, showers and toilets inside homes and businesses. From the drain, the water is purified and given a second life at Metro Wastewater’s Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility and then again at Denver Water’s Recycling Plant.
“It’s all about using the right water for the right use,” said Russ Plakke, Recycling Plant supervisor. “Recycled water isn’t treated to drinking water standards, but we have other uses within our community that we can use it for.”
The recycled water flows through purple-colored pipes to more than 80 locations in Denver and Adams County for irrigation and industrial uses. The Stapleton project will connect businesses and a new school with recycled water for irrigation. Purple pipes are used so recycled water is not confused with the drinking water system.
Currently, nine Denver schools, 34 Denver parks, five golf courses, the Denver Zoo, HOAs and commercial property owners use recycled water to keep their landscapes healthy. It’s also used to heat and cool the Museum of Nature and Science and run the cooling towers at Xcel Energy’s Cherokee Generating Station in Adams County.
“We live in a semi-arid climate, and there’s only so much water available to us,” said Brenley McKenna, Denver Water Reusable Water Program manager. “That’s why we built our Recycling Plant. It helps us stretch every drop we have.”
Colorado’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050 and water providers will have to prepare to meet the future demands of their customers. Meeting these needs in a sustainable approach is one of the reasons Denver Water has made recycling water a priority.
Planning to meet future water needs isn’t just about preparing for a growing population. Planners must also consider the impacts of climate change, swings in the economy, changes in government regulations and other factors.
“Our job is to prepare for whatever happens and make sure we have an adequate and reliable supply of water for our customers,” McKenna said. “In 2015, our customers used nearly 2 billion gallons of recycled water. Reuse helps keep more water in our reservoirs and reduces the stress on mountain streams where our drinking water comes from.”
Using recycled water has won support across Colorado, said Laura Belanger, environmental engineer at Western Resource Advocates and president of WateReuse Colorado. “It’s an efficient way, it’s a green way to help us plan for the future so we’re not being wasteful,” Belanger said.
Her organization is pushing for education, legislation and regulations to promote safe and effective recycled water systems across the state.
“The Colorado Water Plan aims to provide a long-term water supply while protecting the environment and quality of life we all enjoy,” Belanger said. “Recycling water plays an important role in that balance.”
Recycling water is being done around the world and in 25 Colorado communities. The next step for Denver Water is to explore other locations where recycled water could be a good fit. Possible customers include car washes, commercial laundry facilities and Denver International Airport.
“I think Denver is looking to be a more environmentally friendly city,” McKenna said. “Having recycled water is one of the key components to building sustainable neighborhoods, not just here in Denver, but across the state and the West.”