Breaking it now, so it won’t break later

Getting down in the dirt — and in a fog — to make sure Denver Water contractors are using the best materials.

April 18, 2016 | By: Steve Snyder, Dave Gaylinn

The guys at Denver Water’s Materials Lab have an interesting job. They try to break things for a living.

They also spend a fair amount of time dabbling in dirt. Sounds like a fun time, right?

“Yeah, but it’s not as exciting as you might think,” said Josh Smith, Materials Lab manager.

Perhaps not exciting, but necessary. Smith and his team provide quality assurance on soils and concrete products that contractors use when working on Denver Water projects. Typically those materials have already been tested by the contractor.

“But it has been our experience that you need some truth check of those tests,” Smith said.

“We’re here to make sure Denver Water gets the product it paid for from the contractor,” added Patrick Dennis, Materials Lab specialist.

They have some pretty cool tools at their disposal to help them do that, like a large, bright-red vibrating table, used to test how well a soil sample compacts.

And a nuclear gauge. That’s right, nuclear! They stick a probe in the soil and measure the amount of radiation coming back to determine the soil’s density.

They even have a fog room, where the temperature stays at 73.3 degrees, with nearly 100 percent humidity. Here samples are protected from loss of moisture, so the guys can test how well the concrete will ultimately hold up under stress.

“The last thing we need is to build a 15-million-gallon concrete tank and have it fail,” Dennis said.

“With all that in mind, we go above and beyond,” said Smith. “We do a little bit extra with every sample to make sure we are getting accurate results. The best part is the pride we take, knowing Denver Water is getting what it paid for — that ratepayers are getting good quality products for their money.”

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