Did you know the town of Dillon used to be located right underneath where Dillon Reservoir is today? Or that Williams Fork Dam’s hydroelectric plant generates enough electricity to help power the remote mountain communities that surround the reservoir?
These are just a few of the fun facts I learned last week on a tour of Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. Not everyone gets to see the inside of a hydroelectric plant, or go behind the scenes at a reservoir, but as a newbie at Denver Water, I was able to join 41 other employees to get a special look inside Denver Water’s operations.
Denver Water offers training programs and tours to help employees through the onboarding process. And let me tell you, what we do at Denver Water is complex, making the learning curve pretty steep.
“It’s important for employees to see the entire system to understand the role each of them plays in delivering safe, quality drinking water,” said Arleen Hernandez, learning and organizational development coordinator.
My colleagues and I piled onto a tour bus and traveled into the mountains to get a first-hand look at Denver Water’s collection system. Along the way, Dave Bennett, environmental scientist, explained Denver Water’s intricate water collection system and a history that dates back to the mid-1800s.
We discovered how that history continues to influence the business conducted at Denver Water today. “Learning about water rights was particularly interesting,” said finance analyst Emmanuel Lubuye, one of my fellow tour attendees. “Seeing how the actions of earlier pioneers at Denver Water laid the foundation for acquiring water rights early on was fascinating.”
We traveled up winding mountain roads, and with our heads spinning with facts and figures, finally arrived at Dillon Reservoir for a perfectly timed pontoon boat ride. John Blackwell, hydro supervisor; Nathan Hurlbut, utility senior technician; Tim Holinka, source of supply manager; and Rick Geise and Andrew Stetler, hydro operators, took us out onto the reservoir. We peppered them with questions about the day-to-day responsibilities of a hydro operator and learned more about the history of the reservoir.
So what about moving an entire town? Yes, Denver Water actually moved the town of Dillon to build the reservoir, including the local cemetery. There weren’t many questions about the logistics of moving a cemetery — most of us choosing to leave the details to our imaginations — but we did learn a lot about the partnerships between Denver Water and the surrounding community, particularly the cooperation with the Dillon and Frisco marinas and the fishing and water sport industries.
“It was interesting to hear how hard Denver Water works to balance diverse needs, from getting water levels up for the marina to providing free water for snow-making to the ski resorts and getting it back later as snow melt,” said Kate Legg, records and document manager.
We continued to hear the theme of partnership throughout the tour as we headed up to Williams Fork Reservoir, which offers free camping, gold medal fishing, big game hunting and other recreational activities. We met Ryan Rayfield, hydro supervisor at the dam, who shared the challenges of living and working in a remote area, as well as what the three hydro operators do at Williams Fork 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We have a responsibility to take care of the dam and keep the hydroelectric plant running, but we also work hard to engage with the community recreating at the reservoir. It’s important we are good neighbors,” said Rayfield.
Not only does Williams Fork play an important role in recreation, water storage and flow management for Denver Water, it also houses Denver Water’s second highest producing hydroelectric plant, which we toured. Equipped with two generators that can produce an output of 3,700 kilowatts per hour, the hydroelectric plant generates enough power to run the Williams Fork systems, the residences on-site as well as providing power to many of the surrounding mountain communities.
“It’s not every day you get to see how water generates electricity,” said my co-worker Julia Keedy, raw water planning engineer.
Keedy’s job at Denver Water involves simulating river and reservoir operations, including Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs. “Since I am a visual person, it was helpful to see the areas around both reservoirs and to learn about their operational constraints from the actual operators,” she said.
The tour also helped Kate Taft, sustainability program manager, better understand how her job fits into the Denver Water mission, as well as increasing her passion for conservation. “I have always been a strict conservationist when it comes to water, but now I am even more conscious of the water coming out of my faucet, knowing all the work it takes to get it from the mountains to my glass.”
Of course, getting to know other employees in the organization is one of the advantages of taking part in trainings, and it was great to meet other employees throughout the organization and learn more about how all of our jobs add vital pieces to the Denver Water puzzle.