Upgrading the water system boosts Denver economy

$100 million Hillcrest project among infrastructure improvements that support thousands of local construction jobs.

February 22, 2017 | By: Jay Adams

Denver Water’s Hillcrest project reached another milestone Feb. 18, as construction crews poured the foundation for the second of three new water storage tanks.

Crews placed 1,500 cubic yards of concrete on the 310-foot-diameter slab that will support a 15-million gallon tank. The three new structures will replace Hillcrest’s original two tanks that were built in the 1960s.

125 construction workers helped pour the concrete foundation for a new water storage tank at the Hillcrest site on Feb. 18, 2017.
125 construction workers take part in the concrete placement for the foundation of a new water storage tank at the Hillcrest site on Feb. 18, 2017.

The site in south Denver looked like a busy beehive with 125 workers on hand to complete the job. Watch this time-lapse video to see the work in action.

“Hillcrest is a $100 million project that provides a double benefit for the metro area,” said Doug Raitt, engineering manager. “We need the new tanks to store water for our customers and building them supports jobs in Denver’s construction industry.”

The Hillcrest renovation is one example of the many water infrastructure projects on tap at Denver Water and across the country. Many of the nation’s water systems were built after World War II and are now reaching the point where it’s more cost effective to rebuild than repair.

A 2015 study by the American Water Works Association found that restoring existing water systems across the country will cost at least $1 trillion through 2040. Read “Will water get too expensive for some Americans?” to learn what this means for Denver.

The original Hillcrest water storage tanks were built in the 1960s.
The original Hillcrest water storage tanks were built in the 1960s.

Denver Water’s complex network of dams, treatment plants and pipes spans 12 counties and was built as far back as the late 1800s. That’s why the organization plans to spend $1.3 billion over the next five years on capital improvements like replacing the Hillcrest tanks.

“Denver Water has 1,100 workers, but with big projects like Hillcrest, we rely on outside contractors to help us get the job done,” Raitt said.

Around 60 people work on the Hillcrest site every day, according to Michael Haarmann from MWH Constructors.

“Over the course of this project’s four years, we’ll have about 1,000 people working on this facility,” Haarmann said. “Those jobs include project managers, engineers, carpenters, architects, pipefitters, electricians and laborers.”

The $400 million Northwater treatment plant will be built next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden.
The $400 million Northwater treatment plant will be built next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden.

Other Denver Water projects include a $400 million state-of-the-art water treatment plant north of Golden, upgrades to the dam at Ralston Reservoir and replacement of a major water delivery pipeline in Jefferson County.

About 1,050 people have worked on Denver Water’s new Operations Complex since the spring of 2016, according to Mortenson Construction, the general contractor on the project. The number of workers is expected to climb to nearly 2,000 by the end of 2017.

“These infrastructure investments by Denver Water are just as important to our community as the Convention Center, transit projects, DIA and our major sports stadiums,” said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. “A city can’t be successful in the economy without building infrastructure.”

2 thoughts on “Upgrading the water system boosts Denver economy”

  1. I would challenge your assertion that it is a “boost”. Unless Denver Water’s water supply produces income revenues in excess of its costs (i.e. “profits”)- there is no growth/”boost”. It is simply a push involving the transfer of payments/financial resources of the rate payers who use the water to the paychecks of the labor involved in its supply .

    1. We hear what you are saying and appreciate your viewpoint.

      Our goal in putting together this story was to highlight the benefits of Denver Water infrastructure projects on the construction industry, which in turn support the metro and state economy by providing work that requires jobs. As part of the research for the story, we reviewed a 2015 study from Colorado State University which is used by the Associated General Contractors of Colorado to articulate economic impact of construction jobs. The study says that for commercial building construction, there are 18 direct jobs per $1 million in project value. We can provide you this study via email.

      We often do stories explaining water rates at work, to help customers understand where the money they pay for their water bill is going. This particular story took that one step further to explain how those water rates not only provide a reliable water system, but also support construction jobs in the community. While jobs from our infrastructure projects are considered an indirect benefit of those water rates, it’s still a side of the story that we felt worth sharing. The good news for customers is that with their water bill, they not only receive something — reliable, safe water — they also are investing in the infrastructure that will sustain their water supply, while supporting jobs in the construction industry.

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