Denver Water delivers in 2020

Employees persevere through a pandemic to reach major milestones and keep the water flowing.

December 17, 2020 | By: Jay Adams

As 2020 began, Denver Water knew it was going to be a big year with the launch of the largest public health campaign in its history and its largest-ever capital investment project well underway.

Not to mention about 100 other major projects on top of the day-to-day operation of collecting, treating and distributing a reliable water supply to a quarter of the state’s population.

So what did the utility do when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the community early in the year?

We persevered,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager. “Our employees are facing incredible challenges as they deal with new work environments and protocols. But through it all, they are doing an amazing job making sure we continue to fulfill our vital community mission.”

Denver Water has more than 1,000 employees who work in a wide variety of jobs, from remote mountain facilities to the city and suburban streets of the metro area.

When the pandemic escalated in mid-March, the utility quickly moved to dispersed operations. This meant hundreds of employees began working remotely from home.

But Denver Water also has many other employees who must report to a work site at a remote facility, inside a water treatment plant or in the community.

Denver Water employees wearing masks and yellow safety vest standing on closed road by a Denver Water pick up truck.
Denver Water employees began wearing masks on the job in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

“Keeping our employees safe while making sure there was no disruption to service was a top priority,” said Jason Taussig, Denver Water’s director of safety and security.

“As an organization we had to develop protocols around masking, distancing and adjusting employees work schedules. The credit goes to every employee who adapted to these changes and kept on going.”

Despite the new work environment, Denver Water employees stepped up to the challenge. Here are a few of the milestones:

The utility’s comprehensive Lead Reduction Program launched in January. It will reduce the risk of lead exposure in drinking water from lead pipes and plumbing in customer homes.

During 2020, the program replaced about 4,500 customer-owned lead service lines, increased the pH level of the water, distributed more than 100,000 pitchers and water filters, engaged with more than 13,000 people in the community — and much more that you can read about in “2020 Lead Reduction Program by the numbers.”

Denver Water employee in a customers basement holding a copper pipe.
Denver Water employees and contractors replaced about 4,500 lead service lines with new copper pipes in 2020 as part of the Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Also throughout the year, construction has been in full swing at Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant in Jefferson County.

The $520 million plant is part of the largest capital investment project in Denver Water history. You can learn more and watch construction at this 183-acre site in the story, “Denver Water’s newest treatment plant rising from the ground.”

The Northwater Plant is one of more than 100 major projects that are part of Denver Water’s $1.5 billion, five-year capital improvement plan.

Northwater Treatment Plant under construction with three yellow cranes and other signs of construction.
Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant under construction north of Golden on Oct. 28, 2020. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

And, after nearly 17 years of careful study, public involvement, planning and state and federal permitting, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2020 approved Denver Water’s request to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.

Read “FERC gives final federal nod of approval for Gross Reservoir expansion” to learn more about the importance of this milestone and what’s next to for this vital project that will improve water reliability for the metro area.

A dam is on the left of the image, with a blue body of water stretching into the distance. Trees line the shors and the sun is in the sky.
Denver Water is planning to raise Gross Dam by 131 feet as part of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Also during 2020, crews completed the redevelopment of Denver Water’s Operations Complex. The project put efficiency, security and sustainability at the forefront of the redevelopment of the 35-acre site that includes the Administration Building, equipment shops, fleet maintenance, warehouses, trade buildings and space for pipe and materials storage.

Read how Denver Water redeveloped this complex with an eye on more than just delivering water in “Building for a future on a sustainable foundation.”

Complex of about 8 buildings.
Denver Water completed its Operations Complex Redevelopment in October 2020. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

After years of planning and coordination across many divisions and with many experts, Denver Water also officially joined Colorado State University’s Spur campus at the National Western Center.

Read “Water quality lab prepares for high-profile change” to learn more about the plan to move the lab to this significant new research center in north Denver.

Art of the Hydro building at the CSU Spur campus.
A portion of the Hydro building at the CSU Spur campus at the National Western Center will house a new, state-of-the-art water quality laboratory. Image credit: hord|coplan|macht.

 

COVID-19 wasn’t the only challenge that the utility faced in 2020 either.

The story, “Grand County wildfire burns in Denver Water’s collection area,” highlights efforts taken by Denver Water employees to protect structures from the Williams Fork Fire, which started in mid-August and was declared “controlled” on Nov. 30, as well as the long-lasting impact the fire will have on the watershed.

Fire smoke on side of mountain.
The Williams Fork fire on Oct. 8 near Jones Pass. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

The year also was marked by record-breaking heat and dry conditions across Colorado that could be the start of longer-term challenges for our water supply.

Learn more in, “What drought conditions statewide mean for Denver’s water supply.”

Cheesman Reservoir with water rings showing around the reservoir which seems at a low level.
Cheesman Reservoir, which straddles Douglas and Jefferson counties, was at 46% of capacity in October 2020. The reservoir will need a strong runoff in 2021 to fill. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Along with these major projects and events, Denver Water employees continued to carry out their day-to-day operations, including water resource planning, environmental protection, sustainability efforts, ensuring high water quality, fixing water main breaks, upgrading aging infrastructure and staying on top of countless IT computer system projects.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish during these extraordinary times,” Lochhead said.

“I want our community to know that Denver Water employees are dedicated to their commitment of delivering safe, clean and reliable drinking water now while continuing to prepare us for the future.”

Denver Water has more than 1,000 employees working together to supply water to more than 1.5 million people in the metro area. Photo credit: Denver Water.