Print Back to top
News Article

Ice Capades: Denver Water edition

During deep freezes, our crews keep on fixing, plowing, ice breaking, measuring, sampling and caretaking.

Cold weather makes for harder work, so when we experienced one of the coldest weeks of the last 30 years Denver Water crews did just that: worked harder. 

Last week dam supervisors, water quality trackers and pipe fixers pushed right on through the artic blast to keep the water stored, safe and moving in our system amid the harsh elements that wreaked havoc on so many across the country

A challenge many homeowners also faced as personal pipes froze and broke as the polar plunge ensued.  

Here’s a photo journey highlighting some of our dedicated and can-do colleagues doing their part to blow kisses at the Winter Warlock:

Frosty valves at dams make for a laborious day of icebreaking

On those super-cold weeks like last week, it’s common for ice to build up around valves. That means dam workers need to spend hours breaking ice off the valves, otherwise they could be damaged during operation. Said Andy Skinner, dam supervisor at Gross Reservoir: “I broke the ice away from a valve at night, and it was covered again just a few hours later. At these temperatures, it’s a twice-a-day operation.”
 

Image
Gross valve ice
Denver Water staff work through the elements, like recent below zero temperatures, to ensure 1.5 million people continue receiving the high-quality drinking water they expect. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Emergency Services – It takes tough folks to find and stop the flow when a water main breaks in frozen temperatures

Members of Denver Water’s Emergency Services team, like Keegan May in this photo, are the utility’s first responders. They help shut off the water so crews can start their work to repair pipe breaks. (Read, "Breaking point: Temperature swings tough on water pipes," to learn more about how the ups and downs of winter weather in Colorado impact water mains across Denver.)

But turning off the water flowing through underground pipes can be much more complex than shutting off the water in a house.

This image shows May, a utility tech at Denver Water, working through inches of ice created by below-freezing temperatures to find a shut-off valve.

Image
Keegand May Emergency Services
Keegan May, utility tech at Denver Water, chisels through inches of ice to access a water shut-off valve during a water main break. Photo credit: Denver Water.

On this cold, winter day in 2019, once the cover was located, Denver Water’s crew chiseled through the ice. Then they used a mallet to loosen the cover. Only then could they access the underground shut-off valve to stop the flow of water and begin to make repairs.

Clean water – critical year-round

Thirty inches of snow and finger-freezing temps don’t stop our field crews from their appointed rounds. Last week a crew from Water Quality Operations gathered their monthly water samples on the Williams Fork River northeast of Silverthorne. 

One tributary stream was frozen over, so Nick Riney smashed through it with his shovel and worked with his colleague Tyler Torelli to scoop out water samples for testing, including assessments they conducted in the field using analytical equipment they set up on the back end of a Sno-cat. All this effort helps Denver Water understand what’s happening on the landscapes across 4,000 square miles of watershed and keeps the utility informed about any changes in high country water chemistry that we’ll be collecting, storing and ultimately cleaning to our high standards before distributing through the metro area.

Image
Winter Water Survey
Each year, Denver Water collects more than 35,000 samples and conducts nearly 70,000 water quality tests. These efforts continually confirm that your drinking water is safe and meets or exceeds federal and state requirements. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Surveying the snow

Our crews also strap on the snowshoes for frequent high elevation treks to take snow measurements, part of our multi-pronged efforts to get a read on the snowpack levels in our collection system in preparation for spring runoff. 

Our surveying team braves the cold as well, heading to all points of our system to get elevation readings for a wide variety of projects, including recalibrating gauges at remote reservoirs. Pictured here was a Sno-Cat trip our surveyors took just a year ago to Meadow Creek Reservoir northeast of Fraser. 

Image
Survey Snow Cat Meadow Creek Snow
Matt O’Malley, Denver Water survey technician, prepares to set up survey equipment near Meadow Creek Reservoir. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Running the plows to keep everything running

Denver Water facilities from the mountains, to the foothills and plains all need to keep the roadways open so workers can do their thing unblocked 24/7.

One of many challenging plowing jobs can be found at Strontia Springs Reservoir where staff not only has to keep clear the 6.5-mile service road that is Waterton Canyon, they need to plow the feeder roads leading to the dam – and the top of the dam itself. 

Plowing a 660-foot path across top of the dam is not for anyone with a fear of heights. The dam is 299 feet above the river. Slow and steady is the name of the game as there is no room for wrong turns or slipping.

And sometimes it’s just overcoming the cold itself

One of the coldest spots in Colorado and, indeed at times, the country: Antero Reservoir, on the high South Park plain, near Fairplay. Twice in the last two years, the site has drawn media attention for its bone-grinding readings around 50 below. Two caretakers save their inside work for those dates, but can’t avoid the daily duties outside, when as one of them, Eric Hibbs, puts it, “you can just see the cold, settled in there.” What does he do in face of Yukon-like conditions? “Put on a little heavier jacket.”

Image
Antero cold temperature
Dangerously cold air settled in at Antero Reservoir the morning of New Year's Eve, 2019. The mercury hit 48 degrees below zero. Photo credit: Denver Water.