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National award hails Denver Water’s sustainable ethic

Metropolitan water association recognizes our commitment to the environment, our ratepayers and public health.

We’ve promoted sustainability for a century, and those efforts are being noticed on a national level.

Jim Lochhead (right), Denver Water CEO/manager, receives the 2018 Sustainable Water Utility Management Award from Mac Underwood (left), AMWA president.

On Monday, Oct. 15, Denver Water was awarded the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ 2018 Sustainable Water Utility Management Award, which goes to utilities that have achieved a balance of innovative and successful efforts in areas of economic, social and environmental endeavors. That includes responsibly managing resources, protecting public health, meeting responsibilities to the community, and providing cost-effective services to ratepayers.

“It’s a way to show our customers that we’re serious about continually making improvements and bettering our operations,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s manager of sustainability. “There’s a level of transparency when we’re being evaluated by our peers, and we’re proving that we’re investing our resources in the future.”

Denver Water was among 14 public drinking water systems receiving top honors at the association’s 2018 Executive Management Conference in San Francisco.

At Denver Water, promoting sustainable water use and environmental stewardship has been a priority for years. But we now face numerous challenges, such as climate and regulatory uncertainty, economic and social change, and natural and manmade disasters, that merit rethinking what sustainability means to us.

Because of that, we’re defining our notion of sustainability and incorporating it into everything we do, including energy, transportation, water, materials, land use, people, infrastructure and assets.

For example, our responsible, sustainable financial practices have kept rates low, ensuring customers have some of the most affordable water in the region. Those practices also have helped us earn a AAA rating from all three bond-rating agencies and lowered our borrowing costs by saving us $12.5 million in finance charges over the past four years.

We’re incorporating green building practices into all of our new construction work, including on our new 35-acre operations complex in order to achieve LEED certification complex-wide. LEED is short for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design," a building program run by the U.S. Green Building Council that supports building practices and projects that use less energy and water resources, lead to lower carbon emissions and save money for the people who live in or use the building.

Light-colored floors that reflect light and skylights are two of the many sustainability features in the new buildings on the 35-acre complex.

We’re taking steps to become an energy-neutral organization by 2020, reduce municipal solid waste by 25 percent in the next two years and have already nixed smoking at all our facilities.

And, of course, we continue to build on our award-winning campaign to help customers use water efficiently in our dry climate.

Given this expanded ethic of sustainability, we will develop and implement sustainable practices as a further commitment not only to today’s customers, but also to our customers over the next 100 years and beyond.

Diane VanDe Hei, chief executive officer of AMWA, said the award is “recognition by your colleagues that your agency has made remarkable efforts to compete in a highly challenging and constantly changing environment.”

Taft, Denver Water’s sustainability manager, agreed, saying that as a major water provider, serving more than 1.4 million customers, Denver Water views itself as having a special responsibility to the environment.

“We work continuously to incorporate sustainability into both our strategic thinking and our daily operations,” she said.