As a major water provider in the West, Denver Water views itself as having a special responsibility to the environment. It is a responsibility we take very seriously. We incorporate it into both our strategic thinking and daily operations. Our environmental planning team works on a variety of projects to make sure Denver Water complies with environmental regulations and protects its water resources — but our efforts don't stop there.
We view ourselves as stewards of the environment. It is an ethic and value that runs deep in our organization. It is inherent in everything we do because our infrastructure is not just our pipes and reservoirs — it is also millions of acres of Colorado forests and thousands of miles of rivers and streams.
Our environmental commitment also stems from the preciousness of the resource with which we work. Water is essential to making Colorado beautiful and to ensuring the quality of life we enjoy. Yet it is scarce in our state. And demands for it are intensifying.
With that understanding, Denver Water’s highest responsibility remains to serve 1.5 million people today and a growing population in the future. We strive to do so while minimizing our environmental footprint and working collaboratively with our neighbors to protect and enhance supplies for agriculture, riparian habitat, stream health and many other needs.
Being an environmental steward
Denver Water has taken a leadership role in understanding and promoting sustainability. Our Environmental Stewardship Statement identifies our guiding principles for environmental stewardship and sustainability:
- Compliance with environmental requirements.
- Leading by example.
- Healthy built environment.
- Responsible operations.
- Waste diversion and pollution prevention.
- Climate adaptation and mitigation.
- Environmental Management System (EMS).
- Environmental education and awareness.
Read more in our Sustainability Guide.
Strengthening the health of Colorado's rivers and streams
The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, an unprecedented and historic agreement with the West Slope, heralds a new approach to water in the West. It is an approach based on cooperation and collaboration, one that will strengthen Colorado’s rivers and streams by:
- Ensuring more water in the Fraser and Blue Rivers in dry years.
- Funding multiple water improvement and stream restoration efforts.
- Improving or changing stream channels to strengthen aquatic habitat.
We work with mountain communities daily to proactively identify ways to operate our system so that flows are provided for rivers and streams. Our work in Grand County, for example — home to the headwaters of the Colorado River — protects and ensures flows for the upper reaches of the river.
On the South Platte, where much of our water originates, we are working with environmental interests, government agencies and recreational users to protect the important values of the river by managing stream flow to enhance trout fisheries and recreation, improving water quality, and protecting the canyons and river channels.
Working cooperatively with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette, a 5,000-acre-foot environmental pool will be created as part of an enlarged Gross Reservoir for purposes of enhancing stream flow in South Boulder Creek during low flow periods. Approximately 17 miles of aquatic habitat in the creek from Gross Dam to the confluence with Boulder Creek will benefit from the water released from the environmental pool. The additional storage will be filled with water owned by Boulder and Lafayette and managed under an intergovernmental agreement between Denver Water and the cities.
In the Fraser River, we worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Grand County, the U.S. Forest Service and others to modify our diversion structure to capture and recover road sand applied to U.S. Highway 40 that has been clogging the Fraser River.
Generating clean, renewable energy
There are seven hydroelectric plants in Denver Water’s system; the oldest was built in 1959 and the newest in 2007. Those plants generated more than 61 million kilowatt hours of energy in 2015, more than enough to power all of Denver Water's facilities, from pump stations to treatment plants. Some of that electricity is used to power our facilities, but most of it is sold to Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
Protecting endangered species
Denver Water is a leader in the Colorado River Recovery Program, which has become a national model for its collaborative conservation efforts to protect endangered species. The program is a coalition of states, government agencies, environmental organizations and water providers cooperating to restore and manage stream flows and habitat to help bring the humpback chub, Colorado pike minnow and other endangered fish species on the Colorado back from extinction.
Denver Water also is a leader in the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, in which we work with other water providers, neighboring states and the Department of Interior to restore and protect habitat land for the whooping crane and other endangered species.
Protecting our watersheds
Denver Water employs a long-term proactive and adaptive approach to manage source water watersheds to benefit water quality and supply. Following the 1996 Buffalo Creek fire and 2002 Hayman and Schoonover fires, Denver Water experienced the impact of catastrophic wildfires due to unhealthy forests and the risk they pose to Denver Water’s raw water supply.
Moderate and severe wildfires are the greatest threat to Denver’s raw water supply. Denver Water partners with the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, and National Resource Conservation Service to restore forest health and reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfire. In the forested watersheds that collect and convey Denver’s raw water supply, forests are restored to their naturally resilient condition through thinning, patch cuts and reforestation.
Denver Water works with multiple federal and state agencies, research institutions, fire management partners and other Front Range water providers to identify and prioritize at-risk watersheds that will be the focus of protection measures. Taking a collaborative approach to forest restoration and wildfire mitigation amplifies the benefits of watershed protection projects.
In addition to wildfire, Denver Water is assessing other risks to raw water quality, including active and abandoned mines and various land uses and land use changes related to development and recreation. As collection system priorities are established, Denver Water works with watershed stakeholders to identify and implement opportunities to maintain watershed health and improve them where needed.
Examples include restoring fens and wetlands in Park County, collecting excess sediment in the Fraser River in Grand County, evaluating the health of cottonwood trees along the High Line Canal, and initiating a long-term sediment management program in priority watersheds upstream of Strontia Springs Reservoir.
Using water efficiently
A key part our water supply strategy is being as efficient as possible with the supplies we have. By capturing reusable water and using it for water exchanges or in our recycling plant, we are developing up to 50,000 acre-feet of additional supply that we would otherwise need to acquire from agriculture or other water basins in Colorado.
Water conservation is another way of maximizing the efficiency of what we have. After decades of commitment to water conservation, Denver Water is now recognized as a national leader among major national municipalities.
Conservation is integral to our supply and demand strategies. We have worked hard to educate our customers through our award winning Use Only What You Need campaign and other efforts. Residents have responded robustly. Their success is succinctly summarized in one statistic: Since the early 1970s, the number of people we serve has increased by almost 50 percent while the amount of water they use has increased only 6 percent.
Our efforts continue today as we explore further technical, policy and behavioral opportunities to become even more water efficient while maintaining the quality of life Denver area citizens have chosen for themselves.
Tracking our greenhouse gas footprint
Denver Water participates with The Climate Registry, a nonprofit collaboration among North American entities that sets consistent standards to calculate, verify and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions into a single registry. Since 2008, we have been tracking our greenhouse gas footprint so we can find ways to reduce its impact.
Read more in our Sustainability Guide.
In 2017 the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recognized Denver Water with the Gold Partner Award, a part of the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program, for outstanding environmental achievements and a commitment to continual improvement.
The state recognized our work to implement an environmental management system (EMS) for our Moffat, Marston, Foothills and Recycling treatment plants; creating an EMS representative program; identifying waste reduction, resource conservation and energy-saving opportunities; and setting objectives for future improvement.
Highlights cited by the state include:
- The Foothills Treatment Plant, which makes hydroelectric power, generated 11 million kilowatt hours of electricity over a 12-month period, the majority of which was fed back into the electrical grid. This amount of hydro power keeps over 17 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year.
- The Marston Treatment Plant saved 8.4 million gallons of water annually after it revised a product carrier (supply) line flushing schedule.
- The Moffat Treatment Plant substituted process materials that eliminated 55 gallons of hazardous waste generation annually.
- The Denver Water Recycling Plant reduced annual service water pumping energy use by 450,183 kWh. Modifications made to a service water crossover, in addition to a revised operations schedule, allowed weekly pumping of the mainline pump to supply service water.