Colorado Public Works Journal, Fall/Winter 2022

Fall/Winter 2022 53 JIM LOCHHEAD Chief Executive Officer Denver Water Denver Water Chief Executive Office, Jim Lochhead, has been at the helm of the state’s largest and oldest water utility since 2010. For this issue’s Industry Insights, the Colorado Public Works Journal invited Jim in for a conversation on the very real challenge of providing water to Denver and many surrounding suburbs in a semi-arid climate amid an ever-changing new normal. “My love of water has been lifelong,” says Lochhead who grew up surfing in southern California before studying environmental biology at the University of Colorado and matriculating on to law school. After earning his law degree, Lochhead started working on interstate water rights issues out in western Colorado. He was eventually named the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, among others. “Obviously, water is vital to life and as such, it can be incredibly challenging to regulate, especially for Colorado because several other states rely on water that originates here.” Denver Water was established in 1918, as a public utility funded by water rates and new tap fees, not taxes, a common misconception among the masses. As Denver was founded at the confluence of the Cherry Creek and South Platte rivers, the very history of the city is intertwined in a complicated relationship with water. By the start of the 20th Century, a pattern of poor business practices among water providers led the citizens of Denver to take matters into their own hands. In 1918, Denver residents voted to buy the Denver Union Water Company and form the municipal agency now known as Denver Water. In doing so, voters established an entity that operates independently from city government and is thereby uninfluenced by partisan politics and personal persuasions. For more than a century, Denver Water’s fivemember board has taken an apolitical, long-view of water supply by evaluating needs on a 50-year horizon. “Today, Denver Water employs 1,110 professionals, all of whom are committed to the mission of sustainable, vibrant communities, and water sustainability,” says Lochhead of the resources he oversees. “Our water is drawn from rain and snow melt over more than 4,000 square miles of surface area. It is collected, stored, treated for consumption, and distributed to about 1.5 million people on demand. So, it’s a big task that never takes a day off.” Asked about some of the utility’s accomplishments in recent years, Lochhead is effusive about the agency’s new net-zero, LEED Platinum administration building on a 35-acre, central campus designed to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Incorporating a holistic water efficiency strategy dubbed, One Water, the facility promotes connecting water sources to water uses in innovative ways including high-volume rainwater capture for irrigation, and onsite water treatment and recycling for restroom and irrigation purposes. “Some of the systems we integrated represent firsts in Colorado and open the door for other developments to start working on similar solutions to reduce, reuse, and rethink water,” says Lochhead. He reports that in considering campus creation, the original program called for a 250 million gallon-a-day plant. Along the way, the agency’s logic switched from having the most capacity possible to considering how to use significantly less capacity far more efficiently. “First, we scaled back to a 150 MGD plant and then reduced it even further to the eventual 75 MGD plant that can be expanded to 150 later. It became an exercise in designing the most efficient plant possible. This changed the way we look at our investment; from building as much as we thought we could use to building as little as possible.” Another significant effort coming to the fore is the expansion of Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. After nearly 20 years of navigating state and federal permitting, in November 2021, Denver Water leaped the final hurdle when it reached a settlement with the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners to raise the height of the existing Gross Reservoir dam by 131 feet, which will increase capacity by 77,000 feet, tripling it. The expansion of the reservoir will increase Denver Water’s resiliency and improve the system’s balance between the north and south sections. “We’re also working very hard on a Lead Reduction program, which represents a major, long-term effort to eliminate the possibility of lead leaching from service lines into an estimated 64,000 to 84,000 homes in our service area,” says Lochhead. A naturally occurring metal that has been part of human society for thousands of years, in the water industry concerns about lead pipes evolved over decades. Though Congress banned the use of lead pipes in 1986, pipes already in the ground were allowed to remain in place. Three decades later, an estimated 15 to 22 million Americans still drink and cook with tap water entering their homes through lead service lines, which are owned by the homeowner, not utility providers. “We have launched a project to remove every lead service line serving a Denver Water household in 15 years or less, and to distribute water filtration pitchers to all homes suspected of having a lead service line in the meantime.” Details about the Lead Reduction Program, including an interactive map where people can see if their home is suspected of having a lead service line are at: Providing safe, clean drinking water to a million-and-a-half people over diverse geography stretching from Denver International Airport to Chatfield is no small task. Undeterred, Lochhead and the team at Denver Water press on. “As a public entity, Denver Water is challenged to fund infrastructure, inform the public, and stay ahead of the curve on a wide range of highimpact issues around water resources,” finishes Lochhead. “Our philosophy is one of partnership. To be successful we must collaborate with the design and construction community, dozens of different governmental bodies, and the public every day. Forethought and flexibility are the keys to meeting infrastructure challenges.” INDUSTRY INSIGHTS feature by Sean O’Keefe