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hw_30 We rely on utilities to provide reliable water and protect human health, but how often do we think about them? Learn about the water infrastructure that's demanding our attention, why we pay more for water today, water treatment and how to conserve more water in your home. Explore these topics by reading feature articles below, flipping through, or downloading the online version of Headwaters.

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The Rising Cost of Bringing Water to a Faucet Near You

By Caitlin Coleman

The good old days. Remember when movies were just $0.20, when the town of Vail was tiny, and when “conservation” wasn’t part of your vocabulary? Or remember just 10 years ago when water bills were half what they are today?

Things have changed. As water services have expanded to meet demand, so too has the cost of those services. “There is no difference between a water bill, an airline fare or the cost of McDonalds,” says Peter Binney, manager of sustainable infrastructure for Merrick & Company and former director of Aurora Water. “People see costs going up and they think, ‘What the heck is going on?’

Read more: The Rising Cost of Bringing Water to a Faucet Near You

Beyond the Tap

A mostly buried network of infrastructure calls for our attention

By Jerd Smith

New pipe awaits installation in Aurora. Credit Ron Meyer

It is just after 8 a.m. on a bright fall morning in Erie. At the Lynn J. Morgan Water Treatment Plant, Evelyn Crocfer, a plant operator, and Bruce Chameroy, chief of operations, have been on the job for an hour. They work in a sunny, window-filled room that is part operations center and part gleaming laboratory.

Dozens of water samples taken from different sites around the system sit on a counter. As a quality control measure, Crocfer checks the samples for various constituents first thing, carefully recording results as residents begin their day.

Across the room, a large computer screen glows with diagrams of the water treatment plant and the delivery system. This supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system gives a detailed, underground view of everything waterrelated, from old town Erie out to its polished Vista Ridge neighborhood and golf course.

Read more: Beyond the Tap

Water Quality's Front Line

How water treatment makes our water safe to drink and protects waterways

By Dan Gordon

The Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority used a unique drop structure to prevent the banks of Cottonwood Creek in Arapahoe County from eroding after storm events. Excessive bank erosion can negatively impact riparian vegetation and aquatic life as well as nearby human activities. Stormwater management also aims to minimize pollutants in runoff entering streams from adjacent land surfaces. Credit Josh Duncan.

At night, you sleep, maybe getting up to go to the bathroom once or twice. In the morning, you take a shower, brush your teeth to the sound of running water from the tap and make coffee. This daily rhythm of life is unremarkable unless you’re in the water treatment business, where it is known as “diurnal flow.” At the J.D. Phillips wastewater treatment plant in north Colorado Springs, the amount of discharge coming into the plant on a weekday morning can rise 600 percent within a few hours, which is where “water management” comes into play, says the plant’s superintendant William Hoyt.

Water management at the plant Hoyt oversees means choosing an appropriate number and size of detention tanks for incoming wastewater to go through firststage treatment. During the detention period, heavier solids settle to the bottom while oil, grease and lighter solids float to the
surface. The number of tanks in use must be averaged to maintain treatment levels at both peak and off-peak hours. If the tanks fill too slowly, leaving some of the wastewater in the tank for a longer period, they can become putrefied or “septic.”

To most of us, our public water systems— drinking water, wastewater and stormwater— are out of sight and out of mind. What the systems do for Colorado cities and towns, however, is vital, and those systems require vigilance, knowledge and ingenuity to ensure domestic water is safe to drink and that wastewater and stormwater don’t pose a threat to the environment.

Only in the past 100 to 150 years have scientists determined the importance of safe drinking water. For most of human history, cities have been spawning grounds for disease, dependent on migration from the outside to replenish their populations.

In the United States, the introduction of water filtration and chlorination in major cities between 1900 and 1940 accounted for approximately a 15 percent decline in urban death rates, according to research published in the journal Demography. Before the introduction of filtration and chlorination, city residents died at rates 30 percent higher than rural residents. In the late 1800s, infant mortality was 140 percent higher in cities than in the countryside.

Read more: Water Quality's Front Line

The Art and Science of Pricing Water

Rate setting is no simple task, but there's a reason we pay what we do.

By Chris Woodka

In 1864, Pueblo residents could purchase a 60-gallon barrel of Arkansas River water for 25 cents from the back of a wagon. Anything swimming or floating in it came as part of the deal. It might have seemed like a bargain for a cowboy looking to clean up before a night on the town or seeking a cool drink on a hot summer day.

Today, both the treatment of Colorado’s water and the price structure are far more sophisticated. Just as there is a science to treating water to meet standards for health and safety, the pricing of water is closely studied. Water utilities across the state provide water that is much cleaner now, meeting standards that measure contaminants in parts per million, billion or trillion. And that 60-gallon barrel? Today, it would cost just
13 cents to fill from a Pueblo tap.

The price of that same Arkansas River water varies as you travel up the road. In Colorado Springs, a growing city located farther from natural water sources, complicated systems transport water over long distances, affecting cost. Customers there would pay nearly twice as much as in Pueblo, given a minimum level of consumption, and more than three times as much at the top of a tiered rate structure that increases the rate as more water is used.

To the north, Aurora Water moves Arkansas River water over mountain ranges into its system in the South Platte Basin to use and reuse until the water is technically “used up.” The city charges customers who use lower amounts of water more than Colorado Springs does, but bills big users a little less.

Why the differences?

Read more: The Art and Science of Pricing Water

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