Denver Water Sets an Example for Water Conservation

04/11/2019 | By Sarah Kloepple

Denver Water, Colorado’s oldest and largest water utility, is setting an aspirational example when it comes to water conservation. The agency’s new 36-acre complex, slated to open in the fall of 2019, utilizes two unique strategies when it comes to conserving and recycling its water usage.

Denver Water
(All photos credited to Stantec)

“As you can imagine, Denver Water has a pretty big stake in promoting their image as a water provider,” says Tony Thornton, senior associate and senior project manager at Stantec, the global architecture, engineering and design firm that managed the Denver Water project.

The agency provides water to 1.4 million customers and has an internal policy that reflects both its responsibility to the community and environmental stewardship. Denver Water, Thornton says, also has a responsibility to its employees.

Denver Water Inside Illustration

“They wanted to take all of these things and turn the project into something that would best exemplify that,” he explains. “In particular, where they thought they could move the needle was with water conservation.”

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Ways They Conserve Water

Along with using low-flow fixtures in the building and implementing low-water use for landscaping, the newly designed Denver Water campus incorporate two unique strategies for water conservation.

The first is through a rainwater collection system—or capture and reuse system—on the roof. The concept itself is not wholly unique, but the volume of it is. When it opens, Denver Water will be able to capture rainwater on the entire roof of the 190,000-square-foot administration building, as well as the entire roof of an adjacent parking garage.

Rainwater Collection System at Denver Water

“It’s a volume that’s not currently allowed in Denver and most of Colorado,” Thornton says. “We have water rights that come into play. Denver Water has the unique position to be able to barter with their own water rights. It’s a pilot idea that they would then, if successful, work on with future developers.”

Denver Water has the unique position to be able to barter with their own water rights.

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The water recycling system, located in the lobby of the administration building, is another impactful water conservation strategy being used. The system captures all of the gray and black water used in the administration building.

  • Black water = water from toilet and kitchen
  • Gray water = water from more incidental uses, such as hand sinks

That water is recycled within a series of mechanical and natural processes and deposited in the same reservoir that the captured rain water flows into to be used for irrigation. The recycled water can also be diverted back into the toilets to be reused for toilet flushing.

“It’s going to dramatically cut down the amount of potable water use that is typical in any common building,” Thornton says. “About 75% of potable water use will be reduced by this process.”

Inside Denver Water

The water recycling system is placed in what looks like an “amazing planter in an open area” of the lobby. “What you’re looking at is the polishing wetland, that final stage before it goes off to toilet flush or irrigation,” Thornton explains. “One of their goals is to educate the public about conservation but also about the journey of water. This strategy of how water can be recycled on-site is a conversation piece.”

Paving the Way

Denver Water has taken on an ambitious goal when it comes to water conservation – so ambitious that it’s attempting to affect local policy. Thornton says one of the biggest challenges on this project was working with state and city government agencies on water rights.

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“Their whole goal is to make sure they can create something, both in bits and pieces and an overall whole strategy, that others can incorporate into their developments,” Thornton says.

Denver Water

The new Denver Water complex is also pursuing LEED Platinum and net zero energy status.

“The campus is located in an area of transition,” Thornton says. “It’s going to be a part of the revitalization of that area. And it’s going to draw a lot of people to this area of town.”

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