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Taking water innovation to the next level at National Western

Denver Water, CSU join forces to develop a world-class center for water research, innovation and education.

Post on Denver Water’s TAP news on September 14, 2017 by Travis Thompson
Denver Water and Colorado State University are working to imagine collaborative research, educational, and lab spaces at the National Western Center.

Just over a century ago, John Leal conducted a water quality experiment that successfully ended the deadly spread of cholera through the public water supply.

He proved that adding chlorine to drinking water kills harmful bacteria and other germs that cause diseases — a treatment practice still used across the United States today.

But, the public was outraged.

Why? Because Leal conducted his experiment on the 200,000 people of Jersey City without anyone knowing.

“When it comes to our customers’ water supply, experimentation is not an option,” said Abby  Antolovich, Denver Water’s planning manager. “As an innovative, leading utility, we need to create space where we can push boundaries outside of our current system to ensure Denver’s water future is as safe and reliable as it is today.”

Unlike Leal, innovators, scientists and leaders of today must find opportunities to research, test and demonstrate the unknowns in a risk-free environment. And, for Denver Water, this has to be done while continuing to provide the same high-quality, reliable supply already being delivered today.

A mission that’s easier said than done — until now.

Enter, Denver’s National Western Center: A proposed 250-acre campus located at the nexus of I-70 and the South Platte River, with a focus on promoting innovation. (Read The Denver Post’s, “Here’s what you should know about the new potential 100-year agreement for Denver’s National Western Center” to learn more about the proposal.)

As part of the new National Western Center, Denver Water has partnered with Colorado State University to develop a Water Resources Center that will focus on research, policy, education and innovation in water.

A water quality technician tests water in Denver Water's water quality lab.
Randy Musick, water quality technician, tests water in Denver Water’s current water quality lab at Marston Treatment Plant.

First and foremost, the center will house Denver Water’s new world-class water quality lab.

By moving the lab from its current location at Marston Treatment Plant to the new center, the water quality team will have the ability to perform more than 250,000 tests per year, with state-of-the-art equipment.

“The high-quality water we deliver is currently used for much more than just drinking,” said Selene Hernandez-Ruiz, water quality lab manager for Denver Water. “With National Western’s unique riverside location, Denver’s advanced water quality facility will be able to test multiple water sources, to help us identify the right water source for the right use.”

For example, Denver Water is already using recycled water for irrigation at many parks and golf courses, and other large industrial and commercial operators, helping to free up drinking water supplies for, well, drinking. But, there are many other sources of water that could be treated to certain levels for a wide-range of uses that haven’t been researched or tried yet.

But it isn’t just about testing the quality of water. The center will bring innovative thinkers from across water-related professions, like water law and policy, and technology advancement, as well as experts from the food, agriculture, recreation and environmental industries. One of the ultimate goals of the center is to develop solutions to ensure Denver Water, and other water providers across the nation and world, can continue to provide a safe and reliable water supply to its customers while facing challenges like climate change, population growth, economic uncertainties, evolving regulations and other variables.

“Being part of the National Western Center allows us to collaborate at a much broader level than just the water industry,” said Antolovich. “It really is all connected.”

Design efforts are underway, with the goal of breaking ground on the center in late 2019.

While many details, like costs, are not finalized, Antolovich said the mission is clear.

“We’re going to work with the local community to design a vibrant destination and year-round educational attraction for rural, urban and global water interests.”