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Climate Resilience in Denver: a four-part walking series

Climate Change is impacting Denver from its rooftops to its gardens, its urban forest to its water. The City of Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment teamed up with Chris Englert of Urban Hiking Denver and Walk2Connect, to get folks to put their walking shoes on and join us for a 4-part walking series on climate resiliency in Denver. The 4 walks saw over 100 participants, of which approximately 40 were unique participants. The series became well-loved by those that attended and at least 25 walkers attended two or more of the series. See below for documentation of the walks, including a summary, facts learned, and links to photos and videos. You’ll get an insight into ways Denver is working toward making our climate more resilient and how you can make changes to adjust to our new climate reality.

Denver and Its Water: How Denver Water Is Staying Afloat in our Changing Climate, with Denver Water / Marston Lake Water Treatment Plant

Our 4-part walking series on climate resiliency in Denver began on an amazingly scrumptious day in March. Under 60 degree skies, 29 walkers showed up at Denver Water’s Marston Water Plant to engage with Steve Snyder from Denver Water. After a brief overview of Denver Water’s history, we set out on a 2-mile walk around the property.

The first stop landed at Denver Water’s new water tower on the Marston Lake. There, we learned how Denver Water is managing the layers of water within the reservoir based on water temperature. Warmer weather means more algae blooms. The deeper into the reservoir they can pull--the colder the water is and thus, the less processing it needs. By installing the new tower, Denver Water can better manage its collection-treatment-distribution process. While overlooking the reservoir, actually called a forebay, we also learned that the public only uses about 2% of the water supply, 50% of the fresh water comes from the Platte River and 50% from the Colorado, and Denver’s tap water is more regulated than bottled water!

Saying good-bye to the gorgeous outdoors, we headed back inside for a tour of the cleaning process. From learning about the chemical process to how dirt is pressed from the water, we got our questions answered about fluoridation (Denver water naturally has fluoride and very little is added), how they now add chlormonia at the end of the process, and that the standard, dark blue pipes mean clean water!

We concluded the tour about two hours later after meeting one of the female techs at the plant--she’s 1 of 6 women on the team! One last question exposed how Denver Water recycles almost everything it uses, including water. All 29 walkers, of which 10 had never walked with Walk2Connect nor DDPHE previously, expressed great enthusiasm for the tour and the information, and many signed up for the next walk right on the spot.

The Green Roofs Initiative: How Rooftop Gardens Impact Denver’s Temperatures

The second walk took place on a gorgeous day in April, with over 25 attendees to hear from our special guest, Andy Creath of Green Roofs Colorado. This topic was of particular interest to many in Denver, as residents recently passed a Green Roofs Initiative, Initiative 300, which went into effect on January 1, 2018. The green roof ordinance requires any new building with a gross floor area of 25,000 square feet or more to also include either a green roof or solar energy collection. Attendees saw two green roofs at Auraria campus. The gardens are made up of 6 inches of compost, pebbles, and percolite. No fertilizer necessary. Some facts we learned:

  • The gardens can cool the roofs, minimize stormwater runoff, allow for HVAC systems to work less hard.

  • The Initiative requires 1000 sq feet of green roof space on buildings over 25000 square feet. Of that 1000 sq feet, 30% can be in garden, 70% in solar.

  • There were many questions about carbon sequestration, structural load, water impact.

  • The take-home lesson was to plant more plants, anywhere you can. Denver Water offers a xeriscape garden in the box.

  • Biggest myth in Initiative 300 is that there are no dust clouds and no impact on Denver Water consumption.

We filmed one of the rooftops on Facebook Live:

Denver’s Urban Forest: Surviving Climate Change, with Denver Forester

The third walk in our 4-part walking series was on an overcast day. Despite the chilly weather, over 25 attendees showed up at our starting location - the Denver Botanic Gardens - to walk with us and learn about how trees contribute to our urban environment. The special speaker for this walk was Robert Davis, from the Denver Parks & Recreation Forestry Office. One interesting part of this walk was the fact that just the week before, Denver had an incredibly strong windstorm that blew down trees all over the city - resulting in over 500 calls to Forestry, and 56 trees blocking treets. While walking through Cheesman Park, our group saw a few uprooted trees that had not been fully removed yet. The walk ended in a final loop through the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens.

Some fun facts that we learned:

  • What do the rings tell us? Fatter the ring, happier the tree.

  • Spruce, Douglas, can find lots of Spruce in Cheesman...300 conifers that don't really like recycled water. What will we do?

  • Diversity is the key to great urban forest. Replace ash bore with burr oak. English oak, chinkapin oak, hackberry, honey locust, pagoda tree, coffee tree. Box elder, cottonwood, willow.

  • Trees are about time. You give me your 50 year old 401k. And I'll give you two 1-year old 501ks! You can't make a 50 year old tree. .

  • $600 to remove a tree, less to protect it. Emerald ash borer showed up from Asia in Detroit in early 2000. #besmartash

  • There's 330,000 ash trees in Denver

  • Want to know what trees are on your street? Go to for a comprehensive inventory.

  • Denver has decided to manage ash borer through treatment, education, and selected removal. All ash trees are involved.

  • Be a #smartash. Ash borer was found in Boulder in 2013. And it had been there 3 years. By 2015, Boulder was covered.

The walk was filmed in parts on Facebook Live:

Gardening in Denver’s New Weather: with Denver Urban Gardens

The final walk in our series was led with expert Shannon Spurlock from Denver Urban Gardens (DUG). We were joined by 25 attendees for this final walk through neighborhood streets and urban gardens in the Park Hill neighborhood. The walk began at Park Hill Elementary, who has a large school-based community garden. This is one of the only gardens that also has chickens! The walk led us through other community gardens and the surrounding neighborhood. Shannon talked about the importance of partnerships in urban gardening work. She also shared amazing programs that DUG offers, such as the Master Composter Program! Composting is an important part of sustainable urban gardening and helps reduce waste and save water.

Some fun facts we learned:

  • On average, 40% of a garden is not growing space.

  • Gardens bring us together.

  • Average distance of food travelled. 1500 miles. What could you grow that's more sustainable?

  • School based community gardens are most sustainable. Summer is when school is out and the most need for gardens.

  • Urban gardening involves long term vision and long term plans on public lands (or institutional), not private.

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