When you think of dangerous jobs, you probably think of steel workers, roofers, truck drivers, pilots or construction workers. You probably don’t think of employees who work at a water pumping station. But as I discovered first-hand last week, the men who work in the high country to help bring the fresh mountain snowmelt through the Continental Divide and then 100 miles into town, have some of the toughest and most dangerous jobs out there.
I met three of these employees—my colleagues—for the first time on March 21 when we took local media to Buena Vista to check out the Otero Pump Station. Tom Hankins (pictured at the top) is the Superintendent of our Homestake Water Project. Josh Propernick (left) and Nick Miller (right) are both Homestake Mechanic Specialists, i.e., Jacks of All Trade.
Nearly everything they do at the Pump Station—and the 120 miles surrounding it that they are also responsible for—they do themselves. From fixing broken pipes and fences, to problem solving why pumps stop working, to monitoring water levels, pressure and flow, these guys do it all.
One of the jobs they do each winter and spring is measuring snowpack levels for our water planners here in Colorado Springs. They have to drive many hours into the back country to get good snow reads. Earlier this month, our guys weren’t able to take the measurements on their normal schedule due to the avalanche dangers across the state. The men use SnoCats to get out into the field and get their snowpack readings, but even now, it’s too dangerous in some spots to use the SnoCats.
As anyone who lives in Colorado is aware, the winter storms that have swept across the Rocky Mountains have caused the highest avalanche danger since the ratings started in 1973. More than 3,000 avalanches already have taken place in Colorado alone, and they're unusually large. Even just driving around Turquoise Lake last week in our SnoCats, we saw two different areas where avalanches had recently come through, plowing down huge trees in their wake.
Our water conveyance group, led by Kalsoum Abbasi, uses the snowpack data our field employees collect to help predict how much yield we are going to receive from our various water collections systems each year. Because snowpack levels vary so much from year to year within Colorado, we use this vitally important data to determine how much space we need to make in our downstream reservoirs so we can then collect that water from our mountain systems.
This group of tightly-knit men are there for each other 24/7. Two of them live in houses on site. There is someone on call all the time. If one of the 400 alarms that is on the pump station goes off at 3 a.m., one of our guys troubleshoots it right away to determine what is wrong.
Seeing these three men in action, along with Aaron, Doyle, Troy, Glen, Jim and Yock – the other dedicated men who work at our Otero Pump Station – make me so proud to be a Colorado Springs Utilities employee.