Securing South Metro Denver’s Water Future – With Statewide Support

A guest op-ed by Eric Hecox

A massive shift is underway in how the South Metro Denver area gets its water, with implications for communities across the state.

After decades of drawing down nonrenewable groundwater aquifers, the region of 300,000 people spanning most of Douglas County and some of Arapahoe County is transitioning to sustainable supplies. This provides much-needed security to future generations hoping to call south Denver home.

The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project is a major component of that plan. Underway now, WISE is notable for the first-of-its kind collaboration among the Denver Metro area’s three major water entities and for the unprecedented statewide the project has received.

Taken together, WISE provides a model for the type of regional and statewide cooperation called for in the recently finalized statewide water plan.

WISE is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and South Metro Water to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. When water deliveries begin in 2016, Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. At the same time, Denver Water will receive a new back-up supply, and Aurora Water will receive funding to help offset costs of its Prairie Waters project.

Recently, WISE received financial support from basin roundtables across the state, making it the first water project in Colorado to receive such broad support. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state of Colorado’s lead agency on water, also provided grant money in support of the project.

The reason for the statewide support lies in the collaborative approach that has been the hallmark of South Metro’s plans. WISE is widely seen as a way for a growing part of the metro area to cooperatively help solve some of its own water supply issues.

WISE maximizes efficiency of supplies through reuse and reduces the need for future agriculture transfers or trans-mountain diversions. It removes some pressure off irrigated agriculture in the South Platte basin, one of the most highly productive and economically important agriculture regions in Colorado. What’s more, it provides funding to the West Slope for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.

When WISE water deliveries begin in 2016, some of Colorado’s fastest-growing communities will receive a new sustainable water supply. Participating South Metro members include Highlands Ranch (served by Centennial Water), Cottonwood, Dominion, Inverness, Meridian, Parker, Pinery Water, Rangeview, Stonegate and Castle Rock.

Combined with other infrastructure investments in supply, storage and reuse, and aggressive conservation efforts that have seen per capita use drop by 30 percent in the past decade, we are witnessing a seismic transition in the South Metro area.

In 2003, The Rocky Mountain News ran an explosive three-day series, “Running Dry,” on what many perceived as a looming water crisis in the South Metro region. At the time, aquifers in some parts of the region were being drawn down at a rate of about 30 feet per year and the vast majority of the region’s water came from nonrenewable sources. A year later, local water providers joined together to create the South Metro Water Supply Authority and started creating the plan that is being executed now.

Today, annual aquifer declines are one-sixth of what they used to be and continue to decrease.  And while areas such as Highlands Ranch are already mostly renewable, the region as a whole is on track to receive the majority of its supplies from renewable sources by 2020.

That’s remarkable headway in a very short period of time given the complexities of water planning.

The region still has more work ahead. With continuing support for South Metro’s plans and projects on the local, regional and statewide level, we can feel confident in predicting that the days of alarming headlines around the South Metro region’s water future are in the past.

About the author:
Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 13 water suppliers encompassing most of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County. 

 Reuter Hess Reservoir

Reuter Hess Reservoir