Sterling Ranch update: The Chatfield Community Association has filed an appeal of the project approval

September 16, 2013

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From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

The Chatfield Community Association last month filed an appeal under Rule 106 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedures, asking a district judge to review the commissioners’ July decision to approve the development plan…

The new challenge, filed by Denver attorney James Kreutz, alleges that Sterling Ranch application couldn’t be changed to the “pending status” after 18th Judicial District Judge Paul King ruled in the first case that Douglas County commissioners erred when they agreed to rezone the 3,400-acre site in 2011. Chatfield’s new challenge echoes King’s language in his order, stating the commissioners acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and with an abuse of discretion” when approving the application in July…

The 106 challenge also alleges commissioners “failed to act in an unbiased manner” by “engaging paid lobbyist to enact legislative changes intended to aid the Applicant.”

Commissioners, through County Attorney Lance Ingalls, denied they acted improperly and asked the court to dismiss the complaint “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” They asked the judge to not only rule in favor of Douglas County, but also order the association to pay the county’s attorneys fees and costs.

District Judge Richard Brewster Caschette has allowed Sterling Ranch to intervene in the case, according to a Sept. 11 order.

Harold Smethills, president and CEO of Sterling Ranch, said the appeal won’t stop the development. “They want a do-over,” Smethills said. “They’re hopeful that by suing the county, they might get lucky and get a do-over. … We’re just going ahead.”

More Sterling Ranch coverage here.


Douglas County: Sterling Ranch scores enough water to start turning dirt on part of the project

July 10, 2013

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From The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

The Douglas County Planning Commission and the county commissioners originally approved Sterling Ranch several years ago but it has since been challenged, first by a community group in court then by a judge who blocked it August. Citing state law, the judge argued that Sterling Ranch had not lined up enough water and needed to prove it had enough water secured though build-out.

But a change to a state law in the legislature this year gave developers the leeway to phase-in water requirements whenever a certain stage of a project is up for approval by a government entity — at least that’s the way supporters see it.

It was not clear whether the community organization would fight it again this time. John Ebel asked the three-member commission how it could “ignore law, ignore the court, ignore promises made.”

Harold Smethills, managing director of Sterling Ranch, said developers hope to break ground on the project late this year or early next year. “Of course we’re very excited,” Smethills said. “This has been almost six years of public hearings.”
The county commissioners must still approve the development plans for each phase of the project but Wednesday’s ruling sets the project in motion, Smethills said.

From The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

About 80 people attended the special hearing in Castle Rock, with all 14 speakers urging the board not to approve it. Opponents say the project would negatively impact the quality of life, while supporters say the area is primed for growth.

Sterling Ranch would be home to about 31,000 people in 12,050 homes on 3,400 acres south of Chatfield State Park and east of Roxborough State Park. It would include 1,200 acres of residential neighborhoods, 1,200 acres of parks and open space, and 500 acres of commercial and retail properties.

According to a fiscal analysis done for Sterling Ranch, the project would have an economic impact of more than $435 million annually.

More Sterling Ranch coverage here.


Sterling Ranch gets another chance in front of the Douglas County Commissioners

July 6, 2013

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From the Our Colorado News (Ryan Boldrey):

The county approved the project in 2011, but a 2012 court ruling by 18th Judicial District Court Judge Paul King stated that the project did not have sufficient water secured to break ground. Plans for Sterling Ranch call for a 12,000-home community on 3,400 acres northeast of Roxborough State Park.

After requests to have the ruling overturned, Sterling Ranch officials submitted a 121-page filing to the county in March stating that it had since met the necessary water requirements for build-out and that it is ready to begin the 25-year development.

“The ruling said that we must have 25 years of water before we can start, so we set about to obtain sufficient water for the entire development, and we’ve done that,” said Harold Smethills, Sterling Ranch managing director, following an agreement to acquire 4,200 acre-feet of water from Dominion Water.

At the time of King’s ruling, Smethills said Sterling Ranch had already purchased 88 million gallons from Aurora Water — enough to meet the needs of the first plat scheduled for the phased development. Plans at the time, he said, called for purchasing or leasing the remainder of the water on a phase-by-phase basis. Now, Smethills says, they have all the water required, and he expects the county to give the project the green light once again.

Jim Kreutz, the attorney who represented the Chatfield Community Association in the suit that halted the development in 2012, said Sterling Ranch’s filing might not satisfy all of the issues they had raised in court. “There may be other unresolved issues, such as transportation and other regulations we didn’t feel that they complied with,” Kreutz said. “The court didn’t address the other issues because they only ruled on the water issue.”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Sterling Ranch gets another chance in front of the Douglas County Commissioners

July 1, 2013

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From The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

A special hearing is scheduled for next month, when Douglas County commissioners will hear from Sterling Ranch and the public to see whether the county will give a thumbs-up to the project, which includes up to 12,050 new homes in the Chatfield Basin.

The hearing comes after a judge blocked the project in August. Citing state law, the judge argued that Sterling Ranch had not lined up enough water and needed to prove it had enough water secured though build-out.

Douglas County appealed that ruling, and then sought and received a change in state law this legislative session. Now, Sterling Ranch officials believe the project can finally move forward.

More 2013 Colorado Legislation coverage here.


Developers of the proposed Sterling Ranch have lined up 4,200 acre-feet of Denver Basin groundwater

March 27, 2013

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From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

Officials from Sterling Ranch LLC submitted supplemental information to its zone change application showing the company has an option to purchase 4,200 acre-feet of water a year from the Hier ranching family of Castle Rock, Harold Smethills, president and CEO, confirmed Monday. The developers had to provide the proof in order to move forward with the development after a district judge ruled in August 2012 that the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners overstepped its authority when approving the zone change in 2011…

The water is non-tributary ground water that the Hier family owns the rights to, records filed with Douglas County show. “We had always planned to do it,” Smethills said of the agreement. “But the judge’s ruling forced us to move forward much more quickly than we had anticipated. … We figured ‘appeals take time, so let’s just move forward’.”[...]

Developers had previously purchased the rights to up to 186 million gallons of water annually from Aurora Water for the planned subdivision just before King’s ruling came down. After a 45-day comment period, the new information will go before the county’s planning commission and then the Board of County Commissioners, according to a county spokeswoman.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here. More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here.


Douglas County appeals Sterling Ranch ruling that has stalled development

December 24, 2012

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From the Douglas County News-Press (Rhonda Moore):

The county aims to place the issue of water availability before the appeals court, which has not previously tested the applicable statute, said Lance Ingalls, county attorney.

The statute in question requires developers to prove the water supply for a rezoning before the start of new construction. Sterling Ranch in May 2011 gained the county’s approval to rezone and develop 3,500 acres in the Chatfield Valley, with a plan for 12,000 homes.

With passage of the rezoning, the county granted the request from developer Harold Smethhills to prove his water adequacy at each plat or phase of development. District Judge Paul King reversed the county’s approval in August, following a challenge by the Chatfield Community Association.

“While land use and development is a matter of local concern, the adequacy of water for new developments is a matter of statewide concern,” King ruled. “(L)ocal government shall not approve an application for a development unless it determines that the applicant has established that the proposed water supply for the development is adequate.”

From The Denver Post:

Those in the home-building industry said the outcome could affect projects on semi-arid land where there isn’t a lot of water. For years, suburban building has gotten the go-ahead without requiring that developers have sufficient water in place in advance.

More water law coverage here.


18th Judicial District Judge Paul King affirms his ruling regarding Sterling Ranch

November 14, 2012

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From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

18th Judicial District Judge Paul King’s order on Friday states he followed the letter of a 2008 Colorado law when ruling the board “exceeded its authority” in approving Sterling Ranch’s development plan without requiring the company to prove an adequate water supply for the entire development. He denied the development company’s reconsideration request and denied the motion to remand the case back to Douglas County so it could make the water adequacy determination…

King ruled that the county Board of Commissioners had “exceeded its jurisdiction and abused its discretion” by approving Sterling Ranch’s water plan. His ruling stated Colorado law requires all developers to prove they have enough water to serve the entire development before any construction starts.

His Friday order stated pursuant to the 2008 law (Section 29-20-301), “our legislature has determined that securing an adequate supply of water for development can have a broad regional impact and it is imperative that local government be provided with reliable information concerning the adequacy of a proposed development’s water supply to aid local government in the exercise of its discretion.” He also restated his position that the law defines “adequate” as “a water supply sufficient for build-out of the proposed development in terms of quality, quantity, dependability and availability.”[...]

Sterling Ranch “confessed that they did not submit proof of a water supply to the Board during the lengthy approval process,” Friday’s order stated…

“I didn’t write the law. The judge didn’t write the law,” [Attorney Jim Kreutz] said. “Legislators chose to enact it, so opponents need to hire lobbyists and change the law I suppose.”

More coverage from the Associated Press via the San Antonio Express-News:

A Colorado River District official says a judge’s ruling on the proposed Sterling Ranch community in Douglas County could lead to new legislation. A judge this year reversed the county’s approval of a permit for the Sterling Ranch development, citing a state law that requires counties to first affirm that large new developments have an adequate water supply. County officials had argued they planned to incrementally evaluate Sterling Ranch’s water supply, as construction proceeded in phases.

According to the latest Colorado River District newsletter, district external affairs manager Chris Treese says he expects legislation next year addressing the ruling, though it’s too early to say what direction it could take.

More Sterling Ranch coverage here.


‘Sterling Ranch appears to be a water-conservation model that will be emulated in the future’ — Highlands Ranch Herald

October 31, 2012

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The Highlands Ranch Herald comes down on the side of Douglas County’s approval of the Sterling Ranch Project. Here’s an excerpt from their editorial:

District Court Judge Paul King ruled that commissioners had erred in allowing Sterling Ranch to prove water availability at each phase of construction, rather than for the entirety of the project. King’s ruling was a response to a lawsuit against the board of commissioners filed by the Chatfield Community Association. The ruling, which the county says it will appeal, is rooted in a 2008 state law. It is easy to find out what HB 08-1141 says. It is much more difficult to discern what it means. And we find that to be a problem. Some interpret the law to mean developers must show adequate water through build-out. To others, the legislation gives local governments discretion to do what Douglas County did in allowing Sterling Ranch to show proof of water a phase at a time.

State Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, opposed the measure. He says as written, it is open to “multiple reasonable interpretations” and that it is a hindrance to responsible development.

If the law is to be strictly interpreted to mean all of a development’s water must be secured from the outset, it creates a daunting climate for Colorado developers…

Developers who have the foresight to incorporate land and water conservation into their plan should be rewarded, not punished. Sterling Ranch appears to be a water-conservation model that will be emulated in the future, and it provides water taps to established neighboring developments whose wells are running dry.

It would be ironic and a shame to allow a cloudy water law to hinder this project with a bright future.

More Sterling Ranch coverage here.


The South Metro Chamber of Commerce, et. al., ask judge to reverse Sterling Ranch decision

October 19, 2012

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From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

In what’s called an amicus brief — which basically means the parties have no standing in the case, but they’ve asked 18th Judicial District Judge Paul King to reconsider his ruling — the chamber said the case and King’s ruling “raises issues of critical importance to the economic strength of the businesses operating in the State of Colorado.” They said his ruling would strip local governments of their ability to control development and landowners of the right to develop their land, and would have negative economic ramifications for entire state…

The chamber, Colorado Contractors Association, Associated General Contractors of Colorado, Northwest Douglas County Economic Development Corp. and Colorado Association of Realtors stated in the amicus brief they “respectfully urge this Court not to disturb the decision made by the Commission, but rather, allow the operations of the Commission, and hence, local governments in the State of Colorado, to provide certainty and economic reality to land use decisions, especially those of the nature of the Sterling Ranch PD proposal, which, in and of itself, brings great economic and social value to the community.”[...]

The brief said King’s ruling, if allowed to stand, “creates procedural and fiscal uncertainty about the finality of a local government’s decision-making process, has a chilling effect on the confidence of Colorado property owners to develop their properties, destroys the opportunity for major developers, and therefore harms the economic future of the State and its citizens.”

Requiring developers to prove availability of water for the entire life of the project, which could take 20 or 30 years, “will result in small-scale patchwork development and unplanned sprawl.”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


Sterling Ranch developers appeal ruling

September 18, 2012

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From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

Attorneys for the planned Sterling Ranch subdivision in northwest Douglas County last week filed a motion asking for a judge to reconsider his ruling or at least send it back to the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners. The motion states District Court Judge Paul King erred when he ruled in late August that the commission had improperly approved a zoning changed and approved a development permit. The judge said the developers had failed to show the water supply was adequate for the Sterling Ranch project.

King’s ruling came in the civil lawsuit filed last year by the Chatfield Community Association against the Douglas County commission, challenging its approval of Sterling Ranch LLC’s plan for development.


Douglas County aims to file an appeal of the recent ruling about the Sterling Ranch development

September 9, 2012

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From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

“The board will appeal the judge’s decision directly to the Court of Appeals,” county spokeswoman Wendy Holmes said Tuesday. The board voted unanimously to appeal 18th Judicial District Judge Paul King’s decision and has 45 days to file the appeal, she said.

Meanwhile, here’s an analysis of the reality of growth and development along the Front Range, from Bart Taylor writing for the Planet Profit Report. Here’s an excerpt:

Despite protests of the Denver Post, King’s decision isn’t an indictment of Sterling Ranch, but a reasonable reading of a statute.

The proposed community southwest of Denver has been lauded as a water-efficient, sustainable community of the future, but it’s also a poster child for the challenge facing the south metro area of Colorado’s Front Range. Most Douglas County communities south of Denver rely on non-renewable, diminishing aquifers. By Douglas County standards, Sterling Ranch has lined up a diverse supply, including an agreement to buy 190 million gallons of water annually from close neighbor Aurora to support the 12,000 or so homes planned for the community. King said it wasn’t enough.

As a result, Colorado’s business leaders would do well to contemplate a pro-business water platform around which economic interests can rally.

Harold Smethills, the development’s managing partner, promised to move ahead. King’s decision seemed to surprise others. David Tschetter, chairman of the Colorado Association of Homebuilders, told the Denver Post the ruling “will have a negative impact on development, no question…Who knows what water-usage needs are going to be 30 years from now?”

But if pressed, Tschetter would agree that Douglas County’s water problem is spooking development, King’s ruling notwithstanding. Despite membership in a loose coalition called the South Metro Water Supply Authority, most communities in DC are pursuing their own water plans. Some are faring better than others. Aurora, in a position to sell water to Smethills, may be the region’s most innovative water operator. None, arguably, have developed a comprehensive program that guarantees residents and business renewable (non-ground water), affordable, sustainable supplies – and mitigates regional concerns.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


Sterling Ranch Rezoning and Water Appeal Revoked

August 27, 2012

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From email from Jennifer Riefenberg and the Chatfield Community Association:

On August 22, 2012, Douglas County District Court’s Judge Paul King, determined that Douglas County Commissioners abused their discretion in approving both the Sterling Ranch rezoning as well as its controversial water appeal, in May 2011, siding with the Plaintiffs, the Chatfield Community Association, et. al. In his determination, Judge King ruled that “The Board has no authority to approve the application without the Applicant demonstrating the adequacy of the water supply.” Judge King cited “In this case the applicant freely admits that it did not submit proof of an adequate water supply as part of its application.”

Douglas County has a long-held reputation for approving development which is dependent on non-renewable ground water or other non-sustainable water supplies. The Board of County Commissioners continued this trend when they approved the Sterling Ranch development in May 2011. Yesterday’s decision by the District Court focused on a 2008 revision to state statutes (CRS 29-20) that require “a water supply that will be sufficient for build-out of the proposed development in terms of quality, quantity, dependability, and availability to provide a supply of water for the type of development proposed…” , as well as Douglas County Zoning Resolution.

Water is a critical issue for the citizens and legislature of Colorado. However, Douglas County is currently proposing changes to their own zoning regulations that would make it even easier for development to occur without demonstrating a sustainable water supply. The impact of Judge King’s ruling should thwart this attempt to loosen these regulations..

Chatfield Community Association (CCA) is comprised primarily of citizens living in the Chatfield Basin area. CCA is interested in responsible growth, including clear and reliable evidence that the developer can provide the necessary infrastructure, water and wastewater commitments, density-appropriate plans for protecting sensitive areas, including Chatfield State Park, and protecting the rural way of life in the Chatfield Basin

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


Judge reverses the decision by the Douglas Count Board of County Commissioners to approve the Sterling Ranch planned development

August 24, 2012

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From the Castle Rock News Press (Rhonda Moore):

Douglas County District Court Judge Paul King on Aug. 22 issued an order in favor of the Chatfield Community Association, granting its request to reverse the decision by the board of county commissioners to approve the Sterling Ranch planned development and water appeal. James Kreutz served as county attorney in the 1990s and said the key to the judge’s order was clarity in state law. “The board wanted to approve (Sterling Ranch) and tried to figure out a way to get around the state statute that requires a showing of availability of water in quality and quantity,” Kreutz said. “And it didn’t work.”

King’s decision came more than a year after the board approved Harold Smethills’ request to subdivide more than 3,400 acres in the Chatfield Valley and gain an appeal to the county’s water regulations…

“The Board has no authority to approve the application without the Applicant demonstrating the adequacy of the water supply,” King wrote in his order. “The Water Appeal cannot be used to thwart the requirements of the development permit approval process.”[...]

Smethills, who this month announced two deals with Aurora Water that paved the way for the first plat filings for Sterling Ranch, remains committed to the development.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


The Sterling Ranch development signs up for WISE Project infrastructure and water supplies

August 17, 2012

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From the Castle Rock News (Rhonda Moore):

Sterling Ranch managing director Harold Smethills announced a deal with Aurora Water that will deliver 88 million gallons of water already owned by the development’s provider, Dominion Water. The deal paves the way for Sterling Ranch to begin the plat process with Douglas County as the development moves forward, Smethills said.

At the same time, Sterling Ranch signed a second deal with Aurora Water in a 15-year lease for 186 million gallons of water as a sub-agreement of the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency agreement, said Greg Baker, manager of Aurora Water public relations…

Sterling Ranch aims to begin its development process before year’s end and hopes to enter the market as quickly as possible, Smethills said. He hopes to debut Sterling Ranch, a planned development approved for more than 12,000 homes over its 20-year planned build-out, with as many as 2,000 homes in its early phases. “This gets us in the market years before we could have built our infrastructure because the demand is here now,” Smethills said.

More Sterling Ranch coverage here.


Sterling Ranch update

February 21, 2011

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From The Denver Post (Drew Beckwith):

The residential portion of Sterling Ranch will be designed to use an average of 0.22 acre-feet of water per unit per year, or about 71,500 gallons — even though Sterling Ranch has agreed to bring additional water for the first phase of development. This low-use target has proved feasible at several residential developments across the West and is less than a third of the county’s current planning standard. Using readily available technology, Sterling Ranch will be able to meet this target without requiring residents to modify their normal behavior.

There is an array of practices that can be used to conserve water in new developments, many of which are exemplified in Sterling Ranch’s proposal. Indoors, all new homes will be built with water-efficient appliances and fixtures, such as low-flow showerheads and high-efficiency toilets. Outdoors, small yards will be planted with water-wise, drought-tolerant vegetation and watered with efficient irrigation systems.

Across the development, homes will be clustered in villages with parks and open spaces providing ample recreation opportunities. Homeowners will be charged for their water using a conservation-oriented rate structure, the most powerful water-conservation tool. In addition, ongoing reporting of water use will enable the tracking of water-conservation savings and adjustment of management practices as new technologies become available.

More conservation coverage here. More Sterling Ranch coverage here.


Denver Botanic Gardens in advisory role with Sterling Ranch developers

September 14, 2010

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From The Denver Post (Margaret Jackson):

The botanic gardens will provide technical services focused on Water-Smart Gardening applications, such as selecting plants that use little water for landscaping. The botanic gardens also will help Sterling Ranch create a community garden using heirloom plants to maintain sustainable agriculture within the development.

The botanic gardens is working on the landscape design for a house on Titan Road, said Brian Vogt, chief executive of the organization. “We will advise on the right pallet of plants . . . and create a prototype to show you can have a lush looking garden, Vogt said.

More conservation coverage here.


CWCB: Sterling Ranch rainwater catchments project first to be approved under HB 09-1129

July 22, 2010

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Update: From INDT (John Rebchook):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to name the 3,400-acre Sterling Ranch as the state’s first rainwater harvesting pilot project. Sterling Ranch’s innovative water conservation plan currently calls for using just one-third the water traditionally required in Douglas County—without relying on rainwater collection. With the rainwater pilot designation, Sterling Ranch will develop a new water source to be used for outside irrigation that could result in even more water supply savings. “We are very excited about this pilot project,” said Geoff Blakeslee, chairman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, at the board meeting held in Salida…

Sterling Ranch estimates that at least half of the community’s outdoor irrigation demand can be met by capturing rainwater from storm drainage systems and rooftops in underground storage tanks or retention ponds. After being collected, it can be recycled to water the community’s lawns, gardens and open space.

From the Denver Business Journal (Paula Moore):

The proposed, $4.3 billion Sterling Ranch community in Douglas County will get the state’s first rainwater harvesting pilot project, ranch developers said Wednesday. The Colorado Water Conservation Board in Salida unanimously picked Sterling Ranch, which includes 3,400 acres, to have one of 10 such projects. The ranch will collect rainwater, from storm drainage systems and rooftops, and keep it in underground storage tanks or retention ponds. The water will be recycled for lawns, gardens and open space at the community. “This is a giant leap forward for water conservation,” Harold Smethills, principal at Sterling Ranch LLC and the project’s managing director, said in a statement. “It combines forward-thinking rainwater harvesting with Sterling Ranch’s vision for innovative water conservation…

The rainwater pilot project is part of the 2009 Colorado Legislature’s House Bill 1129, signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter last June. The legislation permits 10 rainwater collection systems to be developed.

More conservation coverage here.


H.B. 09-1129: Sterling Ranch development hopes to utilize rainwater catchments

August 3, 2009

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A Douglas County development — Sterling Ranch near Chatfield Reservoir — hopes to incorporate rainwater catchments into the design. Here’s a report from Andrew Simons writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

[Harold Smethills the major investor of Sterling Ranch] hopes Sterling Ranch will be one of 10 pilot residential developments to get statehouse approval for a rainwater collection system for use in the development. The rest of the rain that falls along the Front Range “is lost through evaporation” or is absorbed by native plants, such as field grasses, Smethills says…

Within the development, Smethills plans to install systems that will capture, store and recycle rainwater. These systems, Smethills says, will reduce the development’s consumption of municipal water by 50 percent…

For example, Sterling Ranch planners will install tanks underneath street roundabouts. Roads in the development will be constructed so rainwater will flow into the roundabouts. “This process utilizes tributary water in average or better rainfall years supplemented with storage and Denver Basin water in drought years,” according to the Sterling Ranch website. “This plan maximizes natural stream flows, traditional water storage, and by using the Denver Basin, we will dramatically reduce the water losses from evaporation while ensuring a dependable supply.”

Other water storage systems could include roof capture, where water is directed from a roof through a special gutter system and stored in a tank at the home. According to a study done by Headwaters Corp., a typical residential system where water is stored underground would run about $10,000 to $15,000…

In June, Gov. Bill Ritter signed HB 1129 into law. Getting permits won’t be easy. Prospective pilot projects must ensure water that’s captured in a neighborhood would not otherwise go into streams.

More Coyote Gulch 2009 legislative session coverage here.


“…we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer” — Eric Hecox

May 11, 2014

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From The Denver Post (Steve Raabe):

The shimmering surface of Rueter-Hess reservoir seems out of place in arid Douglas County, where almost all of the water resources are in aquifers a quarter-mile under ground.

Yet the $195 million body of water, southwest of Parker, is poised to play a crucial role in providing water to one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.

As recently as a few years ago, developers were content to tap the seemingly abundant Denver Basin aquifer to serve the thousands of new homes built each year along the southern edge of metro Denver.

But a problem arose. As homebuilding in Douglas County exploded, the groundwater that once seemed abundant turned out to be finite. Land developers and utilities found that the more wells they drilled into the aquifer, the more grudgingly it surrendered water.

“Now we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a consortium of 14 water suppliers that serve 300,000 residents.

As water pressure in the Denver Basin steadily declines, developers and water utilities that rely on the aquifer are being forced to drill more wells and pump harder from existing wells.

Enter Rueter-Hess. The massive storage facility — 50 percent larger in surface area than Cherry Creek reservoir — aims to help developers wean themselves from groundwater by shifting to other sources.

The reservoir anchors a multifaceted water plan for the south metro area that includes the purchase of costly but replenishable surface water, reuse of wastewater and a greater emphasis on conservation.

Douglas County, long a magnet for builders enticed by easy access to Denver Basin aquifers, is taking the water issue seriously.

A new proposal floated by the county government would give developers density bonuses — up to 20 percent more buildout — for communities that reduce typical water consumption and commit to using renewable sources for at least half of their water.

“In the past, the county had not taken an active role in water supplies because groundwater was sufficient,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. “But we understand that we cannot continue to be solely reliant on our aquifers. What we’re doing today will help us plan for the next 25 years.”

Parker Water and Sanitation District launched construction of Rueter-Hess in 2006 and began gradually filling the reservoir in 2011, fed by excess surface and alluvial well flows in Cherry Creek.

Partners in the project include Castle Rock, Stonegate and the Castle Pines North metropolitan district. Parker Water and Sanitation district manager Ron Redd said he expects more water utilities to sign on for storage as they begin acquiring rights to surface water.

The chief source of new supplies will be the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, or WISE, in which Denver Water and Aurora Water will sell an average of 7,250 acre-feet a year to 10 south-metro water suppliers beginning in 2016. Most of them are expected to purchase storage for the new water in Rueter-Hess. An acre-foot is generally believed to be enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year

Parker Water and Sanitation also is exploring ways to develop recreational uses at the dam — including hiking, camping, fishing and nonmotorized boating — through an intergovernmental agreement with other Douglas County entities.

Even three years after opening, the reservoir’s stored water has reached just 13 percent of its 75,000-acre-foot capacity. Yet Rueter-Hess is the most visible icon in Douglas County’s search for water solutions.

At stake is the ability to provide water for a county that in the 1990s and early 2000s perennially ranked among the fastest-growing in the nation. The number of homes in Douglas County has soared from 7,789 in 1980 to more than 110,000 today, an astounding increase of more than 1,300 percent.

The building boom slowed after the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009. Growth rates that had reached as high as 10 percent to 15 percent a year during the 1990s ratcheted down to about 1 percent to 2 percent.

But as the economy has begun recovering, Douglas County is once again “seeing high levels of demand” for new residential development, said assistant director of planning services Steve Koster.

One of the biggest Douglas County projects in decades is Sterling Ranch, a proposed community of 12,000 homes south of Chatfield State Park.

The 3,400-acre ranch sits on the outer fringes of the Denver Basin aquifer, making it a poor candidate for reliance on the basin’s groundwater.

As a result, the project developer will employ a mixed-bag of water resources, including an aggressive conservation and efficiency plan; surface-water purchases from the WISE program; well water from rights owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz; and a precedent-setting rainwater-collection program.

Sterling Ranch managing director Harold Smethills described the Rueter-Hess concept as “brilliant,” even though his development has not yet purchased any of the reservoir’s capacity.

“You just can’t have enough storage,” he said.

More Rueter-Hess Reservoir coverage here and here. More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: Ellen Roberts’ new bill, ‘addresses lawn irrigation in new subdivisions.’ #COleg

January 18, 2014

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From The Durango Herald (Ellen Roberts):

My first bill has been introduced, and it addresses lawn irrigation in new subdivisions when the water used is transferred from agricultural use. It would take effect in 2016. I’ve received lots of input on the bill.

Most people understand the need to address Colorado’s water shortage, especially as our state’s population grows. It’s anticipated our population will double by 2050, yet we don’t have the water supply needed to support that growth.

It has been suggested the bill is heavy-handed, and I understand that sentiment. The bill is a work in progress, and I’m committed to as many meetings as it takes to get a variety of responses and to consider suggested alternatives on this proposal.

While some view it as being a Western Slope versus Front Range approach, it’s not intended that way. It is true, though, I’m concerned about where the new water is going to come from to support the growth projected for Colorado.

Given the private property rights’ nature of Colorado water, the bill clearly allows agricultural water transfers to occur. The focus is on municipal water – half of which goes for lawns and three-quarters of that water for lawns is consumed by evaporation. If this bill is passed, Colorado would lose less water to evaporation, which is a significant consumer, particularly given the dryness of our semi-arid climate.

My constituent, Steve Harris, a water engineer from Durango, proposed the bill idea to me, and it was developed to address the widespread concern that our state is rapidly losing land in agricultural production because of municipalities buying the water rights for their growth. Food independence is even more important than energy independence, so this proposal struck a chord for me.

From The Denver Post (Vincent Carroll)

Sen. Ellen Roberts appears somewhat surprised by herself. The Durango Republican is not used to carrying bills imposing mandates on local governments, and it makes her “personally uncomfortable” that she is doing so now.

But she’s convinced, she told me, that “Colorado needs to have a conversation” about the way cities and towns purchase water from farms and ranches and what it will do to rural Colorado as our population continues to grow. So she and three other lawmakers, two Democrats and another Republican, have filed Senate Bill 17, which bars any residential development that relies on former ag water from having lawns covering more than 15 percent of its area.

You can see how homebuilders and local governments are just going to love this unprecedented meddling in their prerogatives. I’m not so crazy about the idea, either — as a state mandate. But Roberts’ goal of a major reduction in water use by developers is worth touting, and is achievable without sacrificing homebuyer appeal.

At least that’s what Harold Smethills is banking on in his Sterling Ranch development in northwest Douglas County, which will be moving dirt this year for the first 1,000 lots of what is expected to max out over time at 30,000 residents.

Smethills and his partners have spent a fortune measuring how much water is used on traditional landscaping and testing options that use much less but still appeal to a wide swath of buyers. Those buyers don’t want a purely “rocks and cactus” look, he told me recently.

Traditional bluegrass requires 25 gallons of water annually per square foot, he said. But Sterling Ranch thinks of grass “as a throw rug rather than a carpet” and will coordinate it with perennials and shrubs, he added.

Sterling Ranch has built demonstration plots that use as little as 12½ gallons and even 7 gallons per square foot annually.

“We don’t think the market is ready for the 7,” he said. “We think it’s very ready for the 12.”

If so, Sterling Ranch will use less than half the water of a traditional development even before it counts savings from its most distinctive concept: rainwater harvesting. It plans to capture rain from rooftops and storm drainage systems to reduce landscaping needs — a practice that was illegal until lawmakers passed a bill in 2009 allowing the experiment.

Rainwatering harvesting was outlawed decades ago in order to prevent it from poaching a resource that belonged to downstream users. So Sterling Ranch is involved in complex tests overseen by state officials to determine how much water actually runs off into streams or penetrates to groundwater.

“We owe the river only the water that made it to the river,” Smethills explains, adding that surprisingly little does. Still, he says, “we’re probably five or six years” from going to a water court to establish a finding.

Yet rainwater will play a big role in the project from the outset, reducing outdoor consumption by an extra third.

Sen. Roberts says she put a ceiling for lawns of 15 percent in her bill because experts say the average lawn is 30 to 50 percent of a lot, and half of a typical home’s water is used outdoors. But if that’s the case, her mandate would probably reduce consumption by less than what Sterling Ranch is poised to achieve.

And if that proves true, it’s almost certain that local communities along the Front Range will begin pushing for similar savings on their own.

Supply side land-use planning. More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.


The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar – ‘Shrinking in Supply, Growing in Demand’ — Sept. 13

August 28, 2013

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From email from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar – “Shrinking in Supply, Growing in Demand” — takes place 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, Colo. The cost is $30 and includes lunch. Student cost $10. Register at http://www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org, by calling (970)-945-8522 or e-mailing mspyker@crwcd.org.

The seminar is an easy, one-day presentation of the latest hot subjects that challenge the Colorado River and how science, politics and other actions seek to address them. The Colorado River District was created 76 years ago to protect Western Colorado water and stages the seminar to promote public education about critical challenges to the lifeblood river of the Southwest.

Speakers include Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the Colorado River District, who will give an overview to recent findings that promise the Colorado River faces greater challenges than ever from climate change and human use of the Colorado River. Other speakers will address a U.S. Geological Survey study that confirms warm springs are reducing snowpack, a forecast for drought and the latest Bureau of Reclamation ruling to reduce releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead.

The keynote speaker at lunch will be John Entsminger, the Senior Deputy General Manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Climate and reservoir levels most directly affect Las Vegas and its surrounding community and Entsminger will give a view of what that means.

In the afternoon, the developers of Sterling Ranch in the southern Denver metro area will talk about how they want to build a community with water conservation as a first concern.

The day concludes with a presentation by the new director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, James Eklund, about the Colorado Water Plan. Earlier this year, Gov. Hickenlooper ordered that a plan be given to him by 2015 that addresses measures to meet a looming water supply gap as Colorado grows to as many as 10 million people by 2050.

A discussion of the plan and ways to meet the gap will take place in a panel discussion. Making up the panel will be the chairs or representatives of six Basin Roundtables – citizens groups in each basin created by the Colorado General Assembly in the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act.

Agenda Topics
Change: It is for Certain
– Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn provides an overview of the trends that lead to the day’s subjects regarding snowpack, drought, Lake Powell equalization and the Colorado Water Plan

It’s True: Spring is Killing our Rocky Mountain Snowpack, U.S Geological Survey confirms – lead study author Greg Pederson from Bozeman, Mont., will describe the findings that we have long suspected to be true

A Dry Subject: Drought and a Look Ahead – Klaus Wolter of the NOAA Climate Diagnostics Center in Boulder, the Southwest’s preeminent forecaster, will describe conditions that are developing for snowfall this winter

Level With Us: Whither Lake Powell – Malcolm Wilson, Chief, Water Resources Group, Upper Colorado Region of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will talk about the recent drought-induced decision to reduce water releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead and what that means for now and into the future for the states depending on the Colorado River

Lunch Keynote Speaker – John Entsminger, Senior Deputy General Manager at Southern Nevada Water Authority of Las Vegas, Nev., will present a Lower Basin view of Lake Powell, Lake Mead and Big River Issues

Putting Conservation on the Table: the Sterling Ranch Story – Beorn Courtney, an engineer helping to plan Sterling Ranch in Douglas County, south of Denver, will describe how land use, clustering, landscaping, rain water capture and other efficiencies will be employed in this new community

The Colorado Water Plan: a Call and Response – James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board will discuss why Gov. Hickenlooper has ordered up a Colorado Water Plan on a tight deadline and what that means for water policy and the solving a looming water supply gap as Colorado continues to attract and give birth to new residents

A Response from Both Sides of the Continental Divide: How Does This Play Out – A panel discussion among six representatives from the Basin Roundtables. Guests include Gary Barber of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable; Mark Koleber of the Metro Roundtable, Joe Frank of the South Platte Basin Roundtable; Tom Gray of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable; Michelle Pierce of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable; Mike Preston of the Southwest Basin Roundtable and Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

More Colorado River District coverage here.


Grand Junction: The Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar will take place September 13 #ColoradoRiver

August 18, 2013

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Click here to read the latest newsletter from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt). Here’s an excerpt:

What: The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar — “Shrinking in Supply, Growing in Demand” — where in one day, you can learn about the latest news and programs related to the Colorado River and its challenges to meet the needs of man and nature in the arid West.

When: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 13, 2013;  check-in starts at 8:30 a.m. Greg Pederson, the lead author of the U.S. Geological Survey study that confirms snow- pack is falling victim to warmer spring temperatures.

Where: The Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, Colo.

Cost: $30 for adults with advance registration by Friday, Sept. 6, 2013; $10 for students. Includes lunch. $40 after Sept. 6.

Who are some of the speakers?

  • James Eklund, the new director of the Colo- rado Water Conservation Board who will dis-
    cuss the two-year deadline to create a Colorado Water Plan and what that means
  • Klaus Wolter, the Climate Diagnostics Center researcher for NOAA who is the go-to expert for predicting seasonal weather
  • A panel discussion on how the Roundtables will inform the Colorado Water Plan with their findings and plans to meet their water supply shortages
  • Beorn Courtney, an engineer for the Headwa- ters Corp. who will discuss how the Sterling Ranch development in the South Denver Metro Area will employ water conservation through house design, landscaping, clustering and water capture
  • A discussion on what the low levels at Lake Powell portend reduced water releases to Lake Mead and the Lower Basin states and a decla- ration of a shortage ….. and more
  • Information and questions: 970-945-8522 or edinfo@crwcd.org.

    More education coverage here.


    2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-258 would allow a developer to prove up water supplies at each stage of development #coleg

    April 11, 2013

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    From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

    Senate Bill 258, introduced Tuesday, is sponsored by state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. If passed, the bill would declare that “each application included in the definition of development permit constitutes a stage in the development permit approval process.”

    Its introduction follows a recent ruling from a District Court judge that halted the proposed Sterling Ranch development, which calls for a 12,050-home community in northern Douglas County. Eighteenth Judicial District Judge Paul King ruled that Douglas County commissioners erred when they agreed to rezone the 3,400-acre site in 2011. Commissioners also had decided the developer, Sterling Ranch LLC, could prove it had enough water to serve the community later as each platting of the development was approved. But on Aug. 22, King ruled that the commissioners, in allowing the developer to take an incremental approach later in the planning stages, “exceeded its jurisdiction and abused its discretion.” King’s Nov. 9 order states he followed the letter of the 2008 Colorado law when making his ruling striking down the Board’s decision.

    Government and business leaders filed an amicus brief asking King to reconsider, fearing his ruling would strip local governments of their ability to control development and landowners of the right to develop their land, and would have negative economic ramifications for the entire state.

    The new bill states: “With respect to the definition of ‘development permit’ as used in connection with the statutory provisions requiring that land development be supported by an adequate water supply, the bill modifies the definition to clarify that each application included in the definition of the term constitute a stage in the development permit approval process.”

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    New Roxborough Water and Sanitation District water treatment could cost $23 million

    January 21, 2013

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    From the Castle Rock News-Press (Rhonda Moore):

    The Roxborough water treatment plant, at more than 50 years old, has lasted beyond the end of its useful life and, according to the district board, it’s not a matter of whether disaster will strike, it’s a matter of when. The district is waiting to hear from its customers who must decide how to pay for a new facility, estimated to cost as much as $23 million.

    The new plant will replace the one purchased in 1972 from Aurora Water, according to the district. The existing plant was built in 1958 and refurbished at the time of the purchase. It has outlasted its expected 30-year lifespan by about 20 years, according to the district board…

    Completion of a new facility will cap a long-term water plan that ensures delivery of water to Roxborough residents for the next 100 years, he said.

    Moore was instrumental in reaching a 2010 deal with Aurora Water to get water to Roxborough residents in what Moore calls the most comprehensive, sustainable water plan in Douglas County. In the deal, Roxborough signed a 99-year lease with Aurora to buy into the Aurora system for $22.3 million, securing water to serve Roxborough’s build-out population of 3,800 units. The deal does not allow Roxborough to sell water outside of its boundaries, which means the Roxborough plant will not be designed to serve residents in surrounding neighborhoods, including the proposed Sterling Ranch development, Moore said…

    The district announced its plans in 2012 and in December sent a questionnaire to customers asking them to select one of three payment options for financing the new plant. Among the options are a $20 monthly hike in water rates, beginning in March or April, which would allow the board to move forward with design and financing in the first quarter of 2013; a $10 fee, which would double to $20 by 2014 and delay the start of construction by about 12 months; or a $5 fee that would increase every six months to a $20 fee by 2014, which would delay start of construction by about 18 months.

    The district has about $5 million in capital reserves to contribute to the plant and is aiming for a 30-year note to pay the balance, Moore said.

    Moore has been fielding residents’ questions, many of which revolve around the district’s policy to limit outdoor watering during the summer to twice a week. The board has yet to vote on watering restrictions, Moore said. The new plant will have a 4 million-gallon-per-day treatment capacity, double that of the existing plant.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Douglas County is hosting a public workshop on October 4 for review of the county’s water regulations

    September 27, 2012

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    From the Highlands Ranch Herald (Rhonda Moore):

    County planners on Oct. 4 will host a public workshop to review proposed revisions to Section 18A of the Douglas County zoning resolution. Section 18A is the resolution that addresses the commissioners’ discretion to determine when an applicant shall satisfy the adequacy of the water supply for a proposed development. It is also the section of the county’s zoning regulations at the heart of the Sterling Ranch lawsuit.

    In May 2011, commissioners approved the Sterling Ranch application to rezone 3,400 acres in a development planned for up to 12,000 homes. At the same time, the county approved an exception to section 18A of its regulations to permit Sterling Ranch to prove its water supply at each phase of construction, rather than at the beginning of the planned development. The board’s decision was challenged in court and, on Aug. 22, a district court judge ruled against the county.

    Commissioners asked staff to revisit the county’s regulations to ensure the county remains aligned with state statute, said Commissioner Jack Hilbert.

    Meanwhile the Sterling Ranch has asked the judge to reconsider. Here’s a report from Rhonda Moore writing for the Castle Rock News Press. From the article:

    In a motion filed Sept. 12 in Douglas County District Court, the motion asked District Court Judge Paul King to have a second look at his Aug. 22 order in favor of the Chatfield Community Association that reversed the Douglas County Board of County Commissioner’s approval of the Sterling Ranch planned development and water appeal.

    With their approval, commissioners granted Sterling Ranch permission to rezone 3,400 acres in a development planned for up to 12,000 homes. In tandem with the rezone, commissioners approved a water appeal that granted Harold Smethills, Sterling Ranch managing director, to prove an adequate water supply for the development at each plat filing, or phase, of construction.

    King’s ruling came about a year after commissioners approved the Sterling Ranch application. King applied a state law that says “the Board has no authority to approve the application without the Applicant demonstrating the adequacy of the water supply.”

    Attorney David Foster, on behalf of Sterling Ranch, hopes King will reconsider his decision. His argument is two-fold: that the rezone is not for new construction, it is for use; and that the state only requires a water analysis at one point during the development process.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


    ‘Development may be pushed to areas that have water’ — Chris Woodka

    September 23, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A recent Colorado appeals court decision reversed Douglas County’s decision to approve the Sterling Ranch development because commissioners apparently violated a 2008 state law that prohibits permitting developments unless they can prove they have adequate water supplies.

    Initially, I was worried that this could spark a feeding frenzy and even more agricultural water rights would be purchased for domestic water supplies. On further review, I’m not so sure.

    What if this kink made developers a little more thoughtful about where new building took place, and got them out of the habit of plunking down endless subdivisions in the I-25 corridor? Why spend millions of dollars moving water to where it isn’t?

    Look out Dolores the subdivisions are coming.

    Water rich areas attracting industry and development is one of the themes of Steve Maxwell’s book, The Future of Water: A Startling Look Ahead.

    Mr. Maxwell was at last week’s drought conference. He expects the rust belt to prosper as the West dries up from climate change, resource development and overpopulation.

    More infrastructure coverage here and here.


    Douglas County: Sun Resources (Phil Anschutz) plans to mine 15,000 acre-feet a year from the Denver Basin aquifer system

    September 14, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Rights to the water were acquired by billionaire Phil Anschutz last year, and one of his companies, Sun Resources, is building wells that could pump as much as 15,000 acre-feet of water per year from Denver Basin aquifers. That’s enough water to sustain 30,000 houses, though Sun Resources chief executive Gary Pierson characterized the drilling as exploratory.

    “We have not made any arrangements for the water at this point,” Pierson said…

    Two production wells — 1,450 and 1,800 feet deep — were nearing completion this week. A 2009 document obtained by The Denver Post proposed 35 production wells and shows water being moved to cities and communities through pipelines, including one leading to Sterling Ranch, a planned $4.3 billion, 12,050-house development south of Chatfield State Park…

    State water authorities this year issued permits allowing Sun Resources to drill two production wells under the Greenland open space. A 1995 water-court decision established rights to 1.5 million acre-feet of water under the 7,640-acre Greenland Ranch. Anschutz acquired those rights last year in a purchase of assets from the Gaylord family of Oklahoma…

    South-metro water providers relying on finite underground sources have declared a mission of shifting to renewable water from snowmelt and rivers, said Eric Hecox, director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. “That doesn’t mean they have to be 100 percent off the Denver Basin aquifer water,” Hecox said. “What we would like to do is use the Denver Basin in a different way, as a drought supply.

    More Denver Basin Aquifer system coverage here and here.


    ‘How close to no-growth edicts are we in places like southeast-metro Denver and other locales?’ — Bart Taylor (ColoradoBiz)

    April 19, 2012

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    Here’s an in-depth look at business’ role in the world of water supplies, from Bart Taylor writing for Colorado Biz. From the article:

    When real-estate reawakens, as it will, water will replace finance as a significant barrier to growth in Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, and other locales in the West. No-growth is real-estate’s ‘nuclear option’. How close to no-growth edicts are we in places like southeast-metro Denver and other locales? Don’t believe water can impact development? Developers of Sterling Ranch, or the Canyons, both in Douglas County, may disagree.

    On the western slope in Colorado, and in communities along the River throughout the Basin, business that relies on steady, regular flows for their livelihood are attuned to the major fight developing over the future of the River. New alliances are forming to join the battle, like Protect the Flows, a coalition of business and environmental interests in western Colorado. They generally oppose new appropriations from the River, though Upper Basin interests may be entitled to more. Who’s right? Business, or, well, business that needs the water?

    What impact can new corporate sustainability initiatives have on reducing demand and extending current supply? Should water replace energy conservation as the compelling ‘green’ initiative for business? If so, how?

    Without a sustainable water plan – one that business supports – can the West promote its otherwise brilliant future? Or will industry rule out Colorado and the West and locate elsewhere?


    The Dominion Water and Sanitation District to join the South Metro Water Supply Authority

    November 9, 2010

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    From The Denver Post:

    South Metro Water Supply Authority, a public entity of cooperating water providers in Doug las and Arapahoe counties, has accepted Dominion Water and Sanitation District as its 15th member. Dominion is a wholesale water provider for the Chatfield Basin population, including Sterling Ranch.

    More South Metro Water Supply Authority coverage here and here.


    Littleton: The city is renegotiating their supply contract with Denver Water

    November 1, 2010

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    From the Littleton Independent (Heather Sackett):

    Discussions began this spring around the same time Littleton was asked by Sterling Ranch, a proposed, large-scale Douglas County residential development, to consider the potential for annexation. The contract, written in 1970, states that areas annexed by the city will automatically become part of the area served by Denver Water. “Littleton’s contract is an anomaly that appears to assume water service will be available for future annexed territory,” the late Denver Water Manager Chips Barry wrote in a March 30 letter to Littleton City Manager Jim Woods. “It appears that Littleton could, in theory, annex to the south, as you did with the TrailMark annexation.” The letter goes on to say that Denver Water would probably not have the water available to serve any large areas south of Littleton. Barry proposed an amendment to the contract that would limit Denver Water’s obligation to serve areas newly annexed into Littleton.

    More South Platte River basin coverage here.


    Western Resource Advocates: ‘New House New Paradigm — A Model for How to Plan, Build, and Live Water-smart’

    January 5, 2010

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    A colleague at the office sent this link to a new report from Western Resource Advocates titled “New House New Paradigm — A Model for How to Plan, Build, and Live Water-smart.” The Stapleton development at the old Denver airport is featured along with a new project (Sterling Ranch) that will take advantage of legislation passed last year that allows 10 pilot projects for utilizing rainwater catchments (H.B. 09-1129). From the WRA release:

    The Intermountain West is the driest region of the United States, and it is also the region that experienced the most explosive growth over the past decade. Though many western rivers already have more claims upon their flows than there is water flowing in them, the pace of development continues unabated. In the report New House, New Paradigm, Western Resource Advocates provides an innovative take on how new housing development should proceed: water conservation and efficiency must be built-in to the process of planning, building, and living in new communities in the West.

    Water conservation is not new to the West. What is new is a coordinated effort throughout the development process to create and inhabit communities that are designed to abide with the region’s lack of water. A number of community developments have already taken this approach and their success serves as a model for future development. New House, New Paradigm shows why their approach is succeeding and how other planned developments can learn from these models.

    New House, New Paradigm executive summary (0.4MB .pdf file)
    New House, New Paradigm full report (3MB .pdf file)

    More conservation coverage here.


    Conservation and urban water providers

    October 9, 2009

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    Here’s a look at water planning and conservation, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

    While the Colorado Water Conservation Board is looking at several ways to increase or share water supplies, cutting back on urban demand also will be a factor as part of the mix of strategies. “There really needs to be an effort to meld land-use planning into the availability of water,” Reed Dils, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB, said earlier this year in a discussion on urban conservation. “We’re just doing it piecemeal.”

    Some of those pieces are coming together within Colorado, however, as urban use decreases and studies look at how to get by on even less water per person. The most noticeable effect has been the decline of use by individual water users in the cities since the drought in 2002. In some cases, it has been caused by continued restrictions and higher rates, although some cities, like Denver, have waged large education campaigns…

    Last year, the Pueblo Board of Water Works found users are consistently watering their lawns less – outside watering accounts for about two-thirds of Puebloans’ water use. Surveys show customers are in favor of more conservation measures on the household level. Peak demand days were lower this year as a result, and it appears metered water sales might bring in less revenue than projected this year…

    Meanwhile there are some communities being planned in a way that reduces water use, while allowing storm flows off new development to return to rivers in a more natural way, reducing the worst effects of minor floods and improving water quality. Two of those in Colorado were part of a recent study by Western Resource Advocates, a group that works for wise use of water, among other environmental causes. A neighborhood being developed at the former Stapleton airport site is being developed at a higher density than traditional suburbs – about 12 units per acre. That will allow for wetlands and improved drainage throughout the 12,000-unit development. About one-quarter of the homes have been built, and are selling well. The design of Stapleton houses, both inside and out results in a savings of water of about 40 percent per capita, according to the report. A proposed 3,000-acre, 12,500-unit development in Douglas County called Sterling Ranch is targeting supplying the needs of five households per acre-foot of water, almost twice the efficiency of nearby development…

    Colorado State University-Fort Collins is studying how to recycle graywater – the product of sinks, showers and washing machines – directly on-site for irrigation and flushing toilets. Researchers are also studying how much water savings can be obtained from rainfall harvesting, reuse, conservation and graywater use.

    More conservation coverage here.


    Western States Water Council: 2009 Symposium day two recap

    September 29, 2009

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    Opening Remarks

    Governor Ritter kicked off the second day of the conference with a presentation about the opportunities and challenges facing the state and the western U.S. “Water is the most important resource to Colorado,” he said, citing the importance of water to recreation, tourism, agriculture, energy development along with the basic needs for the population.

    Ritter mentioned the possible effects of climate change (climate disruption to some) on statewide water supplies. A 10-20% reduction in availability is the current long-term estimate. Ritter said, “How we manage our scarce water resource will determine how successful we are.”

    The governor — a farmer in his youth — reminded the crowd that agriculture is the 3rd largest economy in Colorado as well as part of our heritage, saying, “It helped shape our culture.” He also made the point about the importance of a, “Sustainable locally produced food supply,” to the well being and health of Coloradans.

    West slope water observers will be happy to note that the governor is opposed the transbasin diversions unless Colorado can find a “win, win, win” for all involved. He advocates thinking about land use planning as part of transportation planning and water planning. Ritter — through Harris Sherman at the Department of Natural Resources — has been asking people to consider, “How will we need to change to build the kind of west we want to leave to our children and grandchildren?”

    State Efforts

    This session was a panel discussion with representatives from California (Rod Walston), Arizona (Sandy Fabritz-Whitney) and Washington (Brian Walsh). The panelists related experiences and plans for the integration of land use and water planning back home.

    Walston said that the traditional conversation focused on quantity and quality but now includes integrated land use and water. He outlined several legislative initiatives in California. The legislature has tried to mitigate the impacts of development by setting up statewide requirements for developers. For example, an environmental impact report for developments must be completed and approved prior to project approval and cities must create an urban water management plan which is updated every five years with a running 20 year supply.

    Arizona, according to Fabritz-Whitney, requires a 100 year water supply for new developments and speculators cannot sell a lot for development unless they demonstrate a 100 year water supply. She told the group that Arizona’s first drought plan was adopted in 2004.

    In Washington State the issues vary depending on location, according to Walsh. The west side of the state averages nearly 50 inches of precipitation a year while the eastern part of the state is much dryer. In addition, endangered species effect planning for virtually the entire Columbia River basin. The state has seen a good deal of success with local watershed planning groups that consist of county, city, tribal, state government and other local stakeholders. Some of the challenges going forward are the completion of a statewide water plan, a clearer definition of water rights (along with the cessation of new appropriations in some watersheds), navigating or unifying a patchwork of planning efforts, overcoming the “use it of lose it” aspect of prior appropriation, the need to permit domestic exempt wells and the effects of climate change. He listed conservation, reclaimed water, rainwater harvesting, aquifer storage and recharge and low impact development as opportunities for the state.

    Local and County Efforts

    The panel moderator, Julio Iturreria (Long Range Program Manager, Arapahoe County), stated that, in his career, “I have been doing planning with the idea that water will always be availiable.” He said that now is a good time — with development at low levels across the state — to approach local planning officials and ask that they include water planning in their processes going forward.

    The panel included Peter Pollack (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy), Lorna Stickel (Portland Water Bureau) and Mark Shively (Executive Director, Douglas County Water Resource Authority).

    First up was Pollack a former City of Boulder planner. He maintains that we can do a better job at the local level. He advocates water planning at all levels. Transportation planning drives land use, according to Pollack. He mentioned that Boulder and Boulder County were able to come to agreement about growth by using the concept of “urban services” (fire, water, sewer, police, etc.). The county agreed to stay with its rural character and drive growth to the cities and towns since they provided the urban services.

    Stickel started out by saying that, “Water Supply is one of the most important aspects of planning.” There are many layers of planning in Oregon, most driven by legislation. She mentioned Portland’s gray water efforts. Homeowners are required to use “Off the shelf pre-designed systems.” She also talked about the Portland Sustainability Center which may be the largest green building in the world, according to Stickel. The building will recycle 100% of its water and generate much of the electrical demand using solar.

    Shively listed some of the events that got Douglas County to where it is today — heavily dependent on the Denver Basin Aquifer system. Douglas County’s two dozen or so water providers depend on fossil water as do all of the individual domestic wells. The county was depending on Denver Water’s Two Forks Reservoir which was defeated in the late 1980s, and is still looking for a sustainable supply.

    Shively told the attendees about the county conservation efforts. 40% of the county is open space. The county has implemented a rigorous review of plans. Castle Rock has reduced consumption to 134 gallons per capita per day. The county has implemented a “water ambassador program” where high school students present water education to fourth graders. The county is also part of an IGA with the South Metro Water Authority, Denver Water and Aurora Utilities that aims to share infrastructure and planning. He highlighted the Sterling Ranch development which hopes to use rainwater catchments (authorized by H.B. 09-1129 in the last legislative session) to cut gpcd for watering common areas.

    Shively stressed that he wants to see people, “Work together to plan energy and water projects for our kids and grandkids.”

    Two Sides Talking

    The luncheon panel was moderated by Peter Nichols, an attorney with Trout, Raley, Montano, Witwer and Freeman. Panel members were Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Denver Water Manager Chips Barry, Aurora Water Manager Mark Pifher, Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn and Grand Junction Utilities Manager Greg Trainor.

    Barry said, “Increased density is the way to reduce gallons per capita per day,” and greater density means, “higher per capita consumption per acre.” He said that Denver Water and west slope interests have come to understand that the two big issues are certainty of supply for Denver and a fixed total diversion number for the Colorado River Basin.

    Trainor wants certainty or agreement about the water data that the basin roundtables are collecting, saying, “We have to be able to believe the data in front of us.”

    Kuhn: “The tools of the past will probably not meet the uncertainty of the future.”

    Pifher said that Aurora’s short-term strategy is to develop infrastructure to reuse their effluent. The project, Prairie Waters, filters water at the South Platte River. Water will then travel 30 some miles for treatment and distribution through Aurora’s potable water system.

    Mayor Tauer said that for Aurora and Denver, “The drought was a catalyst,” regional cooperation is the name of the game now. Commenting on conservation efforts he joked that, “Denver Water’s campaign says, ‘Use only what you need,’ [while] Aurora says, ‘Use what you think you can afford with our new rate structure.'”

    More Colorado water coverage here.


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