Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Some folks were a bit wary of a request this week from a Denver metro group for financial assistance with a water project that local water leaders were concerned might facilitate water exportation from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range.

Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, asked members of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable water group this week for $10,000 from the roundtable’s basinallocated funds for the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Project.

Hecox made his initial presentation this week and will return next month with the formal funding request. He told local roundtable members he had already visited the other eight basin roundtable groups throughout the state and they had been supportive of putting $10,000 each into this project in an effort to show cross-basin cooperation and support for local projects.

Hecox said the basin support would help leverage money from other sources and serve as a cash match. He said while most of the basin roundtables committed to $10,000 each, the metro basin committed $40,000 and the South Platte roundtable $15,000 towards the WISE project.

Hecox explained that the South Metro Water Supply Authority is made up of 13 independent water providers that serve areas like Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock.

What brought these groups together, Hecox explained, was their common issue of having non-tributary nonrenewable groundwater as their water supply. The group has been working together towards a better water source solution since the 1960’s and 1970’s , Hecox said, and had participated in the Two Forks Project, a dam project that never materialized . “Two Forks going away didn’t change the need for storage,” he said. To roundtable member Charlie Spielman’s comment that Two Forks was being built one gravel pit at a time, Hecox said rather than one big bucket, there are lots of smaller buckets filling that same need, and there are a lot of gravel pits being used for water storage.

“That’s not a component of our project,” he said. The authority has tried to reduce water use through significant conservation efforts , he added, and the per capita water use in their communities has decreased by 30 percent since the 2000’s .

The latest idea prompting the WISE project is to partner with Denver and Aurora water providers, which do have renewable supplies, to reuse their municipal effluent , Hecox explained. The WISE project will encompass a treatment facility that will treat that water so it can be distributed to participating communities through existing pipelines. The authority purchased the pipeline for $34 million, Hecox said, which is being changed from its original use to be used for this project.

The authority will pay Denver and Aurora $5.50 per thousand gallons to use their water supplies, pipe the water, treat it and distribute it to about two million people in the South Metro Water Supply Authority area.

Groundwater and surface water will be comingled in the pipeline, Hecox explained . He said the funding being requested from roundtables as a local match will help build a treatment plant for the groundwater, which will cost about $6.4 million.

The authority is combining $5.4 million in matching funds and will submit a grant request for $915,000, according to Hecox.

Hecox said the Rio Grande Roundtable should support this project because it addresses the statewide gap between supply and demand and because it would support the new approach of regional partnerships to address water issues throughout the state.

Hecox said that the communities in the South Metro authority have, much like many water users in the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley), relied on groundwater resources, so they are trying to become mores sustainable, and the option of reusing Denver/Aurora effluent is one method of accomplishing that. The WISE project will allow area water resources to be reused multiple times, Hecox explained.

The water that the authority will be buying from Denver and Aurora was previously going down the South Platte, Hecox said.

“This will use water that was going downstream,” he said.

He added that Aurora had a few short-term leases on its water previously, but this would be a permanent one.

The authority is guaranteed supplies from Denver and Aurora until 2030, he said.

Roundtable member Steve Vandiver, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said this seemed to be opening up a new distribution system for the entire metro area that would make it easier to import water from other parts of the state, such as the Valley. He added that there is an export project currently proposed in the northern part of the San Luis Valley, and there have been continuous overtures over time from water speculators wishing to benefit from exporting water out of the Valley. It would seem that the WISE project would fit right into their plans, he said.

Hecox admitted the WISE project would not meet all of the metro water needs in the future, and the authority is looking at other water sources such as a cooperative project with Denver and the West Slope as well as an alternative agriculture transfer program in the South Platte Basin.

He said when the authority began the WISE project it was looking at a need for 60,000 acre feet of reusable supplies. With the WISE project, the authority is now looking in the 15,000-30 ,000-acre-foot range “above and beyond this,” he said.

He said some of Aurora’s water supply is coming from the Arkansas Basin “but none from the San Luis Valley/Rio Grande Basin.”

He said, “To my knowledge Aurora is not looking at any supplies in the Valley or the Rio Grande.”

Vandiver said the likely plumbing for any export from the San Luis Valley would be through the Arkansas Basin.

The plan we have seen would come out of here to the Arkansas,” Vandiver said. “This completes the pipeline from us to south metro ” The concern for us is that’s not necessarily a good thing for the Valley.”

Hecox said when this project began, Denver water leaders were concerned their water would be used for additional growth in Douglas County, and there are areas that are zoned, platted and designated for development, but the houses have not yet been built. He added that developers in Douglas County had not yet approached the metro water authority or its members to use the WISE project water.

He said the purpose of the WISE project would be to reuse existing water supplies for existing communities.

The roundtable took no action on Hecox’s request this week but may do so next month.

Past dry-ups should be a lesson for restoring land — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

When large tracts of land are disturbed, it takes more than good intentions to return it to something approaching a natural state.

The recipe includes water, seeds, know-how and — most importantly — time.

Those lessons have been learned in the most painful way over time in the Arkansas Valley as farmland has been taken out of production, sacrificed for pipelines, scorched by drought or ravaged by fire.

Fears that those lessons have not been learned well enough have surfaced this month as a patchwork plan for farm dryups was revealed by Arkansas River Farms. The company plans to dry up about 6,700 acres of the 14,400 acres it owns on the Fort Lyon Canal, using it to support wells on farm ground elsewhere.

The most painful lesson came for Ordway in 2008, when a fire ripped through dried-up farms in Crowley County that were no longer the responsibility of those who took the water off the land. The fire, started by a controlled burn fanned by winds, claimed two lives, 16 homes and 9,000 acres of mostly former farmland.

Water was first taken off farms in Crowley County in the 1980s, when water owned by a cattle feeding operation was sold to Colorado Springs, and most remaining Colorado Canal shares were snapped up by Aurora. By that time Colorado Springs and Pueblo had bought Twin Lakes shares that had provided supplemental water for Crowley County farms for decades.

Water courts insisted on revegetation plans when the Colorado Canal shares were converted in the late 1980s, as well as for the dry-up of farms on the Rocky Ford Ditch by Aurora. Those plans appeared to be complete, only to fall apart.

Shortly after the 2008 fire, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District sighted in on the dry-up as an important contributing factor.

Not long after, the district was successful in obtaining tougher court provisions for the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association purchase of nearly half of the Amity Canal. Annual reports on all dry-ups, temporary or permanent were required in perpetuity. It has been successful in applying it in other water cases since then.

And this year, Aurora returned to lands dried up in its 1999 purchase of Rocky Ford Ditch shares even after revegetation was certified by a panel of experts. The drought had damaged some of the vegetation, so Aurora used some of its water to try to reestablish the grasses.

Aurora in 2000 had to come back to Rocky Ford land that was improperly revegetated from its first purchase.

All of which feeds into continued concern about the announced dry-ups on the Fort Lyon.

“Who’s going to have long-term responsibility to make sure this gets done?” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “We are looking at assuring revegetation in perpetuity, and it should be the responsibility of those who are moving the water.”

Winner pointed to contracts when water was sold to the Lower Arkansas Water Management Authority that required landowners who had sold their water to protect the land. That led to large dust storms blowing across the landscape – even across highways — during the recent drought. “When you see that — people have died from that — you realize that it should be the responsibility forever of those who are using the water,” Winner said.

One of the questions posed to Karl Nyquist, a partner in Arkansas River Farms, last week was whether water could return to lands that were dried up. The answer was uncertain.

Two conservation districts in Bent and Prowers counties are proposing a plan to monitor revegetation efforts in the Arkansas River Farms dry-up.

It’s modeled after Aurora’s most recent efforts, trying to incorporate all of the lessons which have been learned so far. They have pitched it to county commissioners before an application to change the use of water has been filed.

“What I told them was to not be in such a hurry,” said Bill Long, Bent County commissioner.

Fort Lyon Canal’s shareholders will have a hearing about the Arkansas River Farms plan on Jan. 28-29. But Long said the issues should be hashed out in water court, rather than predetermined.

On revegetation, Winner agrees.

“I believe the water court needs to be the policeman,” Winner said.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Aurora officials worry #COWaterPlan doesn’t do enough — The Aurora Sentinel

Aurora Reservoir via Active Rain
Aurora Reservoir via Active Rain

From The Aurora Sentinel (Rachel Sapin):

The plan presents nearly 500 pages of solutions for more water that include improving the permitting process, funding more storage and reducing the state’s projected 2050 municipal water demands by 400,000 acre-feet through conservation. That equates to a nearly 1-percent annual reduction in water use for the state’s cities and towns, according to the advocacy groups Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

Aurora Water officials say they are disappointed with that goal because it could overly burden Front Range cities.

“I view the plan as a good starting point,” said Marshall Brown, director of Aurora Water. “To address this gap is going to require cooperation across all water users in the state. It’s not just addressed by focusing on the municipal sector.”

Brown said municipal and industrial use accounts for less than eight percent of the state’s water use, while agricultural use makes up the lion’s share…

Aurora has proven a leader in Colorado when it comes to water conservation with its innovative Prairie Waters Project, which developed in response to the 2003 drought.

The $653-million project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed, and today provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.

“It’s going to be difficult to come up with new savings when we already have a lot of the suggestions in place,” Brown said of the water plan.

Aurora water officials also said they are concerned about the plan’s discouragement for more water diversions, stating Colorado watersheds and ecosystems cannot handle any more of them.

“In fact, new diversions and storage will be needed to develop collaborative, regional projects,” said Joe Stibrich, a water resources policy manager with the city, in October.

Advocates of the plan have touted that the plan makes large, new river diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range highly unlikely.

“A framework presented in the plan about how to make decisions on these projects will help ensure the expense, time and alternative approaches are thoroughly considered,” wrote Bart Miller, director of the Healthy Rivers Program for Western Resources Advocates, in a column for the Aurora Sentinel. “There are cheaper, faster and better ways to meet our water needs than piping water west to east over the Rockies.”

[…]

The plan does not yet have any legislation to enact its recommendations. That will be the role of state and local governments in coming months.

“This is a moment for Coloradans to be proud,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in a statement. “For 150 years water has been a source of conflict in our state. More recently, that story is changing, and Colorado’s Water Plan — a product of literally thousands of meetings and conversations across our state — is the best evidence yet for a new way of doing our water business.”

prairiewaterstreatment

Providers utilizing the Denver Basin Aquifer are moving towards supply security

Denver Basin aquifer map
Denver Basin aquifer map

From the Centennial Citizen (Paul Donahue and Eric Hecox):

Is our water future secure?

It’s a question on the minds of many in Castle Rock and the entire south metro Denver region — and for good reason. After all, water is what makes our outstanding quality of life possible. If we want future generations to enjoy our communities as we do, we must ensure they have access to a secure and sustainable water supply that meets their future needs.

From conversations throughout the region, we know Castle Rock residents and those in the entire south metro area understand the critical role water plays in delivering the quality of life we desire for our children, in addition to supporting property values, job creation and economic growth.

We know residents are aware the region historically has relied too heavily on declining groundwater supplies and must diversify its supply for long-term sustainability. We know they view water as a top priority for the region and support an all-of-the-above approach that includes conservation and reuse, storage and new renewable supplies.

We also know Castle Rock residents as well as residents across the south metro area value partnership among leaders throughout the region to get the job done in the most economically responsible manner. Working together to secure water rights, build infrastructure and efficiently use storage space helps spread the costs and the benefits to customers throughout the region.

The answer to the question on people’s minds is not clear-cut. While our region is on the path to delivering a secure water future for generations to come, this effort is ongoing and will require continued support from our communities to see it through to the end.

The good news is that we have a plan, and we are executing that plan.

Thanks to innovative conservation approaches, the region has seen a 30 percent decrease in per capita water use since 2000. That means the typical south metro household or business, including those in Castle Rock, is using 30 percent less water than just 15 years ago. Declines in the region’s underground aquifers — historically the main water source for the region — have slowed considerably in that same time period, a testament to efforts across the region to diversify water supplies and maximize efficiency through reuse.

At the same time, major new water infrastructure projects are coming online throughout the region that bring new renewable supplies, storage capacity and reuse capabilities. These include the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership with Denver Water, Aurora and several other regional organizations including Castle Rock Water, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Northern Project and Castle Rock’s Plum Creek Purification Facility, to name a few.

The 13 members that make up the South Metro Water Supply Authority provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. Together, they are partnering among each other as well as with local government leadership and water entities across the region and state to execute their plan to secure a sustainable water future for the region.

Since becoming a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Castle Rock Water has helped lead implementation of the WISE project, new water storage reservoir projects and other regional renewable water supply efforts. WISE water will be available to Castle Rock residents by 2017 and even earlier for some of the other South Metro residents. A project like WISE represents as much as 10 percent of the renewable water needed for both current and future residents in Castle Rock.

The members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Castle Rock, each have long-term water plans. Through partnerships, these projects are made possible by sharing in the needed investments and other resources when completing the time-consuming task of acquiring additional renewable water and building the required infrastructure.

This collaboration is supported by the state and is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. This regional support has been critical in providing feasible strategies to ensure water for future generations.

Is our water future secure? No, not yet. But we’re well on our way to getting there.

Paul Donahue is the mayor of Castle Rock and has served on the town council for eight years. Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority made up of 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines.

#COWaterPlan: “…we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side” — James Eklund

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Colorado Water Plan set to be released Nov. 19 will include a goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage in Colorado and a corresponding goal of reducing water use in the state by 400,000 acre-feet.

“The gap between supply and demand that we are forecasting is 560,000 acre feet by 2050, and if you add up 400,000 acre feet in conservation and 400,000 acre feet in storage, we zero out the gap,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has been preparing the water plan for the last two years.

“And,” Eklund said, “while we are not saying which specific projects are going to have to come on line, we are saying that as an entire state we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side.”

Eklund said the goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage by 2050 was realistic.

As examples, Eklund cited, without officially endorsing, the proposed Moffat, Windy Gap and NISP projects, all of which are under review and include expanded reservoir storage.

Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder, is proposed to be enlarged to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water as part of the expansion of the Moffat Collection System.

The proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, part of the Windy Gap Firming Project, would add 90,000 acre-feet of storage southwest of Loveland.

The proposed Glade and Galeton reservoirs, which are at the core of NISP, or the Northern Integrated Supply Project, would add 170,000 and 45,000 acre feet of new storage, respectively, near Fort Collins.

And the planned expansion of Chatfield Reservoir, south of Denver, of which the CWCB is an official sponsor, would add 20,600 acre-feet of storage.

In all, that’s 402,600 acre-feet of proposed additional storage on the Front Range.

“We think the projects on the books are going to get us most of the way there,” Eklund said. “So I don’t see the storage goal as pie-in-the-sky. And I don’t see it requiring some really big nasty project that somebody has been worrying about emerging.”

W. SLOPE NEEDS STORAGE

He also pointed to the growing potential to store water in underground aquifers near Denver as an additional opportunity. And, he noted, the Front Range “does not have a copyright on the idea of more storage.”

“The Western Slope needs more storage, too,” Eklund said. “They have gaps, municipal and industrial supply and demand gaps, just the like the folks on the Front Range. “

But the storage projects now in process may not be enough, or happen fast enough, for many Front Range water providers and planners, at least judging by the comment letters sent to the CWCB on the draft water plan by a Sept. 17 deadline.

Colorado Springs Utilities, in a Sept. 17 comment letter, told the CWCB it was “disappointed with the relative lack of discussion on storage” in the water plan.

“While we appreciate the plan’s focus on enlarging existing storage, we believe more attention should be paid to developing storage of all types, e.g., on-channel storage, off-channel storage, gravel pit storage, etc.,” wrote M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU.

“The plan should include an affirmative statement that it is state policy to develop additional storage,” Wells said. “This cannot be stressed enough, and Colorado needs to do as much as it can to secure as much additional storage of all types within its borders as is possible.”

‘STRETCH GOAL’

The city of Westminster, which sits between Denver and Boulder, “believes that many of the components of the water plan will be successful only if there is the political will to create more water storage, including identifying new storage locations, expanding existing storage and encouraging regional storage solutions,” Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.

And John Kaufman, the general manager of Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves customers south of Denver, told the CWCB “more storage, particularly on the East Slope of the Continental Divide, is needed. And creative ways to bring more West Slope water to the East Slope should be explored in a manner that also benefits West-Slope interests.”

Kaufman also said in his Sept. 17 letter that the water plan “will not achieve full success if conservation is viewed as the keystone of the plan.”

While there is abundant enthusiasm for additional storage among Front Range water providers, there is less support for, and even belief in, the CWCB’s goal of conserving an additional 400,000 acre-feet, which has been dubbed a “stretch goal” during the development of the water plan.

Aurora Water, for example, questioned the assumptions used by CWCB in reaching its 400,000 acre-foot goal.

Joe Stibrich, Aurora Water’s water resources policy manager told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter he understood CWCB added up 154,000 acre-feet of potential “passive conservation” savings, 166,000 acre-feet of “active conservation” savings, and 80,000 acre-feet of “aspirational stretch” savings to reach its goal.

Stibrich said “additional work is needed to validate the numbers” and that it would be more useful to “define potential saving in a range” such as 320,000 to 400,000 acre-feet.

And he said CWCB should make sure people know its “stretch goal” is just aspirational.

“By its very nature, a stretch goal is aspirational and is not achievable under current policies and with existing technology and programs,” Stibrich said.

CONSERVATION LIMITS?

And the Front Range Water Council, made up of the largest water providers in Colorado, told the CWCB that reaching the conservation goal couldn’t be expected to come before new storage.

“The plan should reject the notion that project approvals should be contingent of first meeting any sort of conservation goals or targets,” the letter from the council said. “Passive and active conservation savings occurs over time as a result of technological innovation, education, market penetration and other factors and as a result, does not naturally lend itself to being ‘sequenced’ ahead of other water supply options. “

Burt Knight, Greeley’s director of water and sewer, bluntly warned against relying on conservation.

“We cannot conserve our way out of the anticipated gap, and the conservation mandates proposed in this draft could have a domino effect on our environment, our economy, our public health and our quality of life,” Knight wrote.

Offering another perspective, Richard Van Gytenbeek, the outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the state should go beyond the 400,000 acre-foot goal in the plan and set a goal of saving 460,000 acre-feet.

“A stretch goal, by its very definition, should be aggressive and go beyond what we know we can do using the types of strategies already in place,” Van Gytenbeek told the CWCB in a Sept 17 letter. “Colorado needs to be aggressive and discover how far we truly can go in water efficiency.”

And in addition to the full-throated call for more storage in the comment letters to the CWCB, there are also words of caution about new dams and reservoirs.

“Reservoirs can provide beneficial stream flows downstream, but they can also do the opposite,” said Ken Neubecker, the assistant director for the Colorado River Program at American Rivers, in a Sept. 14 comment letter.

While Neubecker concedes that additional water storage “must be considered,” he told the CWCB ”we must also recognize that politically such storage will be difficult.”

“It is easy for politicians and roundtables to demand more storage,” Neubecker said, “until they identify the specific ‘backyard’ they want to fill, the source they wish to deplete and the existing uses they intend to deprive.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Arkansas River winter storage program update: “We can’t predict where the water will be stored” — Phil Reynolds

Pueblo Dam
Pueblo Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Conditions are right for a big year of winter water storage, but the problem may be where to put it all.

“We can’t predict where the water will be stored,” Phil Reynolds of the Colorado Division of Water Resources told the annual meeting of the winter water storage group.

The group is made up of the large canals east of Pueblo. After Pueblo Dam was completed in 1975, irrigators were able to curtail flows during the winter months and use the water later in the season. Under a court decree, water is stored from Nov. 15-March 15 under the program administered by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Last year, more than 128,000 acre-feet (41.7 billion gallons) of water was stored in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir or oŸ-channel reservoirs operated by some of the ditch companies. That’s more than the five-year average and close to the 20-year average.

The problem this year is that record rains in May and early June filled up most reservoirs.

While some of the water was used during the relatively dry months at the end of summer, reservoirs in the Lower Arkansas Valley are well above normal.

Winter conditions could be wet because of a strong El Nino condition. In similar years, that has meant a heavy spring runoff, said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Pueblo is already at 138 percent of capacity — a capacity that recently was deemed smaller because of sedimentation in the reservoir.

“We are afraid at this point we may be in danger of spilling,” Dawson said.

But it won’t be the farmers’ water that spills. There are still 22,723 acre-feet of this year’s winter water that will be released next spring, and an estimated 50,000 acre-feet of new water that could come into Lake Pueblo this winter.

Before that could spill, however, water stored in temporary accounts or under long-term municipal contracts would be released.

Anticipating that, Aurora, whose water would spill first, already is making plans to drain its account through leases to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which will use the water in the Great Plains Reservoirs that are part of the Amity Canal system.

Reynolds identified more than 100,000 acrefeet of practical storage space that could be used downstream of Lake Pueblo. There are also 140,000 acre-feet available in the Great Plains Reservoirs.

However, winter water must be distributed equally to canal companies, and John Martin or the large reservoirs operated by Amity and the Fort Lyon Canal cannot be used by everyone.

The space in Lake Pueblo will get even tighter during the winter water program because Reclamation plans to run some water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes into the reservoir to make room for next year’s Fryingpan-Arkansas imports.

“We’ll need to know where and how much you plan to store, so we know what’s stored in Lake Pueblo and what can be moved,” said Jim Broderick, Southeastern executive director.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine, Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine, Colorado Foundation for Water Education

A shift to renewable water in south metro area — The Denver Post

WISE Project map via Denver Water
WISE Project map via Denver Water

From The Denver Post (Eric Hecox and Diane Hoppe):

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 latest success came last month when a first-of-its-kind partnership among the metro region’s three major water entities — Denver Water, Aurora Water and South Metro Water Supply Authority — received unprecedented statewide support.

The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project now stands alone as the only water project in Colorado to receive funding from basin roundtables across the state. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state of Colorado’s lead agency on water, also provided grant money in support of WISE.

The reason for the broad support lies in the collaborative approach that has been the hallmark of South Metro Water’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…

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.

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.

WISE is a significant part of South Metro’s plan for a sustainable water future. 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 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 short period of time given the complexities of water planning.

The region still has more work ahead. But given the progress to date and with continuing support for South Metro Water’s plans and projects, we can feel confident in predicting that the days of alarming headlines around the south metro region’s water future are in the past.

Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. Diane Hoppe is a former state representative and current chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.