#WISE Water Project Receives Unprecedented Statewide Support — South Metro Water Supply Authority

WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority
WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

Here’s the release from the South Metro Water Supply Authority (Russ Rizzo):

The WISE water project today received unprecedented statewide support, becoming the first water infrastructure project in Colorado to receive funding from Basin Roundtables across the state.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved $905,000 in state and regional grant funding for the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) project, including funds from seven of the state’s nine Basin Roundtables.

“We are excited and grateful for the broad, statewide support for this important project,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 13 water providers comprising most of Douglas County and a portion of Arapahoe County. “This is a significant part of our region’s plan to transition to a more secure and sustainable water supply, and benefits of WISE extend throughout the region and to the West Slope.”

WISE is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and South Metro Water to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to. All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.

“This project is reflective of the regional and statewide collaboration the State Water Plan calls for to meet the future water needs of Coloradans,” said former State Representative Diane Hoppe, chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “The broad financial support from Basin Roundtables across the state reflects the cooperation and smart approach that the Denver metro area’s leading water providers have taken.”

The Basin Roundtables, created in 2005 with the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act, represent each of the state’s eight major river basins and the Denver metropolitan area. The grants are part of the state’s Water Supply Reserve Accounts program that assists Colorado water users in addressing their critical water supply issues and interests.

Roundtables that have committed funds to WISE so far include:

Metro Basin Roundtable
South Platte Basin Roundtable
North Platte Basin Roundtable
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Arkansas Basin Roundtable
Gunnison Basin Roundtable
Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable

“The Colorado Basin applauds the WISE participants for their forward thinking and collaborative approach,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which includes Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. “WISE benefits not just the Front Range but the West Slope as well. The project enables the metro region to re-use its trans-mountain supplies, thereby reducing the need to look to other regions for water supply. In addition, the WISE agreement is an integral part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement under which the West Slope receives funding to help meet our water project and environmental needs.”

Construction on the WISE project began in June and will continue into 2016. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:

●The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;
●Denver will receive a new backup water supply;
●Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and
●The West Slope will receive new funding, managed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.

Securing a Sustainable Water Supply for South Metro Denver

South Metro Water and its 13 water provider members are executing a plan to transition to renewable supplies. The plan focuses on three areas: conservation and efficiency; infrastructure investment; and partnership among local and regional water suppliers.

The region has made tremendous progress over the past decade, reducing per capita water use by more than 30 percent and adding new renewable water supplies and storage capacity that have significantly decreased reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.

For details on the WISE project as well as South Metro Water’s plan to transition to renewable water supplies, visit http://www.southmetrowater.org.

Loveland: Castle Rock (Denver Basin groundwater) wins the Rocky Mountain Section AWWA taste test

Taste test Winner.Castle Rock. September 14, 2015 Rocky Mountain Section AWWA.
Taste test Winner.Castle Rock.September 14, 2015 Rocky Mountain Section AWWA

Congratulations to the water treatment personnel at the City of Castle Rock. From email from the Rocky Mountain Section of the AWWA (Greg Baker):

Who has the tastiest water in the Rocky Mountains? According to the judges at a taste test at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works (RMSAWWA) annual conference in Loveland, Colorado, Castle Rock Water has the best water in the region. Nine municipalities from a three state region competed for the title of best drinking water based on taste, odor and appearance. The winner of this competition will represent the RMSAWWA at the national “Best of the Best” taste test at the AWWA Conference in Chicago next June.

The winners of today’s competition were Castle Rock Water taking first place, East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District in second, with Denver Water and Aurora Water tying for third place.

Judging this event were Cory Reppenhagen, with 7News in Denver, Erin O’Toole, reporter with KUNC Radio in Ft. Collins, Colorado, Pinar Omur-Ozbeck with Colorado State University, David Dani with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and John Donahue from North Park Public Water District in Machesny, Illinois.

The RMSAWWA is the regional section for the AWWA, which is the largest non-profit, science-based organization for drinking water professionals in the world. The RMSAWWA covers Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico and has over 2,400 members, representing water utilities, engineering consultants and water treatment specialty firms.

Denver Basin aquifer map
Denver Basin aquifer map

Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than $1.3 billion in water projects for the Arkansas Valley are queued, although how they will be funded is unknown.

That’s the conclusion of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which finalized its comments on the state water plan Wednesday.

The roundtable again voiced its overriding concern that water for agriculture be protected.

“At some point, agricultural use may be more valuable (than urban use),” said Joe Kelley, La Junta water superintendent. “In some years, the cities may not have the demand. It’s best not to buy and dry, to take the water away permanently.”

The roundtable also agreed to eight challenges that were identified by Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years before becoming a consultant on the basin implementation plan. That plan is finished, but it feeds into the state water plan by identifying projects and goals for the Arkansas River basin.

A list of projects included rough cost estimates that still need revision. The most expensive included $400 million for future Colorado Springs development, $400 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, $277 million for the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority and at least $100 million for Fountain Creek projects.

Another $100 million or so is needed for an Upper Arkansas multiuse project, a fledgling watershed protection effort and support for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Finally, there are 135 smaller projects that total about $65 million.

As far as challenges, the roundtable agreed to eight points Barber developed from 10 years of discussion. The most daunting is the need to find 30,000-50,000 acre-feet for new uses, both agricultural and municipal, that will occur because all of the Arkansas basin’s water is appropriated.

One particular concern noted that although needs have been identified, no solutions have emerged to fill those needs.

Other challenges include replacing nonrenewable Denver Basin groundwater, finding collaborative solutions, protecting recreational flows, maintaining water quality on Fountain Creek and in the Lower Arkansas Valley, renovating aging reservoirs and finding regional solutions.

Comments to the final draft of the state water plan are due by Thursday.

The plan and information about how to comment may be found at coloradowaterplan.com.

The final version of the Colorado Water Plan will be submitted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10.

#COWaterPlan: Dwindling water options, high growth at odds in Douglas County — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Denver Basin aquifer system
Denver Basin aquifer system

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

The rolling grasslands of western Douglas County might look like prime Front Range real estate. But beyond the beauty of the nearby foothills, there is a deeply buried problem with the land: Water is hard to come by.

Technically, there is some water in the shallow aquifers that lie beneath the western prairies, the next frontier of Douglas County’s growth. But decades ago, wells in the area started going dry or pumping muddy water into faucets. The Denver Basin aquifer, the historic provider of water for Douglas, is a finite resource that can’t sustain the growth that the county has planned for the next 20 years and beyond. When wells are drilled, they are poor producers and easily overwhelmed by daily tasks – such as fueling showers, running dishwashers and watering lawns.

“All the free water, the cheap water, is starting to go away,” said Larry Moore, the general manager of the Roxborough Park Water and Sanitation District, which runs area’s main water treatment facility. “All you’ve got to do is pump it up.”

But when water no longer pumps up, water districts and homeowners in Douglas must find an alternative. Once considered one of the fastest growing counties in the country, Douglas County’s growth has already outpaced its water resources.

The county’s water crisis has been unfolding for decades, but recently it has taken aggressive and unprecedented steps to try and reverse its fate. The county commissioners have set a goal to wean county residents off the Denver aquifer, an ancient water source that is rapidly declining.

Seven years ago the county hired Tim Murrell as its water resources planner to help engineer ways for residents to abandon their wells and join water districts that get their water from the mountains. As a water planner working for a county that doesn’t provide water service, Murrell’s job is unique.

“I am the only one of (my) type in the state who was hired by the county to look at water issues,” said Murrell, who previously helped New Mexico compile a state water plan.

Murrell’s task is to get rural communities to use what he calls “renewable water” – water that does not come from the area’s limited aquifer, but from reservoirs and rivers naturally refilled annually by snowpack.

While Murrell’s county role might be unique, his outlook is one of increasing popularity in Colorado, a state in the midst of creating its first statewide water plan. Due this December to Gov. John Hickenlooper, the water plan will identify Colorado’s future water shortages and suggest ways to bring more water to rapidly growing communities both east and west of the Great Divide. Critics of the plan have said that it offers many problems but few solutions, although the plan’s advocates say that is has begun a difficult and invaluable conversation about water. Public comment on the second draft of the plan closes on Sept. 17.

Thirty years ago, El Paso County was one of the few counties in the state that required proof of water before development plans are approved, said Mark Gebhart, deputy director of El Paso County Development Services. The circa-1986 ordinance requires all developments with lots 35 acres and under to have enough water for 300 years, three times the state requirement. That requirement has only been waived in rare cases when a district had other conservation measures in place.

But as in Douglas County, there are areas in El Paso that were settled years before water conservation and planning were mandatory, Gebhart added.

“They have never had to prove to anyone that they have water, and some of those properties in the southern part of the county, they don’t have water,” he said.

Nonetheless, El Paso County hasn’t seen a massive loss in groundwater, unlike those counties south and west of Denver.

“The highest areas of water level declines have been in Douglas and Jefferson counties,” said Gebhart. “Hundreds of vertical feet of water decline.”

Water becoming scarce

In Douglas County, lack of water has become a barrier to development and growth. While the county’s picturesque westside offers acres of open land, the farther west development pushes, the harder it is to find water.

The geology of the Denver basin means that western aquifers are shallower and less plentiful – wells have to be drilled deeper and at greater expense. For years, dry or poor quality wells were a well-known problem that became more noticeable as development spread. Sometimes businesses in the area go days without water, said Murrell.

One western subdivision, Plum Valley Heights, had been struggling for years to get its 29 homes off wells before they went dry. The community became one of the county’s first major successes of water planning, thanks to some luck, a 2014 ballot measure and millions of dollars of county money. The neighborhood also benefited from a new mindset, shared by the Douglas County commissioners, that the county’s water future was partly in their hands.

“The commissioners had never taken an active role on this in past,” said Commissioner Jill Repella. “If any community goes dry, who are they going to come to? They are going to come to the commissioners.”

It didn’t take long for Jack McCormick to discover that his well in Plum Valley Heights was no good. McCormick and his wife bought a house in the subdivision in 1986, and a couple of years later, McCormick suddenly realized what it meant to live with little water on Douglas County’s westside.

“I was out filling my horse tanks one morning and my wife was in the shower and the shower went dry,” McCormick recalled. “And I kept filling my horse tank.”

The episode began decades of wrangling to get more water for the subdivision, where McCormick became accustomed to not running multiple water appliances at once or having his water supply run out before the lawn was fully watered. Although his well had been tested when he bought the home, McCormick learned that there was much more going on underground than he had realized.

The Denver aquifer has four layers, each essentially an underground storage container for water. The basin stretches from southern Weld County to northern El Paso County, west to Jefferson County and as far east as Lincoln County. The water is coveted for its accessibility and high quality – unlike water that comes from the mountains, Denver aquifer water doesn’t require as much treatment to make it drinkable, Murrell said. The water is also irreplaceable: once it has been used up, there is no way to refill it.

By contrast, most water sources in El Paso County are considered renewable – such as the Widefield aquifer, which is refilled by stream flow, said Gebhart. Districts like Woodmoor Water and Sanitation, which rely primarily on non-renewable aquifers like the Denver basin, have purchased other water rights to make up for the loss, Gebhart said.

The Denver Basin aquifer remains is ideal for residents in central Douglas County, but simple differences in geology make accessing aquifer water close to the mountains nearly impossible.

As various layers of bedrock jut out of the land forming rock outcroppings and hills, a layer of the aquifer is lost. What layers that are left underground can be hard to reach and have unreliable water quality.

When he bought a house in Plum Valley Heights, McCormick knew nothing about wells, water and the aquifer. He came from Indiana, where his well was productive at only 75 feet deep. But in the Denver basin in Douglas, wells are drilled hundreds or thousands of feet down and can cost up to $1 million, said Moore. As a reminder that west Douglas water is not reliable, Moore keeps a jug of it in his office.

“It’s almost like red clay mud,” said Moore of the water in the jug. “That’s what they are pulling out is water and mud. The water is not very clear at all.”

Moore’s Roxborough district resolved the problem of poor well water nearly 40 years ago, when developers discovered that there wasn’t enough groundwater to sustain a subdivision. The district bought an old concrete water treatment plant from the city of Aurora and with it 50 years of water, which Aurora shuttled from the mountains in a massive underground pipe. But when Moore started with the district in 1989, the eventual expiration of the water contract loomed.

“That’s been my career goal, to figure out a water supply,” he said.

At the forefront in water planning

Driving along U.S. 85 west in Castle Rock last week, Murrell pointed out many “for sale” signs and small businesses in an industrial park – all competitors for limited resources. He also pointed to a vast expanse of empty grassland, adorned only with a few signs for Sterling Ranch, a subdivision of more than 12,000 homes approved in 2011 after years of hearings and wrangling over water. According to a county ordinance passed in 1999, Sterling Ranch has to have 100 percent renewable water, which means it won’t be relying on the Denver aquifer.

With such a big development on the horizon, big changes in water use will make Douglas County a forerunner when it comes to managing water.

“It has very often been at the forefront of trying to plan this out,” said Gebhart, of Douglas County’s approach to water planning.

In November 2014, after more than two decades of struggles to get a better water source for Plum Valley Heights, the neighborhood voted overwhelmingly to join the Roxborough district, which secured a new 90-year water contract with Aurora for $26 million. The new deal with Aurora brought 50 extra taps to Roxborough, which it offered to other westside businesses and residences, including Plum Valley Heights, which had dry wells.

After using the same crumbling water treatment facility since 1958, as of late summer Roxborough had started work on a new $32 million facility, half of which will be covered by Sterling Ranch, said Moore. The new water treatment plant will be finished in roughly two years, and be one of the first in the state to use ultraviolet technology for its primary form of water treatment, instead of relying on chemicals, Moore added.

But the Douglas County commissioners also took a bold step to help fund some of the much-needed changes in the region, said Murrell. It will cost $15 million to plug Plum Valley Heights in Roxborough’s system, $5 million of which was paid for with county money. The money will be eventually paid back in tap fees, said Murrell. Pitching in the money was a “no-brainer” for the commissioners said Repella, who added that a lack of water could have had a ripple effect on the rest of the county’s land value.

This year, the county has focused on participating in a multi-million dollar project known as the Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, which links the Denver metro areas to system of recycled and unused water. If all goes as planned, the project will bring more water to communities like Douglas County, as it works to abandon its reliance on groundwater.

“We had a new realization that the county has a responsibility to be proactive to make sure that residents are moving in the right direction,” said Repella. “To take a step back and brush your hands and say, ‘Okay everybody, you are on your own now,’ that’s not responsible.”

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable ponies up $10,000 for WISE project


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It didn’t quite amount to paying northern cities to stay out of the Arkansas River basin…but it could help.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday agreed to chip in $10,000 to a multimillion-dollar project by the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, but only if Aurora promises not to use it to create an artificial trigger for more leases from the Arkansas River basin.

The money is just a show of support for a $6.4 million component that would get the right mix of water into a pipeline that connects Aurora’s $800 million Prairie Waters Project with a $120 million pipeline south of Denver to meet the future needs of 14 water providers who are members of the South Metro Water Authority.

Seven of the state’s nine roundtables, including the Colorado River basin, have contributed $85,000 to the project. Two roundtables are set to act on requests for $20,000 in the next two months, and another $800,000 is being sought from a state fund. WISE is ponying up $5.5 million.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be asked to approve the grants in September.

WISE would deliver up to 10,000 acre-feet annually of reused water primarily brought into the South Platte River basin by Denver and Aurora. Its backbone would be nearly $1 billion in existing infrastructure.

The $6.4 million would be for a treatment plant that would blend Prairie Waters and well water in the East Cherry Creek Village pipeline. That would relieve demand on Denver Aquifer groundwater and the need for cities to buy farm water — including Arkansas Valley water — said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro group.

“In the big scheme of things, this is important because it meets a need in a big gap area,” Hecox said.

The proposal caused unease for water conservancy districts which have agreements with Aurora, however.

“The city of Aurora transfers water out of the Arkansas basin,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “This project increases demand on Aurora’s supplies. I’m not OK with this unless there is some sort of amendment that says if (a storage shortfall) is triggered, they won’t come back into the basin.”

Aurora signed agreements with the Upper Ark, Southeastern and Lower Ark districts over the past 12 years that limit new leases from the Arkansas Valley. There are numerous requirements of how Aurora uses and stores water that factor into a complex equation.

The roundtable agreed that the benefits of reducing demand on the Denver Basin aquifer in northern El Paso County would help the Arkansas Valley. The WISE project would also slow, but not necessarily stop, future water raids in the Arkansas Valley.

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, asked Hecox about South Metro’s 2006 master plan that included future Arkansas River projects as options. Hecox said a new master plan is being developed that does not contain those projects.

“So you can come into the Arkansas basin?” Winner asked.

“Legally, yes,” Hecox replied. “But we have no plans to.”

In the end, the roundtable endorsed the $10,000 token support, but only on the condition that Aurora formally assures the three districts and the roundtable that WISE won’t be used as an excuse to take more Arkansas River water.

More WISE project coverage here.

Colorado’s Water Plan and WISE water infrastructure — The Denver Post

WISE System Map September 11, 2014
WISE System Map September 11, 2014

From The Denver Post (James Eklund/Eric Hecox):

The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to.

All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.

Aurora’s Prairie Waters system will provide the backbone for delivering water from the South Platte when Aurora and Denver Water have available water supplies and capacity. The water will be distributed to the South Metro Denver communities through an existing pipeline shared with Denver and East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District, and new infrastructure that will be constructed over the next 16 months…

WISE is a key element to this plan. With construction agreements in place, we will break ground in coming weeks to begin connecting water systems throughout the Denver Metro area. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:

• The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;

• Denver will receive a new backup water supply;

• Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and

• The Western Slope will receive new funding, managed by the River District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.

More WISE Project coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-010 passes out of Senate Ag Committee

Denver Basin aquifer system
Denver Basin aquifer system