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.”


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.”


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.


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

The rains we claim aren’t always on the plains

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

How much precipitation did we get last year? The answer can be confusing — because of three simple letters.

By Steve Snyder

Here’s a quick quiz: What three things are critical to both precipitation monitoring and real estate? The answer is an old joke: location, location, location!

October marked the beginning of our new water year, so now is a natural time for us to look back and ask how much rain fell in the previous year. But when it comes to Denver Water’s service area, which includes more than 300 square miles, there isn’t one simple response. It all depends on your location.

“Our service area covers a large geographic region, and weather patterns can differ across that area,” said Lindsay Weber, demand planner for Denver Water. “For example, if it’s raining in Wheat Ridge, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s raining in Greenwood Village.”

And when it…

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#COWaterPlan: Front Range water providers defend their turf — Aspen Journalism


From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A group of Front Range water providers have told the Colorado Water Conservation Board to stop denigrating lawns and civic landscapes in the Colorado Water Plan, while at the same time, Western Slope organizations are telling cities to use less water to grow grass.

“Urban dwellers are entitled to a ‘reasonable recreational experience’ in the environment in which they reside,” the Front Range Water Council wrote in a Sept. 15 letter about the water plan.

“This includes adequate irrigation supplies for yards, public parks, recreation fields, open space, etc.,” the council said. “Many urban citizens, including those of limited economic means or physical limitations, or those who simply are not kayakers, fisherman, backpackers or skiers, engage in enjoyable outdoor recreational activities ‘in their own backyard.’”

The members of the Front Range Water Council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Denver Water, Northern Water, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

The deadline for comments on the draft water plan was Sept. 17. The finished document is to be released Nov. 19 at a CWCB meeting in Denver.

Colorado Springs Utilities also sent its own letter to the CWCB, signed by M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for the utility.

“Many city dwellers value their city parks, ball fields, and backyards just as much as the scenic rivers or bucolic valleys, and they enjoy their urban environment far more often,” Wells said in his Sept. 17 letter.

But Ken Nuebecker, the associate director of the Colorado river program at American Rivers, walked across the Front Range’s lawn argument in his own comment letter to the CWCB on Sept. 14.

“While parks, ball fields and the urban forest have their place, we need to make sure that these engineered areas, which can easily be rebuilt, are not ‘protected’ at the expense of far more complex rivers systems which are not so easily ‘rebuilt,’” Neubecker said.

But lawns can lead people to nature, and to rivers, Wells told the CWCB.

“How can we expect current and future generations of citizens in urban areas to understand or appreciate the value of locally grown food in the lower Arkansas Valley or the importance of healthy rivers on the West Slope if they do not have healthy, sustainable outdoor spaces of their own to first make a connection with nature,” Wells wrote.

Wells also said “there remains too much focus on curbing outdoor water use” which “currently accounts for less than 4% of Colorado’s total water use.”

However, Andre Wille, the chair of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, suggested to the CWCB that healthy rivers may be a higher priority for many than lush lawns.

“Truly, no Coloradan believes our water supply should be satisfied by sacrificing our quality of life or the very natural environment that has brought so many of us here and supports at numerous levels our state’s vibrant and growing economy,” Wille said in an Sept. 15 letter to CWCB.

This sign, on the irrigated lawn outside the Aspen music tent, could well sum up how Front Range and Western Slope water organizations view each other.
This sign, on the irrigated lawn outside the Aspen music tent, could well sum up how Front Range and Western Slope water organizations view each other.

The dissing of summer lawns

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead told the CWCB that the tone of the draft water plan was overly negative in regard to outdoor urban water uses.

“The assumption and tone of the plan that municipal use (particularly the roughly 3% of the state’s water use that supports urban landscaping) is somehow wasteful or less valuable than other uses of water needs to be removed and replaced with language that is respectful of all uses of water that are done in an efficient manner,” said Lochhead in a Sept. 17 letter.

Wells of Colorado Springs Utilities also said the tone of the first section of the water plan was “anti-growth and anti-city.”

“If the plan is to reflect the values of the citizens of Colorado, it must recognize and validate the values clearly espoused by the silent millions in the state who have voluntarily chosen the municipal lifestyle of single family residences with a reasonable amount of bluegrass lawn,” Wells wrote.

But the vision of a new wave of “silent millions” enjoying thirsty lawns on the Front Range creates apprehension on the West Slope.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy, which works to protect the heavily-diverted Roaring Fork River watershed, told that the CWCB that “outdoor water use is an area ripe for major conservation gains.”

“While Roaring Fork Conservancy doesn’t insist lawns are a thing of the past, local land use codes ought to mandate green infrastructure and water-efficient native landscaping in new development, and incentivize conversion for existing development,” said Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director, in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB.

And the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, took an even stronger stance on suburban lawns and civic landscapes.

“It has been said that municipal outdoor irrigation is but three percent of the state’s water use,’ the roundtable said in its Sept. 17 comments. “Outdoor water use, however, is roughly 50 percent of municipal demands in the irrigation season. In totality, it is the municipal gap – most often described as 500,000 acre-feet — that is driving the water plan. A high conservation level closes better than 90 percent of the gap.”

Denver Water’s Lochhead comes at it from the other side of the fence.

“Denver Water serves almost a quarter of the state’s population using less than two percent of all the water used in Colorado,” Lochhead told the CWCB. “Even if we eliminated all outdoor water use (approximately half of our total water demands), we would only make a one percent change in the State’s water usage.”

Meanwhile, the Colorado River District, which represents 15 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope, acknowledged the Front Range’s sensitivity about its lawns and civic landscaping.

“The River District does not wish to ‘demonize, lawn grass, the district told the CWCB in an unsigned memo on Sept. 17. “However, outdoor landscaping is by far the greatest, single consumptive use of municipal water supplies. Accordingly, the plan must include specific, measurable goals for turf-related conservation.”

Enjoying a recreational experience on grass.
Enjoying a recreational experience on grass.

Lawns aside, more water

And while Front Range water utilities tend not to intertwine their defense of lawns with a call for new water supplies, most of their letters do include direct calls for more water storage projects – new dams and reservoirs – and new transmountain diversions.

The Front Range Water Council told the CWCB that the water plan must “emphasize the need for ‘new’ storage as well as the expansion of existing facilities, and the state must advocate for policies that advance this end.”

Denver Water’’s Lochhead said that “conservation alone will not be enough to close the gap. Additional storage will be required to allow us to manage water efficiently and for multiple benefits.”

And Wells of Colorado Springs Utilities told the CWCB, somewhat deeper in its letter than the section about the virtue of lawns, that “the final plan should contain a definitive statement that a new transmountain diversion will be constructed, even if no formal concept has been proposed. Any plan that fails to include a section on new supply development … cannot be considered a comprehensive, strategic vision for meeting Colorado’s future water needs.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the coverage of statewide water issues and the development of the Colorado Water Plan. The Post Indy ran a version of this story on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2015.

Net Zero Water

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

Graphic courtesy of the Brendle Group

Zero. Neutral. For the sustainability minded, there’s carbon-neutrality, net-zero energy classification, and other great tools around energy and climate planning, but why aren’t there tools to plan for water sustainability? That’s a question that Brendle Group, a sustainability consulting firm, has been working to solve since 2011. Although those existing tools might touch water, none have focused on water, or planning to minimize development’s impact on water quality and quantity… until a couple months ago.

In late August, Brendle Group, with support from other companies and organizations including the City of Fort Collins, New Belgium Brewery, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Adams County, released a new Net Zero Water Building Scale Toolkit and accompanying guidebook. The Net Zero Water concept aims to re-imagine the way water resources are managed.

Net Zero focuses on the idea of water neutrality, explained Shelby Sommer, a planner with the Brendle Group…

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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.

Denver Water to host Gross Reservoir Expansion Project Public Availability Sessions — Wed and Thu

From Denver Water via Twitter and Boulder County:

Denver Water is hosting two Public Availability Sessions this week to encourage residents in the area of Gross Reservoir to come and meet with Denver Water staff to address questions about DW’s Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

Wednesday, Oct. 7, Noon – 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 10. 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Location: Coal Creek Canyon Community Center
31528 CO-72, Golden, CO 80403

While not sponsored by Boulder County, the county has offered to spread the word about the meetings as a way for county residents to come have their questions and concerns addressed by Denver Water staff. As one Denver Water official has stated, “We’re very hopeful that this availability session format allows us to talk more directly with individuals about their concerns.”