Creating a secure water future for south metro Denver — The Denver Post #COWaterPlan

CWCB director James Eklund with manager in Water Supply Planning, Jacob Bornstein bring  a box containing the draft water plan to the Capitol.
CWCB director James Eklund with manager in Water Supply Planning, Jacob Bornstein bring a box containing the draft water plan to the Capitol.

Here’s a column about the south metro area and Colorado’s Water Plan from Eric Hecox that’s running in The Denver Post:

Colorado took an important step in addressing the state’s long-term water challenges by completing a draft of a state water plan. The plan offers a foundation from which local and regional water entities can work as we pursue solutions that balance local needs with statewide priorities. One need only look to the suburbs south of Denver to find many of the plan’s key tenets in action and a picture of what an effective “all-of-the-above” strategy looks like.

The water challenges facing the south metro region are well known. Historically we have relied too heavily on non-renewable underground aquifers. We must transfer to a secure, sustainable supply to protect property values, jobs, our economy and our quality of life.

What’s less known is the progress we have made. In the late 1990s, aquifer declines averaged 30 feet per year. This has dropped to an average of 5 feet per year today. A decade ago, about 70 percent of our region’s water came from non-renewable sources. By 2020, that will be reduced to 45 percent. Some communities, including Highlands Ranch, are close to or have cut that number to zero.

While we still have work to do, we have made tremendous progress in short time because we followed an “all-of-the-above” approach that mirrors the one advocated by state water leaders.

The approach begins with conservation. The south Denver metro region has reduced per capita water use by more than 30 percent since 2000. A few examples of local efforts:

• Providers serving Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are two of only three in the state to put water customers on a water budget that tracks use by household.

• Sterling Ranch is conducting the state’s first rainwater harvesting pilot study.

• Inverness provides rebates for replacing turf with low water use landscaping.

Being a good steward of our limited water resources means more than conserving, however. It also means being as efficient as possible with this precious resource, which is why the state plan makes water reuse a priority. Here, too, the south metro region is leading, with all of our providers reusing their reusable water supplies or planning to:

• Inverness Water and Sanitation and the Meridian Metropolitan District are among the earliest adopters of water reuse in Colorado. They reuse 100 percent of collected wastewater.

• Castle Rock recently completed the Plum Creek Water Purification Facility as part of its goal of attaining a 75 percent renewable water source.

Increased water storage is another component of the statewide plan that the south metro area has put to action:

• The recently completed Rueter-Hess Reservoir provides storage to Parker and three other South Metro Water members. When filled, the reservoir will be 50 percent larger than Cherry Creek Reservoir.

• The expansion of Chatfield Reservoir is a collaboration among nine entities, including four South Metro Water members, to add storage to an existing reservoir.

Regional cooperation is another key tenet of the state water plan that is playing out in the south Denver suburbs. Through local and regional partnerships, we are getting more use out of existing infrastructure and supplies.

The WISE Project is a first-of-its-kind partnership with Denver Water and Aurora Water that bolsters water supplies to the south Denver suburbs while maximizing existing water assets in Denver and Aurora. Similarly, Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority and East Cherry Creek Valley partnered to complete a state-of-the-art water treatment plant in 2012 and are working with several other South Metro Water members to share capacity on the ECCV Northern Pipeline.

The Colorado Water Plan provides a helpful roadmap. Born out of necessity, South Metro Water is proud to lead the way toward a secure and sustainable water future.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

Western Slope water interests still reeling from the Gross Expansion Project may barely have enough time to catch their breath before they’re again summoned to the bargaining table…

Regarding another diversion, the plan “seeks to find a path forward that considers the option of developing a new (trans-mountain diversion), while addressing many of the concerns expressed by the Colorado Basin roundtable and others.”

The threat of another trans-mountain diversion has loomed behind the development of localized basin implementation plans for each of Colorado’s eight largest river basins.

The South Platte/Metro Basin roundtables have called for new Colorado River water supplies since their draft plan was released this summer.

The state water plan outlines seven “points of consensus” for a new diversion, one of which states that the Eastern Slope isn’t seeking firm yield from a new diversion, and that it “would accept hydrologic risk for that project.”

But Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran said many of those points are overly vague.

“What does risk mean?,” Curran said. “What does a new (trans-mountain diversion) mean? What does that mean when you have millions of people relying on it? The devil is in the details.”

Grand County has been active in the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which has actively opposed any new trans-mountain diversion from the Colorado River.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, said in an email that the Western Slope basin roundtables would probably draft an official response at their Dec. 18 meeting in Grand Junction.

Pokrandt did provide a list of points from a November discussion, in which the Colorado Basin Roundtable calls it “premature” to include the seven points in the state water plan.

“We need to recognize that there may come a point where we cannot back down,” the document states, “where we will need to take a stand for the sake of the West Slope and Colorado as a whole.”

In past discussions, Pokrandt has maintained that any additional diversions from the Colorado River could trigger a compact call, in which junior water rights holders must stop diverting to supply Lower Basin states with water.

A compact call could impact municipal and other users on the West Slope, including the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Each basin will submit its final basin implementation plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in April 2015. The board will submit its final state water plan to the governor in December 2015.

To view the draft state water plan, visit http://coloradowaterplan.com

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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