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

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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.

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