Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo wrapped up a multi-day visit to Colorado today, where she highlighted investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act in drought resilience.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over the next five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, protect aquatic ecosystems and fulfill Indian Water Rights Settlements. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing another $4 billion to address the worsening crisis. Combined these two initiatives represent the largest investments in climate resilience in the nation’s history and provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the work of the Interior Department.
Today [January 13, 2023] , she joined Congressman Jason Crow, Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg, and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman to tour the Binney Water Treatment facility in Aurora to celebrate a recent $5 million investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will allow the city to expand the Prairie Waters Project (PWP), securing more clean, reliable water. The funding is part of $84 million announced last month from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to advance innovative drought resilience efforts.
The City of Aurora constructed the PWP after the severe drought in 2002 to improve drought resiliency. The project is an innovative potable reuse system, which captures and treats river water to provide up to 10 million gallons of clean water to Aurora residents per day. With Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, the City will expand the PWP by constructing a second radial well and pump station and increasing the overall water recovery capacity by 4,500 acre-feet annually.
On Thursday, Assistant Secretary Trujillo spoke at the Four States Irrigation Council Annual Meeting to highlight how investments from both laws will support western communities. While in Colorado, Assistant Secretary Trujillo also visited with staff at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center and at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colorado. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $510.7 million over the next five year to advance scientific innovation through integrated mapping of critical minerals that power many household appliances and clean energy technologies and through a $167 million investment for the USGS Energy and Minerals Research Facility in Golden, Colorado.
Aurora is planning an expansion to its innovative Prairie Waters project with the help of a $5 million federal grant, a project that city staffers say could recover enough water to support thousands of homes. The grant, which the federal government says the city is likely to receive, would be used toward the $11.5 million undertaking of digging a new pump station and radial well, which would draw water from below the South Platte River.
“Drought has been something we’re needing to tackle and handle more and more as the years go on, and so having this resource come from the South Platte instead of the mountains is definitely a drought resiliency component,” said Aurora Water staffer Justin Montes, who applied for the federal grant…
Radial wells consist of a single vertical shaft ending in multiple horizontal shafts that radiate outward like the spokes of a wheel. The radial well and pump station would be part of an expansion to the Prairie Waters project including another radial well that the city plans to dig in 2024. Aurora Water representatives say the entire expansion has the potential to double the water recovered by the project, which uses wells dug near the South Platte River to collect water that has been absorbed and naturally filtered by the riverbank. By the time water is collected by the wells, it has already passed through hundreds of feet of sediment beneath the South Platte, filtering out pathogens, organic chemicals and other contaminants. Montes said the process can also filter out debris introduced by wildfires.
To say that Aurora has a prolific portfolio of water rights and reservoirs is apt. Spanning across three water basins, Aurora water is transported 180 miles through a vast and complicated system.
But it hasn’t always been that way…
Aurora was wholly served by the City and County of Denver until 1954, when Denver put into place a “blue line” no longer granting permits for new taps in the ever-growing metropolitan area, leaving parts of Aurora out of Denver’s service region.
In 1957, Aurora purchased the water rights to the Last Chance Ditch and diverted the water that ran through it to be stored near the Cherry Creek Dam.
The completion of phase one of the Homestake Reservoir, which the city shares with Colorado Springs, was in 1967 and with that, Aurora was able to become completely self-reliant when it came to supplying the wet stuff to its residents.
The next 20 years saw rapid growth of Aurora’s water rights acquisitions, including rights in the three major basins being Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte. The city has continued to purchase water rights in areas spanning from Park to Eagle counties.
While the water rights are large in number for Aurora, 95% of the municipality’s water comes from reusable water…
This is where the Prairie Waters filtration system plays its vital role in supply for the city. Meeting approximately 10% of the demands of the city’s water, the system begins at the South Platte River in southern Weld County, and through a system of 23 wells, water is ushered through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel which serves as a filter to clean out impurities in the water. It is then pumped into basins where it goes through another level of filtration removing even more contaminants. The water is then sent to one of three different pump stations and finally to a purification facility.
The Peter D. Binney Purification Facility uses what are some of the most advanced processes of purification in the country, through ultraviolet oxidation, water officials say. With the ability to treat 50 million gallons a day, it’s the largest facility in the nation to use this technology…
With Aurora’s acquired water rights and the Prairie Waters System, Aurora looks to be prepared for the city’s growth.
Aurora Water serves more than 91,000 accounts in a city of more than 386,000 people and that number is rapidly increasing. The population is expected to double in the next 30 to 40 years.
With a bevy of new housing developments popping up on the eastern plains, it’s imperative that Aurora has the water to serve the increasing population with the most recently announced development promising 5,000 new homes.
Aurora water managers have long said that the city is set to provide water to tens of thousands of additional residents for at least another half century. Projections have shown that the city could need more than 40 billion gallons of water a year by 2070, more than double the usage in 2015.
In order to accommodate that amount, there needs to be ample storage, and Aurora has plans for that, too. Aurora currently has 156,000 acre feet of water storage, and enough to provide water to the city for three years, were there not to be another drop.
With 12 current reservoirs along the front range and throughout the mountains, Aurora has plans for three more reservoirs throughout the next 50 years.
One such reservoir has a litany of hurdles to jump, and might even require an act of Congress.
The proposed Whitney Reservoir on U.S Forest land in Eagle County would be shared with Colorado Springs. U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the plan this spring allowing the cities to test for possible sites…
With 95% of Aurora’s water being surface, or reusable water, there is always the risk of a low snow-pack, quick evaporation or plain-old drought. The new reservoirs will prevent Aurora having to sell or lease water resulting from not having enough storage.
Wild Horse Reservoir, which looks to be the next reservoir completed, hopefully by decades end, was planned with the purpose of not only providing adequate and better storage, but work in providing better management of exchanged water.
FromThe Associated Press (Brittany Peterson and Sam Metz):
hen Aurora buys one bucket of water, it’s really buying multiple buckets of water. Each drop of water will likely be used over and over again.
The growing city approaching 400,000 residents isn’t interested so much in acquiring single-use water anymore, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. With its Prairie Waters potable reuse system, Aurora can recapture and reuse about 95% of the city’s water, so having multiple uses written into water rights agreements has become a top priority as water rights are likened to gold in the West — expensive and often hard to come by.
Aurora’s method — sterilizing wastewater from toilets, sinks and factories and then piping it back into homes and businesses as tap water — is catching on across the U.S.
In the Los Angeles area, plans to recycle wastewater for drinking are moving along with little fanfare just two decades after similar efforts in the city sparked such a backlash they had to be abandoned. The practice, which must meet federal drinking water standards, has been adopted in several places around the country, including nearby Orange County…
The shifting attitudes around a concept once dismissively dubbed “toilet to tap” come as dry regions scramble for ways to increase water supplies as their populations boom and climate change intensifies droughts. Other strategies gaining traction include collecting runoff from streams and roads after storms, and stripping seawater of salt and other minerals, a process that’s still relatively rare and expensive.
Though there are still only about two dozen communities in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, that number is projected to more than double in the next 15 years, according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.
In most places that do it, the sterilized water is usually mixed back into a lake, river or other natural source before being reused — a step that helps make the idea of drinking treated sewage go down easier for some.
In Aurora, the process is thanks to the Prairie Waters system, which was opened in 2010. It starts south of Weld County along the Platte River, where Aurora holds water rights that can be used “to extinction,” meaning nearly endlessly.
“Essentially, this means that the water residents use for washing, laundry, showering, as well as some of the water from lawn watering, stays in the South Platte River Basin,” Aurora Water explains…
A few dozen wells on the basin pull water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to purify the water. Next, the water is pumped into basins of more sand and gravel where filtration continues. Finally, pipes take the water to three different pump stations, which lift the water 1,000 feet over a ridge and back to the Peter D. Binney Purification Facility, near Aurora Reservoir.
From there the water is treated and pumped back out to the city’s thousands of homes and businesses, where the cycle begins all over again…
Currently, the facility treats about 50 million gallons of water each day…
Funding for more wastewater recycling projects is on the way. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress has $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West, including the $3.4 billion project in Southern California.
And tucked into the federal budget reconciliation package being debated is $125 million in grants for alternative water sources nationwide that could include reuse technologies.
Plans for expansion of the Aurora Prairie Waters project are ever-evolving and so there isn’t a build out budget attached, Baker said.
An innovative water-sharing partnership between Denver Water, Aurora Water and water utilities that serve the south metro area has won national recognition.
The WISE Partnership, WISE being short for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, recently brought home a “Community Water Champion Award” from WateReuse, a national organization that advances the use of recycled water.
The award marks another sign of success for a project that showcases sustainability on multiple fronts.
WISE not only provides a way for Denver and Aurora to reuse water supplies, it also creates a dependable supply for 10 water providers that serve the south metro region.
That more dependable supply, in turn, reduces pressure to pull more water from the Colorado River, conserves dwindling groundwater supplies south of Denver and diminishes the need for metro area utilities to buy agricultural water in the South Platte River Basin, which can lead to drying up farmland if the water is diverted…
The unusual nature of the WISE project may have helped it capture the national award.
Awards typically recognize a specific facility, such as a water recycling plant, or a technology. WISE includes such features, but also leverages the power of a regionwide partnership to make it all work.
WateReuse described the award this way: “This innovative regional partnership for a sustainable water future will reduce groundwater reliance and bolster renewable water supplies to the South Metro area, while maximizing existing water assets belonging to Aurora and Denver Water.”
WISE works by pulling water that Denver and Aurora have a legal right to reuse from the South Platte River near Brighton. That water is then pumped via pipeline back upstream to Aurora for a series of treatment steps before distribution to project partners…
Simply put, the project’s benefits accrue this way:
Denver Water develops a new water supply by being able to use Aurora’s Prairie Waters system and a new revenue stream by selling unused water to the south metro area water providers.
Aurora Water benefits by selling unused water and putting unused treatment and pipeline capacity to use while receiving revenue that helps keep its water rates down.
The South Metro Water Supply Authority receives a permanent renewable water supply, helping to reduce its reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.
Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):
Water rights purchase provides environmental benefit
Aurora Water has finalized the purchase of water rights associated with the London Mine, located near Alma, in Park County. 1,411 acre feet (af) of water has been acquired at price of $22,000 per af, with additional costs of $2 million for an option to acquire additional water rights as they are developed and $1M for an easement. An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons, enough water to serve 2.5 households on average. The seller of the rights is MineWater Finance, LLC and No Name Investors, both Colorado companies. The total value of this initial purchase is $34,042,000. The sellers are confident that the source of the rights could ultimately result in additional water that Aurora has the exclusive option to purchase for $21,500 per acre foot.
The source of this water is from a basin that is recharged from snowmelt on London Mountain. A geologic fault contains the water underground and prevents it from discharging into South Mosquito Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. This water is pumped from the basin to a water tunnel in the London Mine and from there, discharged into South Mosquito Creek, which is upstream of Aurora’s Spinney Mountain Reservoir. Since this water is not naturally connected to the streams, it is decreed under Colorado Water Law as non-tributary. This has special meaning as this water is fully reusable and can be recaptured utilizing Aurora’s Prairie Waters system, a potable reuse system.
Aurora Water has been a national leader in water efficiency, including an acclaimed Prairie Waters water reuse system, and a nationally recognized water conservation program. Water acquisition is still necessary to meet future demands.
“Looking for new water supplies in the arid west requires innovative thinking,” said Marshall Brown, Director for Aurora Water. “This is a supply that historically has not been tapped by water providers, but the easier supplies are gone.”
The environmentally positive aspects of purchase have resulted in praise from organizations such as the Boulder-based Water Resource Advocates (WRA).
“New water supplies in Colorado are extremely limited and, at the same time, nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Colorado are polluted by mines,” Laura Belanger, Water Resources and Environmental Engineer with WRA stated. “We commend Aurora Water for taking a leadership role in finding this inventive and environmentally beneficial solution to meeting its customers’ water needs.”
Aurora Water completed substantial due diligence prior to this initial closing. Additional water rights under the option provision will be purchased as they are adjudicated and decreed through Colorado’s Water Courts.
Aurora Water is only purchasing the water rights. MineWater will continue to be responsible for the mine property, wells and associated permits. Questions regarding the mining operations, including the permits, should be directed to the MineWater contact listed above.
Click here to read the London Mine Purchase and Sale Agreement Fact Sheet.
Click here to read the mine water attachments to the release.
From 1874 until the 1940s, the London Mine was one of the top-producing gold mines in the state. It also produced lead, silver and zinc. In 1991 the mine eventually closed, but a fault within the mountain created a natural reservoir, one that fills with snowmelt.
In the nearly three decades since the mine has been closed, the state health department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have had their eye on the mine and its previous owners. In 2009, 2011 and 2013 CDPHE cited the mine for violating the discharge permit. A treatment plan for the mine was created, but it failed. And in 2016 CDPHE slapped the owner previous to MineWater with a $1.1 million fine.
Water officials and MineWater have studied the water, and will continue to do so, to make sure it’s a safe source.
MineWater, which has completely reworked the plumbing of the mine, will still continue its operations and hold all mine permits. Aurora water is only purchasing the water rights.
Aurora’s futuristic recycled water project — Prairie Waters— is running at full-tilt for the first time in its eight-year history, a move designed to make the city’s water supplies last longer in the face of severe drought conditions.
“We’re pushing it as hard as we can,” said Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water.
In February, as mountain snows failed to accumulate, Baker said the city began mobilizing to ramp up plant operations, knowing its reservoirs would likely not fill this summer. “We were very worried.”
By April, Prairie Waters was running at full speed, generating 9.7 million gallons a day (MGD), up from 5.1 MGD last summer, a 90 percent increase in production.
“We could possibly push it to 10 MGD,” said Ann Malinaro, a chemist and treatment specialist with Prairie Waters, “but we consider 9.7 MGD full capacity.”
“Prairie Waters was huge, not just in terms of volume, but also because it’s really helped us advance as a state in accepting potable [drinkable] reused water,” Belanger said. “Historically, there has been a yuck factor. But Prairie Waters has helped folks understand how systems can be designed so they are safe and effective.” [Laura Belanger]
Twenty-five Colorado cities, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Louisville, operate recycled water facilities, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but that water is used primarily to water parks, golf courses and to help cool power plants, among other nonpotable, or non-drinkable, uses.
But Aurora, faced with fast-growth and a shortage of water, realized more than a decade ago that reusing its existing supplies and treating them to drinking water standards was the only way to ensure it could provide enough water for its citizens.
Completed in 2010, the Prairie Waters Project recaptures treated wastewater from the South Platte River and transports it back to Aurora through a series of underground wells and pipelines. As the water makes its 34-mile journey from a point near Brighton back to the metro area through subsurface sand and gravel formations, it undergoes several rounds of natural cleansing.
Once it reaches the Prairie Waters treatment facility near Aurora Reservoir, it runs through a series of high-tech purification processes using carbon filters, UV light and chlorine, among other chemicals. Then, before it is delivered to homes, the reused water is mixed with the city’s other supplies, which derive from relatively clean mountain snowmelt that is carried down from the mountains.
For years, Castle Rock Water has made providing long term, renewable water a priority. Now, a major milestone has been reached and the first drops of WISE water are headed to Town. Join the celebration to help commemorate this accomplishment and take a look at what’s coming up next for water in Castle Rock.
The fun-filled family celebration will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 8. Bring the kids, sunscreen and a great attitude to Gemstone Park, 6148 Sapphire Pointe Blvd., to join the festivities and celebrate the WISE water partnership.
After stakeholders officially cut the ribbon, the community is invited for a festival full of games, food trucks, bump soccer, bounce houses, a foam party, giant bubbles, water colors and more. Plus, get a chance to meet the Most Hydrated Man in Castle Rock.
The celebration will help mark more than 9 years of planning and $50 million in infrastructure to help ensure the community’s strong water future. When the WISE partnership was created, many communities in Colorado were faced with a drought. With limited, non-renewable resources, communities knew they needed to come up with a plan. Regional water providers saw the opportunity to partner in a solution and share in the expense to buy, transport and treat renewable water.
The WISE partnership is an arrangement between Denver Water, Aurora Water and 10 other south metro water providers to import renewable water. Castle Rock is the southernmost community partner.
Castle Rock Water finished the last piece of infrastructure – connecting a pipeline from Outter Marker Road to Ray Waterman Treatment Plant – in late 2017. The first drops of imported WISE water came to Town in late April.
Denver, Aurora and South Metro region connect water systems to maximize efficiencies
DENVER, Aug. 16, 2017 – One of the most exciting water projects in Colorado’s history is now live. After years of planning and development of critical infrastructure, water deliveries have begun for the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership, known as WISE.
“This is a significant new chapter in Colorado’s water history,” said John Stulp, special policy advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper on water and chairman of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee. “With the start of WISE deliveries, we are ushering in a new era of regional collaboration and partnership for the benefit of current and future generations in the Denver metropolitan area.”
WISE is a regional water supply project that combines available water supplies and system capacities among Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro WISE Authority, which consists of 10 water providers serving Douglas and Arapahoe counties. Participating South Metro communities include Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock, among others.
“The state water plan identified regional collaboration and partnerships as key to a secure water future for Colorado,” said Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro WISE Authority. “WISE is a perfect example of the benefits that can come from such an approach.”
The innovative regional partnership is one of the first of its kind in the West and a major component to the region’s cooperative efforts to address long-term water supply needs. The WISE project has garnered unprecedented statewide support for its collaborative approach, which draws a stark contrast to water feuds of the past.
WISE allows the participating water entities to share existing water supplies, infrastructure and other assets in the South Platte River basin in ways that are mutually beneficial.
For communities in the South Metro region, WISE provides an additional source of renewable and reliable water supply and helps to reduce historical reliance on nonrenewable groundwater. Since the early 2000s, the region has made tremendous progress transitioning to a renewable water supply while ramping up conservation efforts.
For Denver, WISE adds a new emergency supply and creates more system flexibility, while allowing Denver Water to use water imported from the Colorado River multiple times for multiple purposes. For Aurora, WISE creates revenue that helps stabilize rates for municipal customers while creating added value from existing water and infrastructure.
“WISE promotes the efficient use of water through full utilization of existing resources,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Through this project, we’ve created a sustainable water supply without having to divert additional water out of mountain streams.”
“This is a positive development for Colorado’s water community,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said. “It is critically important that water utilities and providers are working together to meet Colorado’s water needs, and I commend this partnership.”
By reusing water imported from the Colorado River through Denver Water’s water rights, the project provides a new sustainable supply without additional Colorado River diversions. A portion of the WISE water rate also goes to the Colorado River District to support river enhancements within the Colorado River basin.
In 2015 WISE became the first water infrastructure project ever to receive funding from Basin Roundtables — groups of regional water leaders who help shape statewide water policy — across the state because of the example it set of regional cooperation. It also received financial support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“The WISE Partnership is a great example of communities working together to creatively address the water demands of Colorado’s growing Front Range,” said Laura Belanger, water resources engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “We commend the project partners for successfully implementing this innovative and flexible project that utilizes existing infrastructure to share water supplies between communities, increasing reuse, and helping keep Colorado rivers healthy and flowing.”
Others expressing public support of the project include Gov. Hickenlooper; U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner; U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Mike Coffman; and David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.
Since finalizing the WISE delivery agreement in 2013, WISE members have been hard at work putting in place the infrastructure and processes that will allow the parties across the Denver metro area to combine water supplies and system capacities.
· Purchasing a 20-mile pipeline to carry water from Aurora to Denver and South Metro;
· Building a new water tank near E-470 and Smoky Hill Road;
· Connecting an array of existing underground pipelines; and
· Developing a new computer system that enables up-to-the-minute coordination between all entities.
At the US Water Alliance, we bring together public, private, and community leaders to advance One Water solutions—holistic and integrated water management strategies that improve economic, environmental, and community outcomes. While the challenges facing our water future are great, our capacity for innovation and problem-solving is even greater. There are inspiring examples across the country of sustainable and integrated water resource management. That is why we annually award the US Water Prize to organizations that are leading the way with creative One Water solutions…
Aurora, Colorado is facing the water supply problems of many cities and regions in the arid west—a changing climate alongside a growing population. To combat these issues and secure the area’s water stability, Aurora Water worked with regional partners to create the Prairie Waters system, a innovative system that recapturing and recycling water to provide drinking water and drought insurance for the region. Using a multi barrier treatment process that includes both naturally-existing systems and state-of-the-art purification systems, Prairie Waters provides an additional twelve million gallons of clean, safe and dependable water each day. The Prairie Water program will help meet Aurora’s complex water needs for decades to come and can be a model for other regions experiencing changes in their water supply needs.
FromAspen Journalism (Allen Best) via the Aspen Daily News:
Two Front Range cities along with Western Slope parties and the Climax Molybdenum Co. hope to narrow their plans during the next 18 months for new or expanded reservoirs in the upper Eagle River watershed near Camp Hale.
One configuration of a possible new reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River, would force a minor tweaking of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area boundary.
That adjustment along with the presence of ecologically important wetlands along where Whitney Creek flows into Homestake Creek are among the many complexities that partners — including the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs — face as they consider how to satisfy their projected water needs.
Work underway this fall and expected to wrap up next year focuses on technical feasibility of individual projects. None alone is likely to meet the needs of all the partners.
Also at issue is money. One set of projects would cost $685 million, according to preliminary engineering estimates issued by Wilson Water Group and other consultants in April.
Aurora Water’s Kathy Kitzmann likens the investigation to being somewhere between the second and third leg around the bases.
“We’re not in the home stretch,” Kitzmann said at a recent meeting.
Still to be decided, as costs estimates are firmed up, is how badly Aurora, Colorado Springs and other water interests want the additional storage.
The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District has decided it only needs another several hundred-acre feet of yield.
John Currier, chief engineer for the river district, said that the less expensive studies have been done. Coming studies will be more expensive.
“I think we are to the point that the cost of investigations themselves are going to start driving the decisions, and I also think that the timing and need of the partners is helping drive those decisions,” Currier said.
At one time, the idea of pumping water eastward from Ruedi Reservoir was considered. That idea has been discarded as part of this investigation.
This exploration of water what-ifs is governed by a 1998 agreement, the Eagle River memorandum of understanding, or MOU.
The MOU envisioned water projects collaboratively constructed in ways that benefit parties on both Eastern and Western slopes, as well as Climax, the owner of the molybdenum mine that straddles the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass. Minimal environmental disruption is also a cornerstone of the agreement.
Long legal fight
The collaboration stems from a milestone water case. Aurora and Colorado Springs in 1967 completed a major water diversion that draws water from Homestake Creek and its tributaries.
Homestake Reservoir has a capacity of 43,500 acre-feet, or a little less than half of Ruedi, and is located partly in Pitkin County. The water is diverted via a 5.5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and into the Arkansas River.
Near Buena Vista that water is pumped 900 feet over the Mosquito Range into South Park for eventual distribution to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
But the cities left water rights on the table. In 1987, they returned to Eagle County with plans to divert water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness.
The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 that created Holy Cross left the legal door open for a new water diversion. The law specified that “this act shall not interfere with the construction, maintenance, and/or expansion of the Homestake Water Development Project of the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Holy Cross Wilderness.”
But Colorado had changed greatly from 1967 to 1987 and state laws adopted in the early 1970s gave Eagle County expanded land-use authority. County commissioners in 1988 used that authority to veto Homestake II.
That veto, which was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the denial of the Two Forks Dam southwest of Denver at about the same time, signaled that Colorado was in a new era of water politics.
Under Colorado water law, though, the two cities still owned substantial water rights in the Eagle River Basin. Guided by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, negotiations led to an agreement to develop projects to jointly benefit the former protagonists: 10,000 acre-feet of guaranteed dry-year yield for Western Slope users, 20,000 acre-feet of average-year yield for the cities, and 3,000 acre-feet for Climax.
Water supply options
Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir is one option being studied.
Located near Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Eagle River, it was originally created to hold mine tailings from Climax. In the 1990s it was gutted of tailings in order to hold water. A consortium of Vail Resorts, two-interrelated Vail-based water districts, and the Colorado River District combined to create a reservoir.
Aurora and Colorado Springs agreed to subordinate water rights in order to ensure firm yield for the Western Slope parties.
To expand the reservoir from the existing 3,300 acre-feet to 7,950 acre-feet could cost anywhere from $39.1 million to $70.8 million, depending upon how much work, if any, is needed to manage seepage beneath the existing dam. Test borings that began Sept. 12 will advance the design of the larger reservoir. Five possible configurations date from 1994.
Another option is to create a new relatively small dam on or adjacent to Homestake Creek, near its confluence with Whitney Creek. This is three miles off of Highway 24, between Camp Hale and Minturn.
Among the four possible configurations for this potential Whitney Creek Reservoir is a tunnel to deliver water from two creeks, Fall and Peterson, in the Gilman area.
A third option is restoration of a century-old dam at Minturn that was breached several years ago. Bolts Lake, however, would serve only Western Slope interests.
Still on the table is a new reservoir on a tributary to the Eagle River near Wolcott. That reservoir has been discussed occasionally for more than 30 years. However, like a Ruedi pumpback, it’s not part of the current discussion involving the Eagle River MOU partners.
Most problematic of the options is Whitney Creek. It would require relocation of a road and, in one of the configurations, water could back up into the existing wilderness area. For that to happen, Congress would have to tweak the wilderness boundary.
Wetlands displacement could also challenge a Whitney Reservoir. An investigation underway seeks to reveal whether those wetlands include areas classified as fens. Fens are peat-forming wetlands fed primarily by groundwater. As they may take thousands of years to develop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifies that “every reasonable effort should be made to avoiding impact fens.”
“If fens are found, I expect a lengthy debate about the quantity and quality of fens required to be a fatal flaw,” said the river district’s Currier in a July memorandum. That determination will be made before drilling is authorized to determine whether a dam is possible.
Western Slope parties, said Currier in the memo, “believe an Eagle Park enlargement may ultimately become very attractive because the environmental and permitting issues are much, much simpler than a Whitney Creek alternative.”
Nearly all the alternatives being considered in the Eagle River Basin would require extensive pumping, as opposed to gravity-fed reservoir configurations. Water would have to be pumped 1,000 vertical feet into Eagle Park Reservoir, for example, then pumped again to get it across the Continental Divide.
A Whitney Creek Reservoir would require less, but still expensive pumping. Water in the reservoir would be received by gravity flow, but from there it would be pumped about seven miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Whether it can accommodate more water has yet to be determined, one of many dangling question marks.
Earlier, the parties had investigated the possibility of using an aquifer underlying Camp Hale as a reservoir. But drilling to determine the holding capacity proved maddening complex. Accounting for water depletions from pumping would have been very difficult. Further, operation of the system to prevent impact to other water users and instream flows would have been problematic. The idea was abandoned in 2013.
Currier, in his July report to the River District board of directors, outlined several questions that he said should provoke discussion among the Eagle River partners this fall: How much of the water outlined under the 1998 agreement does each party realistically need, and when? Are they ready to begin seeking permits after this new round of investigation to be completed next year?
Need for water?
This week, in response to questions from Aspen Journalism, the Eagle River MOU partners explained the need for the water to be developed between 2036 and 2050.
Both Aurora and Colorado Springs have added major projects in recent years. After the drought of 2002, a very-worried Aurora pushed rapidly for a massive reuse project along the South Platte River called Prairie Waters. It went on line in 2010 — far more rapidly than any project on the Eagle River could have been developed.
Colorado Springs last year began deliveries of water from Pueblo Reservoir via the Southern Delivery System, an idea first conceived in 1989. The Vail-based water districts also increased their storage capacity after 2002.
At a meeting in Georgetown in August, representatives of the two cities said they were unsure of the precise need for water.
Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, describes a “delicate balancing act” about what is “going to be most reliable and what is going to be most environmentally permittable and permissible.”
Brett Gracely, of Colorado Springs Utilities, said project costs are “still in the realm of other projects are we looking at.”
The 1998 agreement specified that costs of initial studies should be divided equally, four ways. As the project progresses, the costs are to be split according to percentage of yield that each party would gain.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
A regional partnership called the Northwest Douglas County Water Project will result in renewable water for existing homes and businesses in rural, northwest Douglas County by spring 2017.
For the past 20 years, residents in Plum Valley Heights, Chatfield Estates/Acres, Chatfield East and the Titan Road Industrial Park Chatfield have been using well water, a nonrenewable source…
The water agreement — among Douglas County, Aurora Water, Centennial Water and Sanitation District, Roxborough Water and Sanitation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board — will deliver treated water to about 180 homes and 31 businesses in the northwest communities by February.
The county’s role in the partnership is its Water Alternatives Program, which was created in 2013 in an effort to help communities that owned wells. The county also took the lead in securing Aurora Water as a partner, according to a media release from county officials.
Communities will share infrastructure, Moore said, which is much more cost-effective.
Roxborough Water and Sanitation will deliver treated water from Aurora Water to paying customers in Plum Valley Heights. Centennial Water and Sanitation will treat, store and deliver water from Aurora Water to paying customers in Chatfield Estates, Chatfield Acres and Titan Road Industrial.
Construction of the appropriate delivery infrastructure is expected to begin next week.
A new long-term plan by the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which serves 13 water providers in the greater Denver-Aurora area, avoids any mention of taking water from the Arkansas River basin.
That’s significant, because the group’s 2007 master plan included two possible pipeline routes from the Arkansas River basin as a way of filling future water supply needs. Located in some of the fastest-growing areas of Colorado, South Metro’s population increased to 325,000 in 2016 from 250,000 in 2005.
South Metro communities were built on water from the Denver Basin aquifer, but began shifting their focus to finding new renewable supplies, conservation and increasing efficiency as ways to stretch their supplies.
“I think our members wanted to focus on projects that are on a foreseeable timetable,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the authority. “The study confirms our region’s tremendous progress toward securing a sustainable water future. There is more to be done, but there is no question we are on the right path.”
With Pure Cycle’s sale of its Fort Lyon Canal water rights last year, no South Metro member has any projects planned in the Arkansas Valley. Pure Cycle is connected to the emerging Rangeview district east of Aurora.
Annual demand for South Metro is expected to more than double to 120,000 acre-feet (39 billion gallons) by 2065. Increased storage, expanded use of the WISE agreement with Denver and Aurora and continuing conservation efforts are expected to fill 38,400 acre-feet in the next 50 years.
The WISE agreement allows South Metro areas to reuse return flows from the Denver area through Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project. Reuter-Hess Reservoir and the East Cherry Creek Valley pipeline have opened new ways to use water. Per capita use in the South Metro area has decreased 30 percent since 2000.
Another 30,000 acre-feet annually of new supplies still are needed by 2065, according to the revised master plan released Tuesday. About two-thirds of that supply is identified in existing projects, but the plan proposes finding the remainder through cooperative agreements with other users in the South Platte and through the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Hecox said.
Finally, individual members of the South Metro group are developing innovative solutions. For instance, Sterling Ranch is harvesting rainwater and incorporating conservation into land-use design. Other communities have initiated landscape regulations and some are even paying property owners to remove turf or plants that use excessive amounts of water. Some rate structures have been changed to promote conservation.
The new plan fits in with Colorado’s Water Plan, which seeks collaborative solutions rather than buying agricultural water rights and drying up farmland.
“A remarkable transformation is happening in the South Metro region,” said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation board. “Colorado’s Water Plan calls for innovative water management and this study demonstrates how this important region is transitioning to a more sustainable water supply.”
Looking to capitalize on historic-low bond rates, Aurora Water on Thursday sold $437 million in bonds toward re-funding debt associated with its Prairie Waters Project, making it the largest municipal bond issue in the state this year.
With a net savings of $68.6 million, the issue consolidates two other issues and a state loan, water department officials said in a news release.
The Prairie Waters Project was completed in 2010 at a cost of $637 million. It recaptures water Aurora already owns in the South Platte River, beginning in Weld County, and makes full use of Aurora’s mountain and agricultural water rights, increasing the city’s water supply by up to 12 million gallons per day. The water comes from 23 wells that use a riverbank filtration process, pulling water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to remove impurities.
The bonds were offered on July 20 and July 21, with first priority given to Colorado residents and businesses.
With assurances Denver would not be coming after San Luis Valley water in the near future, the Rio Grande Roundtable this week approved $10,000 to support a south metro Denver area water project.
The decision was not unanimous, however, with opposing votes coming from Juanita Martinez, who represents Costilla County water groups, Ron Brink, who is an Alamosa County representative on the roundtable, and Gene Farish, attorney for multiple municipalities in the Valley.
Sixteen other members of the roundtable voted to support the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Project with $10,000 from the funds allocated to the Rio Grande Basin. The other basin roundtable boards throughout the state have financially supported the project, which will recycle water from the Denver and Aurora water systems to south metro water providers and their customers.
The treatment plant for the project will cost about $6.5 million. The south metro water providers have already purchased pipeline to transport water from the Denver and Aurora systems to southern metro areas like Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock.
Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, made the initial presentation for the $10,000 request to the roundtable in January and made the formal request to the board this week. He said this project would reduce the draw on nonrenewable groundwater resources that have traditionally supplied the southern metro communities.
He said the project would also reduce the metro areas’ need to look to agricultural transfers or other basins for water supplies.
Hecox stressed that the water providers he represented were not after Valley water, and if they did look to other water sources outside of Denver, it would be the Colorado River system or South Platte, not the Rio Grande system.
It’s been proposed to move San Luis Valley water in the past,” he said. “There’s water projects proposed . We have not had any discussions with them. Our members have not had any discussions with them. The planning work we are doing is looking at basin solutions in the South Platte Basin or other partnerships with has support from throughout the state.
She said even though the basin might only be providing $10,000, “what you are getting is a lot more good will for yourselves “you are getting a good standing.”
She explained to Hecox that irrigating in the area she represents is still accomplished through shovels and opening irrigation ditches, and although she was fascinated by this project , which would use “left over discarded water,” she was skeptical about it.
She said she was opposed to the motion for funding, and everyone she spoke to in her county told her to not even consider it. She pointed to the Arkansas Valley where farmland has been dried up so people in the Denver area can have nice lawns and golf courses.
“It’s almost like a ghost town driving through there. It’s sad and it breaks everybody’s heart,” she said. “It’s even hard to talk about.”
Brink, who also voted against the funding, said the Denver area does not even recognize the Valley “except when they want some money or water.”
He added, “I am totally against this.”
Hecox said the project was not asking much money from the basin roundtables across the state, but one of the reasons for seeking some support from them Denver.”
Martinez said if the metro water group had no interest in the Valley’s water, then it must water “our good name” to show that it was to show cross-basin cooperation. He added that the metro water providers were trying to find solutions that would use renewable supplies, such as those from Denver and Aurora, rather than continuing to deplete nonrenewable supplies. He said the communities served by the south metro providers have also implemented significant amounts of conservation programs.
“That will go on and continue to reduce outside irrigation in south metro,” he said.
He said conservation efforts have reduced per capita water use by 30 percent over the last 10-15 years.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Steve Vandiver said he had raised concerns about supporting this project when it was initially presented, and the concern about “completing the loop” that would make it easier to export Valley water to the Denver area was still a concern of his.
However, he said after speaking further with Hecox, he believed the metro water authority had the Valley’s best interest in mind.
“They have convinced me that the project as it exists today is going to delay the need for outside supplies outside of the South Platte Basin,” he said.
Roundtable member Dale Pizel said, “There’s obviously some distrust between the San Luis Valley and the Front Range, for good reason, because we have been beaten up pretty good and had to fight off some pretty serious battles, but if we don’t solve Denver’s water problem, it’s going to keep coming back, “They are going to keep coming after our water.”
He said the Valley water leaders needed to put their distrust aside and help Denver and the Front Range solve their water problems so they don’t come after the Valley’s water.
Roundtable member Judy Lopez agreed. She commended the Denver area water providers for working together to address their water needs among themselves .
Vandiver said this project would be built whether or not it receives the Valley’s support. He wanted the minutes to reflect that the Valley supported the project with some reservation and concerns.
“We do this with some trepidation but want to support these efficiencies and conservation efforts on the Front Range to try to keep the monkey off our back as long as we can,” he said.
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.
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.”
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.
A $6.4 million project to blend water in a 21.5-mile pipeline in the South Metro area won state approval this week.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $905,000 grant toward the project which connects Aurora’s $800 million Prairie Waters Project with a $120 million pipeline that serves 14 water providers who are members of the South Metro Water Authority.
The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, which includes Denver Water, Aurora and South Metro members, says the new connection paves the way for recovering up to 10,000 acre-feet (325.8 million gallons) of water annually. The project does this by providing Prairie Waters flows balance water quality from Denver Aquifer wells and other sources.
Prairie Waters captures sewered flows downstream and treats the water for reuse at a plant near Aurora reservoir. The East Cherry Creek Village pipeline can redistribute the water among other users.
At a July meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, South Metro Executive Director Eric Hecox claimed it would relieve pressure on taking water from farms, including those in the Arkansas River basin.
Three conservancy districts which have agreements with Aurora — the Lower Arkansas, Upper Arkansas and Southeastern — were skeptical that Aurora might use the WISE arrangement to manipulate storage levels in order to trigger more withdrawals from the Arkansas River basin.
Aurora provided assurances that would not happen, gaining approval from the roundtable in August.
“What’s significant is that six other roundtables joined to fund this project,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB.
Roundtables have funds in basin accounts, and contributed $105,000 to the grant, of which the Arkansas Basin chipped in $10,000. A statewide fund provided the remaining $800,000.
“We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording,” Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich told congressional aides, city council members, city staff and Aurora residents on a tour of the city’s vast water distribution system last week. “We hit 99 percent of our storage capacity about a week ago.”
In total, Aurora Water has more than 156,000 acre-feet of water storage, which could supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought.
The city gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin.
But Aurora was not always a municipal water powerhouse.
In 2003, Aurora’s water supply level was at 26 percent capacity, the lowest in the city’s history. The idea for the at-the-time innovative Prairie Waters Project came about in the wake of that severe drought.
The $653-million Prairie Waters 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.
The entire system pumps water from wells near Brighton, where it’s then piped into a man-made basin and filtered through sand and gravel. From there, the water is then piped 34 miles through three pumping stations to the Binney Water Purification Facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it’s softened and exposed to high-intensity ultraviolet light. The water is then filtered through coal to remove remaining impurities.
“It’s the crown jewel of our system,” said Stibrich during the tour. “Prairie Waters almost creates a fourth basin for us.”
But even before Prairie Waters, the first “crown jewel” project that allowed Aurora to grow and become the state’s third-largest city, was the one that allowed Aurora to cut most of its water ties with Denver.
Throughout the 1900s and into the 1960s, Aurora relied on the Denver Water Board for its supply. But the partnership between the neighboring cities grew contentious when, in the 1950s, Denver Water imposed lawn watering restrictions on a booming metropolitan area. Part of those restrictions included a “blue line” that prevented some Aurora suburbs from getting permits for new tap water fees.
In 1958, Aurora partnered with Colorado Springs to construct the Homestake Project, located in southern Eagle County in the Colorado River basin. The project was designed to use water rights purchased on the Western Slope that could supply the two cities.
For nearly a decade after the project was conceived, it was mired in legal battles with Denver and Western Slope entities. The first phase of the dam wasn’t even completed until 1967. In the 1980s, Aurora and Colorado Springs unsuccessfully attempted to expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness area as part of a phase two plan.
The issue to this day is divisive, said Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District during the city’s tour of the reservoir.
“For people to think we might be having some other dam up here and impacting their access to wilderness is an emotional issue,” she said.
It was a memorandum of understanding created in 1998 between Eagle County and the two Front Range cities that identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River basin to be divided into thirds between the three entities that helped alleviate tensions and put the project back on track.
Today Homestake Reservoir provides Aurora with 25 percent of its water, and Aurora Water officials are looking at various ways to expand their storage to satisfy the Eagle River MOU.
One idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Aurora Water officials said the issue with that plan is having to relocate the winding Homestake Road to a portion of the Holy Cross wilderness to accommodate it. Another alternative, which Aurora Water officials said they prefer, is to create a holding facility called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from a former World War II military site known as Camp Hale. From the holding facility, water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir.
Aurora Water officials are still working through the various politics of the alternatives, and repeatedly emphasized during the tour that there is no “silver bullet’ when it comes to water storage.
From Homestake, water travels east through the Continental Divide and tunnel where it’s sent to Turquoise Lake, then to Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville.
Aurora only owns the rights to a limited amount of storage in Twin Lakes, and that water has to be continuously lifted 750 feet via the Otero Pump Station to enter a 66-inch pipeline that leads to the Front Range.
The Otero Pump station — located on the Arkansas River about eight miles northwest of Buena Vista — is another impressive facet of Aurora’s vast water system, and the last stop on Aurora’s water journey before it is delivered to the Spinney Mountain Reservoir in South Park. With the ability to pump 118 million gallons per day, Otero provides half of Aurora’s and 70 percent of Colorado Springs’ drinking water, delivered from both the Colorado and Arkansas basins to the South Platte River Basin.
Tom Vidmar, who has served as the caretaker at Homestake for nearly 30 years and lives right next to the pump station, said the biggest issue facing Aurora’s water system is storage.
“We actually spilled water out of Homestake this year and didn’t collect (the) full amount we were eligible to take, simply because the reservoirs are at capacity,” Vidmar said during a tour of the massive pump facility. He said the electricity costs alone for Aurora to pump the water add up to around $450,000 a month.
A project Aurora Water officials hope to see come to fruition in 15 years is turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space so water can be pumped more efficiently through Otero.
“Box Creek is an important project. It gives us more breathing room,” said Rich Vidmar, who is Tom Vidmar’s son and an engineer with Aurora Water, during the tour. “As we look at storage and where to develop storage, right now we’re looking at spots where we have chokepoints in our system where we’re not able to operate perfectly to get as much water as possible.”
Just as the state anticipates that its population of 5 million will double by 2050, so does Aurora — and storage will be key to providing water for a city that could potentially grow to more than 600,000 residents in the coming decades.
But the mountains aren’t the only place where Aurora hopes to expand its reservoirs. The city also is looking to expand Aurora Reservoir even further east.
At a July study session, Aurora Water Officials described a feasibility study being conducted to determine just how much water Aurora could store at a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.
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.
Western Summit Constructors Inc. has been contracted to oversee design and construction of major infrastructure for the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency project. Construction will begin in June and continue into 2016, when water deliveries will begin.
“This is a significant milestone in our long-term plan to transition to a renewable water supply,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. “With construction agreements now in place, we will break ground in coming weeks to begin connecting water systems throughout the Denver metro area.”[…]
The group tasked with utilizing this water is the South Metro WISE Authority. The primary purpose of the authority is to reduce members’ dependence on nonrenewable Denver Basin wells and provide a reliable, long-term water supply for residents.
The WISE members are funding the new infrastructure that will move the water from Aurora’s Binney Water Purification Facility to its end locations, beginning in 2016. Water purchased by Douglas County entities, as well as by some of the other providers, will be stored at the Rueter-Hess Reservoir south of Parker.
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 communities through an existing pipeline shared with Denver and East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District, plus new infrastructure that will be constructed over the next 16 months.
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.
“Prairie Waters was born from the drought of 2002-2004, and is a way of fully utilizing Aurora’s water,” Aurora Water spokesperson Greg Baker said.
The Aurora Prairie Waters project is a large-scale effort to reuse water for a growing city.
“You have to think of sustainability,” Baker said. “How are you going to support a community like Aurora, which will probably double its population in the next 50 years? And where is that water going to come from?” Baker asked.
Most of Aurora’s water comes down from the mountains. Snow melt flows into the Colorado and Arkansas River basins. However, one third of Aurora’s water comes from the South Platte River. Its water that is, in effect, reused.
“If you use water in the shower, you wash your car, you take a bath – that water ends up back in the South Platte,” Baker explained. “We retreat down here, put it back in our system, and it ends up back in the South Platte again. We get to use it over and over again. So, it is the ultimate water cycle.”
The cycle involves piping that water underground into a man-made basin, through sand and gravel and then treating the water, including using UV light to get impurities out.
“The things we can remove out of the water now, compared to 10 or 20 years ago, is just staggering,” treatment plant supervisor Kevin Linder said.
Right now, it’s the low season. The plant is processing 14-million gallons of water a day. In the high season, the summer months, it can do more than twice that: 30 million gallons.
“This treatment plant is one of the most advanced plants in North America,” Linder said.
Part of the reason the system isn’t used everywhere is that it is expensive to build. Prairie Waters cost $638-million. However, water managers there see it as a way of protecting the city from the effects of future droughts while protecting Colorado’s overall water supply.
“We’re asking a lot of Colorado to let us use this water for our residents,” Baker said. “And, so, if you’re going to do that, you have to honor that commitment.”
There are plans to expand Aurora Prairie Waters by adding more filters and providing some water to places in Douglas County.
A pipeline that will tie metro areas together has been purchased by Denver and the South Metro Water Supply Authority. The purchase will delay other efforts by metro water providers to take water from other parts of the state by allowing water suppliers to be used more effectively.
The 20-mile long East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District’s western pipeline was purchased for $34 million, connecting Denver’s supply line to Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project. South Metro will pay 85 percent and Denver 15 percent. The ECCV pipeline originally was built to move water from a well field to the west to the community located between Denver and Aurora. It was built with excess capacity and will be modified to serve several other districts along its route.
The move will allow districts in the South Metro group to receive water from Prairie Waters and give Denver and Aurora a source of emergency supply.
Those districts are largely dependent upon Denver Basin groundwater, but need surface supplies in order to sustain underground resources. By cooperating with neighbors, they are able to reduce the costs of new supplies.
Denver, Aurora and 10 members of South Metro entered the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership in order to share water resources. Other projects have included reallocation of Chatfield Reservoir water, opening of Rueter-Hess Reservoir at Parker and other projects by individual members.
“With those successes, we’re taking another look at our long-term plan,” said Eric Hecox, general manager of the South Metro District.
That could be good news for the Arkansas River basin, which was targeted among future sources of water supply in South Metro’s 2007 water plan. Since then, conservation efforts have reduced demand. In addition, growth slowed during the recession, giving the water providers a little breathing room, Hecox said.
“With WISE moving ahead, it complements other water supply efforts. It doesn’t meet all of our needs, but moves things forward,” Hecox said. In the next few months, the ColoradoWyoming Coalition, led by South Metro, will be completing an analysis of whether to launch a feasibility study for the Flaming Gorge pipeline, which would deliver water from Wyoming to cities within that state as well as Colorado’s Front Range.
One of the South Metro’s members is the Rangeview district east of Aurora, backed by Pure Cycle, a company which has proposed piping water from shares it owns on the Fort Lyon Canal near La Junta to the northern cities.
The groups also will be looking at coordinating its plan with the upcoming state water plan.
“Many of the options in the state water plan are the same options we’re looking at,” Hecox said.
Here’s the release from the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Denver Water, and the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District (Russ Rizzo/Stacy Chesney/Andy Cohen):
WISE One Step Closer to Delivering Water
Purchase of East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District pipeline by South Metro Water Supply Authority and Denver Water finalized
Water delivery to begin in 2016 following additional infrastructure build-out
Partnership represents new era in regional cooperation and water efficiency
The southern suburbs of Denver took a significant step forward in shifting to a water system that makes use of renewable water supply on Oct. 21 when members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority and Denver Water purchased the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District’s Western Waterline. The pipeline purchase is a significant milestone in WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), a partnership between 10 of the South Metro members, Denver Water and Aurora Water to share water supply and infrastructure.
Using Aurora’s Prairie Waters system, Aurora Water and Denver Water will provide water through the Western pipeline to participating South Metro members on a permanent basis. WISE will also provide a new emergency supply for Denver Water, and offset costs and stabilize water rates for Aurora.
“The purchase of ECCV’s pipeline makes WISE and the sharing of water supplies possible,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. “This is a significant milestone for the WISE Partnership and moves communities throughout the South Metro area one step closer to a secure and sustainable water future,” he said.
The 20-mile east-west pipeline along E-470 and C-470 has capacity to deliver 38 million gallons of water a day to Douglas and Arapahoe counties.
“Our sale of this pipeline is mutually beneficial for all the parties involved,” said O. Karl Kasch, president of the ECCV board. “Under the purchase and sale agreement, ECCV will still have the capacity we need in the pipeline, while also supporting a regional solution to one of the most important water challenges facing the Denver metro region. We have always viewed the Western Waterline as an infrastructure asset from which the entire South Metro community can benefit, and that’s what will be accomplished.”
Under the agreement, Denver Water and Aurora Water will sell an average of 7,250 acre-feet of water a year to South-Metro water suppliers beginning in 2016 with the option to increase to 10,000 acre-feet in future years.
“We’re thrilled to be moving forward with the WISE Partnership,” said Dave Little, director of planning for Denver Water. “This agreement will create more system flexibility and increase the reliability of our water supply system, leading to a more secure water future for communities throughout the region.”
WISE water is expected to begin flowing through the ECCV pipeline in 2016, once the remaining infrastructure, such as system interconnects, are complete.
More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post:
Denver and south metro suburbs have taken a $34 million step toward water-sharing to wean the suburbs off dwindling underground aquifers.
The South Metro Water Supply Authority and Denver Water announced Wednesday they bought a 20-mile pipeline — built for $44 million in 2004 by the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District — to carry excess Denver and Aurora water to 10 suburbs including Castle Rock, Centennial and Parker.
This east-west pipeline is seen as the spine of a new distribution system to move an average of 7,250 acre-feet of water a year to suburbs that, in some cases, remain totally dependent on the finite Denver Basin aquifer.
“This allows them to change the way they are using the aquifer,” said Eric Hecox, director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents the suburbs. “It won’t get them off the aquifer completely. It will allow them to use it as a backup supply.”
Colorado has let developers tap aquifers to serve multiplying new homes, but pumping the underground water is becoming more difficult and costly with water tables falling in some areas by 1 to 3 feet a year.
About two dozen utilities between Denver and Colorado Springs together pump more than 30,000 acre-feet of water a year from about 440 municipal wells, according to water suppliers.
This Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency project, if it works as envisioned, would take advantage of water already used by Denver and Aurora, cleaning it fully in Aurora’s state-of-the-art water treatment plant.
More pipeline connections must be built, but buying the ECCV pipeline is a major step, Hecox said.
South Metro paid 85 percent of the $34 million. Denver Water paid $4.7 million.
The pipeline runs under the 470 beltway and can carry up to 38 million gallons a day. ECCV can keep moving up to 8 million gallons a day to its southeast metro customers.
“Without that pipeline, we cannot deliver the water,” Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker said. “Now we can start moving forward toward delivering water.”
Denver Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents more than a dozen water utilities in the southern edges of the metro area, on Oct. 21 agreed to pay $34 million to buy the pipeline from the East Cherry Creek Valley district. The South Metro water districts is an 85 percent owner of the pipeline and Denver Water paid $4,725,000 for its 15 percent ownership, Bennett said.
“We found a way between Denver, the South Metro districts and East Cherry Creek to share the capacity of the pipeline, so it will now be used to deliver water to the south metro entities,” said Dave Bennett, a water resource project manager with Denver Water.
Denver Water, which serves more than 1 million customers in Denver and some surrounding suburbs, also will be able to use the pipeline to capture water and reuse it in its systems, Bennett said.
“Instead of going out and building a new, duplicate pipeline, we found a way to share that existing infrastructure,” Bennett said.
The pipeline is crucial to the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) partnership, which includes 10 southern water districts, Denver Water and Aurora Water. Under the WISE agreements, treated water that’s been used once by Denver and Aurora and added to the South Platte River will be recaptured at a spot along the river north of Denver. Then, via Aurora’s 34-mile Prairie Water pipeline, the water will be shipped back to the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility near the Aurora Reservoir. After it’s treated at the plant, the Western Waterline pipeline will be crucial for moving the treated water to the southern suburbs.
“The purchase of ECCV’s pipeline makes WISE and the sharing of water supplies possible,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. “This is a significant milestone for the WISE Partnership and moves communities throughout the South Metro area one step closer to a secure and sustainable water future.”
Under the WISE agreement, Denver Water and Aurora Water will sell an average of 7,250 acre-feet of water a year to south-metro water suppliers beginning in 2016 with the option to increase to 10,000 acre-feet in future years. One acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons, enough to support 2½ families of four for a year.
Karl Kasch, president of the East Cherry Creek Valley board of directors, said the sale of the district’s pipeline was beneficial for all parties. The district retained ownership of 8 million gallons per day worth of capacity on the pipeline, which can carry 38 million gallons of water per day.
“Under the purchase and sale agreement, ECCV [the district] will still have the capacity we need in the pipeline, while also supporting a regional solution to one of the most important water challenges facing the Denver metro region,” Kasch said.
“We have always viewed the Western Waterline as an infrastructure asset from which the entire South Metro community can benefit, and that’s what will be accomplished,” he said.
More work needs to be done to connect the pipeline to Aurora’s water treatment plant, connect it to Denver Water’s system, and connect the southern water districts to the pipeline, but that’s expected to be done in the next few years, Bennett said.
The Douglas County commissioners took an important step in helping secure the county’s water future at their regular meeting on Aug. 26.
By joining in on the South Metro Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) Authority’s agreement with Denver Water and Aurora Water, the county will be the recipient of 2,775 acre-feet of water per year for a 10-year period, starting in 2016…
The South Metro WISE Authority is made up of 10 water providers that are all part of the larger South Metro Water Supply Authority. Nine of those water providers — Centennial, Cottonwood, Dominion, Inverness, Meridian, Parker, Pinery, Stonegate Village and Castle Rock — are located in Douglas County. The 10th, Rangeview Metropolitan District, is located in Aurora.
“This region has been working hard for a very long time to bring renewable water supplies into the area,” SMWSA Executive Director Eric Hecox said. “We have a legacy of developing non-renewable groundwater and the effort for many years has been to transition our current population off of groundwater as well as to provide water for future economic development, and I think this project achieves that.”
The WISE project began in 2008 as a way for members to identify processes, cost, distribution, timing, storage and legal issues relating to distributing treated reusable water return flows from Denver and Aurora for use by SMWSA water users.
The group tasked with utilizing this water is the South Metro WISE Authority. The primary purpose of the authority is to reduce members’ dependence on non-renewable Denver Basin wells and provide reliable long-term water supply for residents.
“While we often refer to the Denver Basin aquifers in a negative way, they do provide an extremely important drought reserve,” Douglas County Water Resource Planner Tim Murrell said. “By reducing Denver Basin well pumping to a secondary source rather than a sole supply, the basin can continue to be a valuable asset in times of drought.”
In 2013, Aurora, Denver and the South Metro WISE Authority finalized the water delivery agreement. As part of the deal, 100,000 acre-feet of water will go to the authority’s providers over a 10-year period.
At the time of the agreement, the authority members were only able to agree on 7,225 acre-feet per year. This left 2,775 acre-feet per year that would be lost if not claimed. Douglas County has been working with the authority members over the last year to reserve the 2,775 acre-feet per year supply for the county.
The WISE members are funding new infrastructure that will move the water from Aurora’s Binney Water Purification Facility to its end locations, beginning in 2016. Water purchased by the county, as well as by some of the other providers, will be stored at the Rueter-Hess Reservoir south of Parker.
The county will pay a $97,125 annual reservation fee through 2020; 2,000 acre-feet of water per year will be available for use and purchase by WISE members, and 775 acre-feet will be available for use and purchase by non-members.
Aurora Water has begun construction to expand the city’s Prairie Waters Project for the first time since the natural water filtration and collection system opened in 2010. Projects nixed from the original construction plan kept the $659 million project about $100 million below its initial budget. Now, those projects are being called back up to make sure Prairie Waters stays on track for exponential growth over the next 40 years.
“The expansion part of the project has been planned from the very beginning,” said Marshall Brown, executive director for Aurora Water. “This year, we’re at a place where we can prioritize the growth and look toward the future of system capacity.”
Crews have begun digging six new collection wells in between the existing 17 wells that collect water from a basin near the South Platte River in Weld County, downstream from the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s plant. From there, the water is piped through wells 44 miles south to treatment and storage facilities in Aurora for residential use.
Along the way, the water is pulled through 100 feet of gravel and sand. This 30-day, natural process helps pull large contaminants out of the water.
Two new filter beds will also be installed at the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility near the Aurora Reservoir this year. At the Binney facility, water is treated with chemicals and ultraviolet lights to make it potable.
The cost of the expansion projects is $2.9 million, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. He said water tap fees will not be affected by the new wells and filters this year.
“We plan our capital projects (which are predominantly paid for by development or tap fees) well in advance,” Baker said. “We plan for these expenses so that our rates don’t roller coaster based on immediate projects.”
Right now, Prairie Waters is spread over 250 acres in Weld County and is only built out to about 20 percent of its total potential capacity. Baker said the system currently provides 10 million gallons of water per day. At full build-out, Prairie Waters will able to provide 50 million gallons of water per day.
The project itself was conceived in response to extreme drought conditions in 2003.
“Ideally, we would like to have two years’ worth of supply stored in the system at all times,” Brown said. “Aurora’s system varies between one and two years’ worth of storage now.”
The long-term vision for the project involves well development all the way down the South Platte River to Fort Lupton, as well as adding more physical storage components. Aurora Water has already started to acquire additional property for capacity expansion in the future.
Baker added: “As Aurora’s population grows, we will expand into the system to support that growth.”
Following spikes of 2 percent in 2012 and 3.8 percent in 2013, Highlands Ranch residents are expected to see rates go up 6.8 percent this coming year. This year’s proposed increase is due to the district’s involvement with both the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE) and Chatfield Reallocation Project, said Bruce Lesback, CWSD director of finance and administration…
“We held off as long as we could before increasing rates to this level for our customers, but it appears both projects are now going forward,” Lesback said.
For CWSD, the two projects are a major step toward cementing a long-term water supply and not relying as much on groundwater or leased water.
“We’ve got many years of full supply, but some of that full supply comes from leases that are not long-term,” CWSD General Manager John Hendrick told Colorado Community Media earlier this year. “We want to add to our portfolio with long-term or near-permanent surface water sources.
“We’ve got ample groundwater for droughts, but in wet years we’ll now be able to take in more than we need to and top off our reservoirs with surface water.”[…]
A public hearing was held Nov. 25 on the proposed CWSD budget. The board of directors will vote to adopt the 2014 budget at its Dec. 16 meeting.
Denver Water last week approved the WISE partnership agreement that clears the way for the utility to delivery treated water to the area’s southern suburbs.
Approval of WISE, which stands for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, formalizes the regional cooperative water project. The agreement calls for the permanent delivery of 72,250 acre-feet of treated water from Denver and Aurora to members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA).
SMWSA was formed in 2004 from the banding together of smaller water utilities in south Denver.
With the agreement now in place, some of the water that currently flows down the South Platte River and out of the state would be recaptured by Aurora’s 34-mile Prairie Waters Pipeline and pumped back to the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility near the Aurora Reservoir. There, the water would be treated and piped to the southern suburbs.
The water delivery will begin in 2016. Members of the SMWSA must have infrastructure in place to move the water from the purification facility. The cost of the water and infrastructure for its delivery is estimated at $250 million over the next 10 years. Each member will independently determine how to finance their share of the project.
The participating members of SMWSA are the town of Castle Rock, Dominion Water & Sanitation District, Stonegate Village Metropolitan District, Cottonwood Water & Sanitation District, Pinery Water and Wastewater District, Centennial Water & Sanitation District, Rangeview Metropolitan District, Parker Water & Sanitation District, Meridian Metropolitan District and Inverness Water & Sanitation District.
The Parker Water and Sanitation District board of directors will hear a presentation later this month from new manager Ron Redd, who will recommend that the district enter into WISE, the Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency project. Six members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Pinery Water and Wastewater, the Cottonwood Water and Sanitation District and Stonegate Village Metropolitan District, committed to WISE by signing intergovernmental agreements in late March. The agreements will bring nearly 7,000 acre-feet of recycled water to the south metro area…
The Parker Water and Sanitation District board asked Redd to examine the possibility of buying 500, 1,000 or 1,500 acre-feet through the WISE project. He was expecting to receive the results of a cost analysis on April 5 to determine the possible financial impacts. Any rate hikes on customers would likely be implemented incrementally and equate to about 2.5 percent to 3 percent per year, Redd said, cautioning that those figures are preliminary. The cost of WISE water increases annually over an eight-year period.
It would be relatively easy, Redd said, to move the reclaimed WISE water from Aurora to Parker if the district can come to an agreement to use a pipeline along E-470 owned by East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District. If the board gives approval, the intergovernmental agreement would be signed by late May…
Rueter-Hess Reservoir, which contains 5,700 acre-feet of water and was built to store 70,000 acre-feet, will be paid off by the time the Parker Water and Sanitation District takes on more debt to build pipelines to transport the water that will be needed for the future.
Meanwhile, Centennial has inked an IGA with the WISE Partnership. Here’s a report from Ryan Boldrey writing for the Highlands Ranch Herald. Here’s an excerpt:
Centennial Water and Sanitation District was one of six members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority to sign an IGA this past week committing to more renewable water by way of the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership. Through the agreement, Aurora Water and Denver Water will provide roughly 7,000 acre-feet of fully treated water annually to participating SMWSA members and deliver it in phases, starting in 2016. As part of the IGA, the participating South Metro WISE entities have agreed to fund new infrastructure that will move the water from Aurora’s Binney Water Purification Facility to its end locations. “A region-wide water solution makes more sense than having each water entity fending for themselves to source, treat and deliver renewable water to customers,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of SMWSA. “We’re excited about the progress we’re making through WISE towards transitioning the region from nonrenewable groundwater to renewable water.”
Hecox said that the agreement helps provide SMWSA with about a third of the necessary water that participating entities will need long-term. From here, work will continue on the Chatfield Reallocation Project as well as of other options and alternatives to bring more water to the region…
For Centennial Water specifically, it’s another step toward cementing a long-term supply and not relying as much on groundwater or leased water. “We’ve got many years of full supply, but some of that full supply comes from leases that are not long-term,” said Centennial Water and Sanitation District General Manager John Hendrick. “We want to add to our portfolio with long-term or near-permanent surface water sources…
Other SMWSA members committing to the project at this time are Cottonwood Water, Meridian Metropolitan District, Pinery Water, Rangeview Metropolitan District and Stonegate Village Metropolitan District. Hecox said he expects Dominion, Inverness, Castle Rock and Parker water districts to sign the IGA by the end of April. SMWSA members not expected to take part in the IGA include: Castle Pines Metro, Castle Pines North, East Cherry Creek Valley, and Arapahoe.
The Roxborough water treatment plant, at more than 50 years old, has lasted beyond the end of its useful life and, according to the district board, it’s not a matter of whether disaster will strike, it’s a matter of when. The district is waiting to hear from its customers who must decide how to pay for a new facility, estimated to cost as much as $23 million.
The new plant will replace the one purchased in 1972 from Aurora Water, according to the district. The existing plant was built in 1958 and refurbished at the time of the purchase. It has outlasted its expected 30-year lifespan by about 20 years, according to the district board…
Completion of a new facility will cap a long-term water plan that ensures delivery of water to Roxborough residents for the next 100 years, he said.
Moore was instrumental in reaching a 2010 deal with Aurora Water to get water to Roxborough residents in what Moore calls the most comprehensive, sustainable water plan in Douglas County. In the deal, Roxborough signed a 99-year lease with Aurora to buy into the Aurora system for $22.3 million, securing water to serve Roxborough’s build-out population of 3,800 units. The deal does not allow Roxborough to sell water outside of its boundaries, which means the Roxborough plant will not be designed to serve residents in surrounding neighborhoods, including the proposed Sterling Ranch development, Moore said…
The district announced its plans in 2012 and in December sent a questionnaire to customers asking them to select one of three payment options for financing the new plant. Among the options are a $20 monthly hike in water rates, beginning in March or April, which would allow the board to move forward with design and financing in the first quarter of 2013; a $10 fee, which would double to $20 by 2014 and delay the start of construction by about 12 months; or a $5 fee that would increase every six months to a $20 fee by 2014, which would delay start of construction by about 18 months.
The district has about $5 million in capital reserves to contribute to the plant and is aiming for a 30-year note to pay the balance, Moore said.
Moore has been fielding residents’ questions, many of which revolve around the district’s policy to limit outdoor watering during the summer to twice a week. The board has yet to vote on watering restrictions, Moore said. The new plant will have a 4 million-gallon-per-day treatment capacity, double that of the existing plant.
“We’ve always looked at where our supplies are, where our projected demand is going to be, and where we have windows of opportunity. Where we think we have additional supply, we’ll go ahead and lease it,” Stibrich said.
The Anadarko leasing deal was especially high profile because the city agreed to lease water to the company for hydraulic fracturing purposes — a contentious issue that some Aurora residents have vehemently opposed.
But leasing deals have existed long before then, Stibrich said. Those include a 7,000 acre-foot lease to the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, a 4,340 acre-foot lease to Rocky Mountain Energy Company, now owned by Xcel Energy, and leases that are currently being negotiated for the WISE project that will eventually grant water to 11 water providers in Douglas and Arapahoe counties in times when Aurora has additional water…
As of now, Aurora’s water supply is in good shape. The city stores water in 16 reservoirs — of which they own five: Quincy, Aurora, Rampart, Spinney Mountain and Jefferson Lake. The rest of the reservoirs are shared with other cities, for example, Homestake Reservoir stores water for Aurora and Colorado Springs. The reservoirs have a total water storage capacity of 156,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot is 326,000 gallons, or enough water to serve two typical households per year. The amount of storage capacity the city has is three times more than the city’s actual need.
The city uses about 50,000 acre feet annually, and the reservoirs were about 85 percent full in May.
The city is continually looking at more opportunities for water storage. Between 2012 and 2014 the city will be working on land easements and begin pre-permitting activities for the development of the Box Creek Reservoir, which they hope will be online and storing water by 2030…
Under the Anadarko water lease, Anadarko is planning to pay Aurora Water to use 1,500 acre feet of “effluent” water per year over five years. The company will be paying four times the market rate for the city’s effluent water, or water that has already been used and treated that would otherwise flow downstream and out of the state. That equals to about $1,200 per acre foot, whereas the market rate is about $350 per acre foot. Anadarko will pay Aurora about $9.5 million over five years for the water.
Back on August 15 an Aurora City Council committee made sure that the city didn’t lease potable water to Anadarko. Here’s a report from Sara Castellanos writing for the Aurora Sentinel. Here’s an excerpt:
City council members had the discussion after the city received two requests from parties interested in the possibility of acquiring drinkable, or potable, water for oil and gas drilling purposes.
The people interested were not named in city documents or at the Infrastructure and Operations Policy Committee meeting, but committee members said potable water shouldn’t be sold to any entity.
The requests involved using water from city fire hydrants to fill water tankers for use at oil drilling sites, potentially both inside and outside Aurora city limits. The city’s water officials recommended to members of the policy committee that they deny their requests and any future requests for potable water and keep with the city’s current policy against using fire hydrants for any purpose other than fire suppression and system maintenance.
Councilman Brad Pierce said he didn’t think that was an appropriate use of the city’s water…
The discussion comes about a month after council members agreed to lease 1,500 acre feet of “effluent” or used water to Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for $9.5 million over five years. Effluent water is water that has already been used and treated that would otherwise flow downstream and out of the state. The water is sanitary but not potable or made available for public use.
Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is expected to purchase $9.5 million worth of “used” water from Aurora for its oil and gas drilling operations across the state, pending Aurora City Council approval July 9.
Members of council’s Management and Finance committee said the revenues should be used to partially pay off debt from the construction of Prairie Waters, a $650 million project that was completed in 2010 to ensure the city’s residents had enough water during droughts. The city borrowed more than $540 million and raised water rates to pay for the project.
A second option would have been to use the revenue to reimburse taxpayers for helping to foot the bill to construct the project. But committee members decided that reimbursement wouldn’t amount to much anyway. According to Jason Batchelor, the city’s finance director, the credit to the average residential rate payer would be about 95 cents a month.
Councilman Bob LeGare said it makes better financial sense to put the money toward the Prairie Waters project. “Everyone understands paying down your (debt) early,” he said.
Aurora’s Peter Binney Water Purification Facility received the Marvin B. Black Excellence in Partnering Award last month for representing exemplary partnership and collaboration in construction projects like the Prairie Waters Project. The national honor was awarded by The Associated General Contractors of America.
Here’s a guest column about the Flaming Gorge pipeline written by Aaron Million running in the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:
The argument that no further Upper Basin water projects be developed, which is a position some have taken, by default and in the simplest terms means California, Nevada and Arizona all benefit to the detriment of this region. Colorado faces a massive water supply shortfall, projected to be between 500,000 to 700,000 acre-feet over the next 20 years. New water and new storage, one of Gov. Hickenlooper’s keystone policy objectives and a long-standing objective for Colorado, can basically be accomplished with a pipe connection. This project would divert less than 5 percent annually out of the massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is 25 times larger than Horsetooth Reservoir…
…the Flaming Gorge Project has several advantages for a new water supply. The Green River system itself, starting just south of Jackson Hole, has a different snowpack regime, which mitigates risk compared to relying on water from a single source or watershed. Also, global warming models predict the Green’s more northerly region to be wetter than average, while the Colorado River main-stem drainage, the historical focus of Front Range water needs, is predicted to be dryer than average. And the Green River is as large as the Colorado River main-stem, with comparatively little consumptive use and very few diversions.
Without question, the river has major environmental and recreational benefits that require protection…
So why does that matter for this region? It matters because an overall systems analysis on the Green River following implementation of the ROD indicates substantial surplus flows after meeting all the environmental needs of the river. Those surpluses, estimated at several hundred-thousand acre feet in a river system that flows over 1.5 million acre-feet annually, could be used to bring in a new water supply for the South Platte and Arkansas basins, generate new alternative energy, produce hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits, and provide re-use of waters for agriculture to keep the region strong and vibrant.
So the real question is this: If a large river system can be fully protected, and at the same time some of the potential surpluses from that same system alleviate major supply issues elsewhere, isn’t that an environmentally sound and reasonable water supply approach? The question remains unanswered until a rigorous and thorough environmental impact evaluation is completed…
I believe this we need to take this project through its paces. If it is environmentally sound, it should be permitted and built. If not, then stick a fork in it. The truth of a full scientific and environmental evaluation may be hard for some in the environmental community to swallow, but the consequences of not allowing that evaluation to occur remain: A continued bulls-eye on the Poudre, reverse-osmosis plants on the South Platte because of poor water quality, more future dry-up of the agricultural base in this state, and continued pressure on the western high country of our nearby mountain peaks.
The Flaming Gorge pipeline will be the topic of discussion March 14 at the Collegiate Peaks Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Here’s the release via The Chaffee County Times:
More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.
Aurora’s water rights include nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, about one-third of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and water from 1,750 acres of ranches in Lake County. Those rights provide an average yield of 22,800 acre-feet per year — the equivalent of 80 percent of the potable water used by Pueblo each year.
– Aurora also uses the Homestake Project, Twin Lakes, Busk-Ivanhoe diversion and the Columbine Ditch to bring water from the Western Slope through the Arkansas River basin and into the South Platte basin. The average yield of those water rights is about 21,500 acre-feet annually.
– The city can reuse its Arkansas and Colorado basin water imports, and has built the $650 million Prairie Waters Project to directly recapture flows, rather than exchange them.
– Aurora’s South Platte water rights include wells, ranches, ditches and direct flow from the South Platte. They total about 46,000 acre-feet annually.
– Aurora has an agreement to trade 5,000 acre-feet of water a year with Pueblo West from Lake Pueblo to Twin Lakes beginning next year. It will replace a similar agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works that expires this year.
– The Pueblo water board sells Aurora 5,000 acre-feet of water each year.
– Aurora has a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to store 10,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Pueblo and to move the same amount to Twin Lakes by paper trade.
– The water is moved from Twin Lakes to Spinney Mountain Reservoir through the Homestake pipeline system…
“We don’t have any current plans beyond what we’re already doing,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water. “We don’t plan to buy or lease any more water in Arkansas basin in the near future.”
Instead, the city will continue developing Prairie Waters, a reuse project that pumps sewer return flows through a filtration and purification system, only at about 20 percent capacity so far. Aurora calculates that its average yield from its Arkansas River basin water rights is about 22,800 acre-feet annually. That’s roughly one-fourth of its total yield from its entire system, which includes South Platte and Colorado River basin rights. From a practical standpoint, Aurora does not move all of its water out of the Arkansas River basin each year.
Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Matthew Allen said Monday a 240-foot trench completed over the weekend is preventing a gasoline-like substance from seeping from the Suncor Energy refinery into Sand Creek and the South Platte River.
The city’s Prairie Waters Project pumps groundwater from the South Platte downstream of the spill back to Aurora for treatment and use in the city’s water system…
Aurora’s water supply is derived primarily from snowmelt runoff in the Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte river basins far upstream of the and unrelated to the toxic spill. Aurora Water officials received notice from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about an unknown substance potentially in a tributary of the South Platte River on Nov. 28, said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water…
“While a small percentage (of Aurora’s water) comes from the South Platte downstream of the impacted site, we are not currently taking water from the river because of our typical, seasonal, low water demands,” [Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water] said. “If contamination were to occur at a time when we were using our South Platte River supply, we have numerous protocols in place to ensure that any impact on the river will not affect our drinking water supply.”
More coverage from TheDenverChannel.com (Ryan Budnick). From the article:
Matthew Allen, spokesman with the EPA, said work crews have pulled 3,500 gallons of gas-like material during the site cleanup…
The plume of highly-toxic liquid was noticed spilling into nearby Sand Creek in the end of November from a Suncor Energy refinery. Since it was identified, the EPA, Suncor Energy and the State of Colorado have been working around the clock to contain the pollution and clean up its remains.
More Sand Creek spill coverage here. More oil and gas coverage here and here.
Aurora, Colorado, USA has been challenged by decades of rapid population growth combined with limited opportunities to expand its water supply in an arid environment. This already significant challenge was exacerbated in 2002 by severe, multi-year drought, requiring the city and its water managers to quickly design and implement a long-term solution in response to future water shortage conditions. The Prairie Waters Project, led by CH2M HILL, marked one of the largest water-related public works projects in Colorado in more than 35 years. Its exemplary innovation and completion, two months ahead of schedule and US$100 million under budget, has made it the 2011 recipient of the Project Management Institute’s prestigious PMI(R) Project of the Year Award.
“An urgent water need pushed the city to take an innovative look at ways to achieve not only meeting the community’s water needs quickly, but to preserve the city’s high standards for water quality,” said Larry Catalano, manager of capital projects for the City of Aurora. “The significant complexities of the project included stringent cost constraints, stakeholder involvement, environmental restrictions, and the pressure to execute a project on an exceptionally fast schedule. The project team consistently went above and beyond the call of duty and delivered ahead of schedule and under budget. We are honored that PMI recognized the hard work, collaboration and dedication of the entire team that worked to create the Prairie Waters Project.”
The Prairie Waters Project succeeded in spite of extreme environmental challenges. With only a nine-month supply of water available for a population of approximately 300,000 at that time, city leaders and CH2M HILL were tasked with identifying a sustainable, long-term water supply to protect against future droughts. After reviewing over 50 possible scenarios, the city identified the Prairie Waters Project as the fastest, most cost-efficient and most sustainable way to deliver more than 10,000 acre feet of new water to the city by the end of 2010.
The success of the project, originally projected to cost $854 million, resulted in a newly constructed pipeline, pump stations and a treatment plant that will ultimately deliver up to 50,000 acre feet, meeting Aurora’s needs through 2030. Eight significant stakeholder agreements, 145 land parcels and 44 permits were acquired for approval and completion of the project, which took six years to complete and spanned nearly 40 miles in length. Through the use of skilled project personnel, the rigorous application of project management standards, processes and techniques, and the use of earned value management (EVM) techniques, the PWP was able to cut $100 million from the budget in the design phase without compromising quality and safety, bringing the construction budget to $754 million. Value engineering techniques enabled the team to fast-track the project two months ahead of schedule and an additional $100 million below this amended budget. The project was delivered in October 2010 at just under $653 million.
“The City of Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project clearly illustrates how project management standards and practices, properly applied, can help deliver a solution that is transformative to a community,” said Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of PMI. “This project demonstrates best practice solutions that show agility and effective stakeholder engagement. PMI commends Aurora Water and the entire project team for these outstanding results.”
Aurora Water was presented with the 2011 PMI Project of the Year Award on Saturday, 22 October 2011 during the PMI Awards Ceremony at the PMI(R) Global Congress 2011–North America in Dallas, Texas.
In a letter sent Oct. 12 from Paul Dannels, district manager of the Castle Pines Metropolitan District, to Rod Kuharich, executive director of the [South Metro Water Supply Augthority], Dannels said the board of directors decided not to proceed with the project. “Simply stated, the high cost of the Project and the uncertainty of water delivery do not make sense for the District at this time,” Dannels wrote in the letter. “We wish you great success with the Project which appears more feasible for larger users. They can deal better with both the uncertainty of water availability and the high Project costs than smaller users such as the District.”[…]
Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water said the project, dubbed the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, doesn’t require that all 15 entities of the SMWSA take deliveries for the project to be successful. Roxborough and the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District have already indicated that they had other resources they could develop and wouldn’t take water from the WISE partnership, Baker said. “Each member of the SMWSA must assess the value of participation in relation to their individual systems and needs,” Baker said. “SMWSA has indicated that the commitments from many of the other members have already met or exceeded the initial 10,000 acre-feet provided for by the proposed delivery agreement.”
More Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership coverage here.
“The process from day one has cranked out excellent water,” said Kevin Linder, Binney’s plant supervisor. The facility, with its massive pumps and state-of-the-art machinery, has processed and treated “downstream” water from the South Platte River and Aurora Reservoir as part of the drought-hardening Prairie Waters project. The water is collected from river-bank wells a few miles below the point where treated sewage water is poured back into the Platte. The project broke ground in July 2007 and came online in October 2010 with the goal of collecting water from the South Platte River in Brighton and delivering it to the city through a 34-mile-long, uphill pipeline. Prairie Waters has increased Aurora’s water supply by about 20 percent and delivered 10,000 acre-feet of water over the past year…
The project came to fruition because city officials realized they had reusable return rights in the South Platte River that they weren’t taking advantage of. Reusable return rights allow the city to reclaim water that has been used already. The city has owned those reusable return rights for decades, but until now, there was no mechanism in place to return the water directly from the South Platte River to the city.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” [John Stulp, water adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper and chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee] said. “I think it’s a unique way to share water and infrastructure. From what I understand, there is built-in drought protection. There are efficiencies and redundancies that can take pressure off ag communities.”[…]
The WISE partnership will improve South Metro water supplies while maximizing the water resources and infrastructure of Denver and Aurora. The agreement is in a 60-day review period and must be approved by all of the parties. South Metro represents 15 municipal water suppliers in Douglas and Arapahoe counties…
The backbone of the partnership is Aurora’s $659 million Prairie Waters project that allows return flows from treated wastewater in the South Platte River to be recaptured and treated. In Colorado, water from transbasin diversions and some water obtain through water rights transfers can be used to extinction. Aurora has built the first phase of Prairie Waters to treat up to 10,000 acre-feet of water per year, but it can expand to 50,000 acre-feet per year…
There would, however, always be seasonal capacity in the Prairie Waters project to provide additional water for users in the metro area, because the project is scaled to meet peak demands, [Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water] said. The proposed agreement will sell treated water to South Metro for $5.38 per 1,000 gallons, with minimum guaranteed deliveries of 5,000 acre-feet per year beginning in June 2013. That works out to about $8.76 million annually. After 2020, the amount would increase to 10,000 acre-feet per year. Eventually, systemwide improvements could provide as much as 60,000 acre-feet to South Metro, Pifher said. Denver also would gain a new water supply through recycling its flows through Prairie Waters. In addition, South Metro water users would agree to fund improvements to Denver Water and Aurora infrastructure with $15.4 million over eight years, which is the equivalent to a tap fee. The money would go for interconnections between the Denver, Aurora and other systems. The agreement also includes a $412,000 connection between East Cherry Creek Village and Aurora.
More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:
The deal, which would pay Denver and Aurora water utilities $17.4 million a year, is one of the first of its kind in the nation. It lets water agencies that often compete for resources share without merging, and sustain more people without diverting more water from over-subscribed Western Slope rivers. Environmentalists and state leaders swiftly praised the emerging arrangement.
“This type of water-sharing agreement is a critical step toward bolstering water supplies in the southern metro area while better utilizing water resources in Aurora and Denver,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said…
Denver and Aurora would funnel as much as 1.6 billion gallons of purified water a year to suburbs by 2013, increasing to as much as 3.2 billion gallons by 2020. Engineers say necessary new pipelines and hook-ups eventually could send as much as much as 19.5 billion gallons — 60,000 acre-feet a year — to the suburbs. Denver Water, Aurora Water and 13 participating suburbs would have to replumb before the first water could be delivered — which could bloat water bills for residents of Castle Rock, Parker and other communities. Those communities already need more than the maximum amount of water deliverable under the current 22-page contract, said Charles Krogh, past president of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, who represented suburbs through lengthy negotiations. “Our demands now are about 70,000 acre-feet annually,” Krogh said. “This proposal allows us to get in the game for renewable water supplies.”[…]
The replumbing would include a $412,000 hookup between Aurora pipes and an East Cherry Creek Valley pipeline and storage of water in Parker’s new Rueter-Hess Reservoir. To receive water, south metro suburbs would have to install additional pipelines “to connect ourselves all up,” at an estimated cost of $80 million, Krogh said…
South suburbs, if they approve the contract, would be obligated not to divert water from Colorado’s Western Slope.
More coverage from Sara Castellanos writing for The Aurora Sentinel. From the article:
Aurora Water, Denver Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority have developed a water delivery agreement that, if approved, would provide SMWSA with up to 5,000 acre-feet of water per year by June 2013, increasing to 10,000 acre-feet per year by 2020 as additional pipeline and other infrastructure are built. SMWSA represents 15 water providers in Douglas and Arapahoe counties. The amount of water delivered annually could eventually expand to up to 60,000 acre-feet per year…
The new supply of fully treated water from Aurora’s state-of-the-art Binney Water Purification Facility will provide much welcomed relief to SMWSA and its members, who have been looking for ways to reduce their reliance on non-renewable underground aquifers, Baker said in a release. It also will reduce the need for the SMWSA members to pursue agricultural water rights in the South Platte River basin in the near term.
The closure means that no water will be brought over through the Homestake pipeline into Turquoise Lake next year, as work is conducted on the gate. The gate is located in the middle of the reservoir. That should not have a significant effect on the operations of either Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Arkansas River basin. Both utilities have high water storage levels. Homestake accounts for about 15 percent of Aurora’s storage and 10 percent of Colorado Springs’ storage.
“We were 90 percent full as of last week, and we’ll be bringing more water over to keep Spinney, Aurora and Quincy reservoirs more full than usual,” [Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water] said.
Aurora has a 2-3 year supply of water in storage and will rely on its newly completed Prairie Waters Project to fully reuse as much water as possible. Aurora also will be managing its Arkansas Valley water — from rights purchased when farms were dried up in Otero, Crowley and Lake counties — more closely, Baker said…
For Colorado Springs, the situation is different. It relies heavily on the Colorado River basin for the majority of its water, but has sources other than Homestake, including Twin Lakes, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Blue River diversion. Homestake provides about 14 percent of the annual supply. “We’ll try to bring over water from Homestake when we are able, but, yes, we expect it to be drawn down for a year,” [Gary Bostrom, chief of water services for Colorado Springs Utilities] said.
It was the second time in three years Aurora Water has come away with the top spot. “We employ state-of-the-art treatment technology and have a staff dedicated to providing some of the highest quality water around,” Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water, said in a statement. “It’s a testament to the hard work of our employees when our water comes out on top in a comparative taste-test.”
Suburban water authorities said the project [Water Infrastructure Supply Efficiency or WISE], designed to reduce reliance on dwindling underground water, will cost about $558 million.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said “rural water supply” funds may be available for the project, if it survives a detailed feasibility review. Congress would need to authorize the federal funding, which could decrease the bill passed on to water customers. “What we’re looking at: Is this project capable of being completed? Is the cost-benefit going to work out? Is it going to be beneficial?” Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Peter Soeth said.
Meanwhile, a crucial wastewater purchase deal with Denver and Aurora has yet to be done. How much wastewater could be diverted, and how often, remains under negotiation. The suburbs told federal officials the WISE project would deliver 5,000 to 11,000 acre-feet a year for the first five years, then as much as 37,000 acre-feet a year…
The federal rural water-supply funds could be used because suburbs with populations under 50,000 are deemed “rural,” said Mark Shively, executive director of the Douglas County Water Resource Authority. “We have very aggressively pursued this opportunity,” Shively said. “We’re now about 20 percent into the feasibility study.”[…]
Beyond pipeline construction, the proposed project involves new storage of treated wastewater in surface reservoirs and by injecting it into depleted aquifers. “We have a couple reservoirs we’re looking at,” Shively said. “Between the Chatfield and Rueter Hess (reservoirs) we have a good amount of storage.”
“Aurora’s water supply is in excellent shape this year,” said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water. “The heavy snows have helped us quite a bit, and we’ll have sufficient water supply throughout 2011.”
Baker says he doesn’t anticipate any changes in water restrictions this year. Aurora’s water supply across its 12 reservoirs is about 88 percent of capacity this summer, compared with 95 percent during summer 2010. Homestake Reservoir, at more than 10,000 feet, is still generating water run-off from the snowpack levels. The Prairie Waters Project will also be online all year, Baker said.
“We’re running that all year long to test it for warranty purposes,” he said. “We’re going to run it this year as though it were a drought scenario so we can test all the components and make sure we get our money’s worth.”
The last time the utility provider didn’t raise its rates was 2001, said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water. The decision to keep rates the same was made, in part, by cost savings on the massive Prairie Waters treatment facility, which finished ahead of schedule and more than $100 million under budget, he said.
The project’s official rollout was October 8. It consists of an alluvial well system across the South Platte River from Brighton, a 34 mile pipeline to the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility at Aurora Reservoir along with future augmentation storage and a planned aquifer recharge and recovery facility.
Here’s a video tour of the project from Aurora Water via YouTube.
The UV pre-treatment caught my eye.
Another cool part of the plant is that it treats both mountain water from the upper part of Aurora’s system along with the more problematic water from down the South Platte. The plant has two separate trains that enable different treatment processes for the two supplies. Finished water is blended just prior to entering the regular distribution system.
The city of Aurora recently celebrated the completion of the Prairie Waters Project, an innovative and environmentally friendly water system that was finished ahead of schedule and more than $100 million under budget.
A large Colorado crowd excited to see the completion of the $653 million project gathered Friday, Oct. 8, for the system’s formal dedication. Speakers included Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, Interim City Manager Nancy Freed, Aurora Water Director Mark Pifher, former Aurora Water Director Peter Binney and CH2M HILL Chairman and CEO Lee McIntire whose company provided design and program management services.
The project is the fastest, most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way to meet Aurora’s water needs and went from design to completion in just five years. Construction broke ground in July 2007. The system includes 34 miles of 60-inch diameter pipeline, three pump stations, a natural purification area and a new water treatment facility that is one of the most technologically advanced in the country.