In December, we announced the news that Lisa Darling, formerly the South Platte Program Manager with Aurora Water, had been selected to be the new Executive Director of South Metro Water Supply Authority. Now that she has been in this role for a few weeks, we sat down with her to talk about her past experience as well as her hopes for the future with SMWSA.
Q: You served for 18 years with Aurora Water, the state’s third-largest water utility. For the past 10 years, you managed the South Platte River Program. How has your involvement shaped your views on water and on the challenges and opportunities facing the south metro region?
A: The City of Aurora relies on the South Platte River for over 50% of its raw water supply, and my role was to manage the operations, development, acquisition and the protection of those valuable assets. Of course, no one foresaw the 2002-2003 drought and its tremendous impact on water providers throughout Colorado. In the years that followed, Aurora evaluated its system for new supply projects that would decrease its vulnerability to climate variations. Based on those assessments, the City developed the Prairie Waters Project, a $688 million reuse program that utilized reusable return flows and cutting edge water treatment technologies to add almost 20% greater supply to their water system.
Fast forward, and Aurora realized that Prairie Waters – with newly-developed infrastructure not yet fully utilized- represented a tremendous opportunity to work on a regional basis with others in the area, including Denver Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority. Those initial cooperative efforts – starting as early as 2004, when the Authority was established – were the genesis of the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership, or WISE. Through those negotiations and realization of the WISE Agreement, I learned the importance of partnerships. Over 2.5 million people live in the South Platte Basin in Colorado and we continue to grow. Farmers, people who live in central Denver, people who live in the suburbs and those who live in some of northeastern Colorado’s smaller towns all rely on that relatively small river for much of our water supply. Partnerships where we cooperate and collaborate to stretch that water supply as much as we can are essential. And partnership is the heart of what the South Metro Water Supply Authority is all about.
Q: You built an impressive resume as a leader in the water industry before joining South Metro Water Supply Authority as Executive Director. What motivated you to join South Metro Water?
A: Three things. Again, the fact that South Metro Water Supply Authority is all about partnerships, whether that is between our 13 water providers or partnerships with others in the state such as Denver Water and Aurora Water with the WISE Partnership. Second, the opportunity to continue to build upon the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years to shift to renewable supplies of water, particularly in innovative ways. It also means a lot to me that this region has a conservation record to be proud of. SMWSA has reduced per capita water demand by more than 30% since 2000.
While significant progress has been made in our efforts, we definitely need to do more. We developed a four-point plan that I’m excited about and eager to implement. Our path ahead focuses on finding additional supply, developing additional storage, looking for advanced ways to manage water quality and TDS, and continuing to focus on conservation and efficiency.
Q: What are your top priorities at SMWSA and your goals as Executive Director?
A: I have three priorities that rise to the top. First, continue the region’s progress in transitioning to renewable supplies. 10 years ago, less than half of our members’ water was from renewable supplies. Based on our progress, we will be 85% renewable by 2065. We need to stay on track. Second, always improving our service to our members. We have 13 wonderful members that have really come together to secure a more sustainable water future. Finally, a personal priority is to support will our dedicated staff. Their professional talent and expertise makes us successful year after year. And we definitely have a lot more to accomplish! Together, we look forward to the challenge.