Guest Commentary: A shift to renewable water in south metro area

By Eric Hecox and Diane Hoppe

POSTED:   10/14/2015
The Denver Post

A massive shift is underway in how Denver’s south metro area gets its water, with implications for communities across the state.

After decades of drawing down nonrenewable groundwater aquifers, the region of 300,000 people spanning most of Douglas County and some of Arapahoe County is transitioning to sustainable supplies. This provides much-needed security to future generations hoping to call south Denver home.

The latest success came last month when a first-of-its-kind partnership among the metro region’s three major water entities — Denver Water, Aurora Water and South Metro Water Supply Authority — received unprecedented statewide support.

The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project now stands alone as the only water project in Colorado to receive funding from basin roundtables across the state. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state of Colorado’s lead agency on water, also provided grant money in support of WISE.

The reason for the broad support lies in the collaborative approach that has been the hallmark of South Metro Water’s plans. WISE is widely seen as a way for a growing part of the metro area to cooperatively help solve some of its own water supply issues.

WISE maximizes efficiency of supplies through reuse and reduces the need for future agriculture transfers or trans-mountain diversions. It removes some pressure off irrigated agriculture in the South Platte basin, one of the most highly productive and economically important agriculture regions in Colorado. What’s more, it provides funding to the West Slope for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.

The spirit of cooperation developing between rural and urban water users is a huge step forward. WISE presents a model for the collaborative approach called for in the draft Colorado Water Plan.

When WISE water deliveries begin in 2016, some of Colorado’s fastest-growing communities will receive a new sustainable water supply. Participating South Metro members include Highlands Ranch (served by Centennial Water), Cottonwood, Dominion, Inverness, Meridian, Parker, Pinery Water, Rangeview, Stonegate and Castle Rock.

At the same time, Denver Water will receive a new back-up supply, and Aurora Water will receive funding to help offset costs of its Prairie Waters project.

WISE is a significant part of South Metro’s plan for a sustainable water future. Combined with other infrastructure investments in supply, storage and reuse, and aggressive conservation efforts that have seen per capita use drop by 30 percent in the past decade, we are witnessing a seismic transition.

In 2003, the Rocky Mountain News ran an explosive three-day series, “Running Dry,” on what many perceived as a looming water crisis in the south metro region. At the time, aquifers in some parts of the region were being drawn down at a rate of about 30 feet per year and the vast majority of the region’s water came from nonrenewable sources. A year later, local water providers joined together to create the South Metro Water Supply Authority and started creating the plan that is being executed now.

Today, annual aquifer declines are one-sixth of what they used to be and continue to decrease. And while areas such as Highlands Ranch are already mostly renewable, the region as a whole is on track to receive the majority of its supplies from renewable sources by 2020.

That’s remarkable headway in a short period of time given the complexities of water planning.

The region still has more work ahead. But given the progress to date and with continuing support for South Metro Water’s plans and projects, we can feel confident in predicting that the days of alarming headlines around the south metro region’s water future are in the past.

Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. Diane Hoppe is a former state representative and current chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

A Watershed Moment for Colorado
Yampa RiverKelly Brough, September 24, 2015

In December, our governor will finalize Colorado’s first ever water plan. Some might call it a watershed moment for Colorado.

And, if the plan delivers what we hope, it’s truly the moment when the critical work begins. The moment when we put our commitments where our mouths have been these past few years. Where we prove the West Slope and the Front Range can solve the most challenging of issues by working together.

We want to keep these conversations going, and so we are hosting the State of Water on Oct. 8. There you can learn more about the state plan and the future of this resource from leaders in water, business and agriculture, including former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Director James Eklund, Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn, Denver Water CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead and Eastern Plains farmer Robert Sakata.

This panel of experts will explore innovations in water use and conservation—the most critical issues that must be addressed by the plan—and the many decisions being made each day that impact our future water needs and usage.

How we grow matters. Colorado’s population is forecasted to double by 2050—and our water needs are projected to double with them. At the same time, our reservoirs are declining and compacts require that we send 87 percent of the water leaving Colorado to feed nine states and one country downstream. Like most western states, Colorado faces the possibility of very real shortages that will impact how we live and do business. But, how we grow also affects our water needs—more dense development (which is happening today and should continue to be encouraged) means more efficient water use for municipalities.

We get more done when we work together. There have been countless meetings held across the state to get people talking about water. The CWCB, which has taken on this challenge of drafting a plan, has received some 26,000 comments from the public. (So, yes it appears you are the ONLY person in Colorado who didn’t send comments in.) Water serves many needs that on their face can appear to be in conflict—the challenge we must take on is to work through strategies and goals that don’t put us in conflict but build trust and get us working more closely together to meet all our water needs. We’re already seeing examples of approach when the CWCB approved funding this month for the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project, which will allow Aurora Water, Denver Water and South Metro Water Supply Authority to combine their supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply.

We have to be bold. Every single Coloradan uses this precious resource. We support putting bold and measurable goals in the plan to ensure we achieve the future we all envision for Colorado.  You can hear more about our priorities for the water plan at State of Water.

I hope we’ll see you on Oct. 8 and raise a glass of clean, clear Colorado water with us.

Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. 

Project will impact metro area’s water supply-Channel 7 News