Denver Post Op-Ed: Creating a secure water future for south metro Denver

Opinion, By Eric Hecox
Denver Post
December 22, 2015

Rueter-Hess Reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

  • Providers serving Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are two of only three in the state to put water customers on a water budget that tracks use by household.
  • Sterling Ranch is conducting the state’s first rainwater harvesting pilot study.
  • Inverness provides rebates for replacing turf with low water use landscaping.

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

  • Inverness Water and Sanitation and the Meridian Metropolitan District are among the earliest adopters of water reuse in Colorado. They reuse 100 percent of collected wastewater.
  • Castle Rock recently completed the Plum Creek Water Purification Facility as part of its goal of attaining a 75 percent renewable water source.

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

  • The recently completed Rueter-Hess Reservoir provides storage to Parker and three other South Metro Water members. When filled, the reservoir will be 50 percent larger than Cherry Creek Reservoir.
  • The expansion of Chatfield Reservoir is a collaboration among nine entities, including four South Metro Water members, to add storage to an existing reservoir.

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

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

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

Eric Hecox is director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority.