WISE Partnership delivers water, marks new era of cooperation

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.

Work included:

  • 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.

For a video about the project, check out “A new, WISE way to use water,” and for more details, visit https://southmetrowater.org/storage-WISE.html.

About Denver Water

Denver Water proudly serves high-quality water and promotes its efficient use to 1.4 million people in the city of Denver and many surrounding suburbs. Established in 1918, the utility is a public agency funded by water rates, new tap fees and the sale of hydropower, not taxes. It is Colorado’s oldest and largest water utility. Subscribe to TAP to hydrate your mind, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

About Aurora Water

Aurora Water is a municipal utility that provides drinking water, stormwater and sewer services to over 360,000 residents. Aurora’s annotative and award-winning Prairie Waters system provides the backbone for the WISE Partnership. Aurora Water is a proud member of the Partnership for Safe Water and is the only utility in the nation with three water treatment plants with the Partnership’s highest level, the “Excellence in Water Treatment” distinction.

About South Metro WISE Authority

The South Metro WISE Authority is comprised of 10 water providers serving Douglas and Arapahoe counties that are committed to participation in the WISE Partnership. Members include Centennial Water and Sanitation District, Cottonwood Water and Sanitation District, Dominion Water and Sanitation District, Inverness Water and Sanitation District, Meridian Metropolitan District, Parker Water and Sanitation District, Pinery Water and Wastewater District, Rangeview Metropolitan District, Stonegate Village Metropolitan District, and the Town of Castle Rock. These water providers also are part of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. For more information, visit: southmetrowater.org.



South Metro Water Supply Authority Denver Water Aurora Water
Russ Rizzo Stacy Chesney Greg Baker
303-825-6100 303-628-6700 303-739-7084
russrizzo@gbsm.com stacy.chesney@denverwater.org gbaker@auroragov.org

Getting to Know Lisa Darling: Q & A

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.