Many of us take for granted the fact that—when we open a tap—clean, drinkable water will flow. What we often overlook is the tireless, behind-the-scenes work that goes into securing the water supplies needed to ensure we have a ready supply of water for our homes and businesses. Although we hear about water in the news, we often forget that our region’s future prosperity is directly tied to water. With this in mind our June Partnership Meeting focused on the future of water in Denver South, and what it means for our region’s economic success.

South Metro Water Supply Authority: Diversifying Water Sources

Presentations were kicked off by Lisa Darling, Executive Director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA). SMWSA is a unique collaboration between 14 water providers in the Denver South region. Over 350,000 customers rely on these 14 providers for their tap water, and SMWSA projects this will grow to 600,000 by 2050. Due to this projected growth Darling highlighted the pressing need for alternative water sources, which until recently had been heavily reliant on the nonrenewable Denver Basin Aquifer System for much of its water.

To address this SMWSA is investing in three pillars to secure renewable sources of water for the future of the region: partnerships, investment, and efficiency. Darling highlighted the significant progress made since the 2003 South Metro Water Supply Study, with a reduction from 60% to 22% reliance on nonrenewable sources by 2020. The goal is to further decrease this to 15% by 2065.

Darling highlighted key projects that are helping to secure a renewable water source for Denver South, such as the Rueter-Hess Reservoir and the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project, which aims to recapture water from Denver Water and Aurora Water to provide a renewable water source for the South Metro Water Supply Authority.

The WISE project will provide SMSWA with 100,000 acre-feet of water over the course of ten years, which will allow the Denver Basin Aquifer to be used only during times of drought. She also outlined a four-point plan for the future, focusing on additional supply, storage, total dissolved solids (TDS) management, and conservation opportunities to ensure water resources are managed effectively for the future of the region.

Challenges with the Colorado River Basin Compact

James Eklund, Partner at Sherman & Howard, launched his presentation by stating that Colorado does not have a water problem but rather a water management problem. He explained that the state is the headwaters for key rivers and has nine interstate compacts with other states. Because of these agreements, two-thirds of the water that falls in Colorado is owed to these states.

To highlight the complexity of this issue, Eklund explained the Colorado River Basin Compact, which dictates how much water each state in the river’s basin can use. However, due to droughts the basin’s water supply has been halved since the Compact was established in 1922. The result of this has been that each state has not been able to reliably withdraw their full allocations from the Colorado River, leading to fights between states that have frequently ended in front of the Supreme Court.

To address these challenges, Eklund stated that municipalities will need to work together to solve these water management challenges. He praised the regional collaboration of Denver South in establishing dependable water supplies through public-private partnerships. He praised SMSWA as being a paradigm of collaboration in an industry that is often fractured and competitive, and cited public/private partnerships as a key component of solving water management challenges.

Eklund also emphasized the importance of strategic water management, including graywater reuse, improved agricultural practices, remote sensors, and sustainable landscaping alternatives, and underscored the significance of better resource management, especially concerning the Denver Basin Aquifer.

Planning for the Future

The June Partnership Meeting provided attendees with valuable insights into Colorado’s water management challenges and the efforts being made to ensure a sustainable water supply. Through their presentations Darling and Eklund shed light on the importance of partnerships, projects, and conservation efforts, and highlighted the importance of regional collaboration in addressing water management.

We hope you will join us August 3rd for the inaugural Suburban Mobility Summit, which will be held in lieu of the August Partnership Meeting. For details and to register, click here.

To view Lisa’s presentation, click here.

To view James’ presentation, click here.

To view Lisa’s My Denver South video—and to hear other My Denver South stories—click here.