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Are we seeing a harbinger of the future? From Telluride to the Eastern Plains, communities across Colorado are experiencing an unusually dry winter, the likes of which have not been seen since 2002.
Statewide, we have now seen about three-quarters of the snowfall we typically see this far into the season. In the mountains, some ranges are seeing as little as 33 percent of average snowfall. Meanwhile, Denver has seen a record-breaking number of days without measurable snow.
So, it is natural to be nervously asking: Are we headed into our next drought?
The short answer is we don’t know and won’t for weeks or perhaps months to come. The key will be how much snowpack we have in early April and how fast it melts.
But know this: Members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority who provide water to communities throughout the south metro area are prepared for whatever the weather may bring.
A critical part of being prepared is storage. We must be able to store water from the spring snowmelt so it is available when we need it in the summer and fall, especially when the snow melts faster because of rapidly warming temperatures.
That is why successful projects like Parker Water’s Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Douglas County are so important. Parker’s partners in this project include Castle Rock, Castle Pines North and Stonegate Village, and together they can store up to 75,000 acre-feet of available water supplies. (To picture an acre-foot of water, imagine a football field filled one foot deep.)
Another important storage project is the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation. Three south metro communities — Centennial Water and Sanitation District (serving Highlands Ranch), Castle Pines North and Castle Rock — have joined with other state and regional water providers and agencies to reallocate existing storage in this flood-control reservoir so it can be used to store municipal and environmental supplies.
South metro communities are also taking an innovative approach to storage by injecting water back into the underground aquifer that for years provided much of the water supply for the region.
This method, known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery or ASR, is something Centennial Water & Sanitation District has been operating successfully for many years. Other members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, such as Meridian and Rangeview, are permitting ASR projects, while others are developing pilot ASR projects.
Along with new storage projects, south metro communities are also working together to bring new water supplies to the region. One of the best examples is the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership, or WISE.
This one-of-a-kind project involves 10 South Metro Water providers who have partnered with Denver Water and Aurora Water to share water supply and infrastructure.
WISE maximizes the use of available infrastructure and water supplies in a way that not only brings new water to the south metro region but creates benefits for all the parties involved.
Another cooperative water supply project is the Northern Project, a collaboration between East Cherry Creek Valley and Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater District, which delivers new renewable water supplies to the region and continues to reduce dependency on nonrenewable groundwater.
A third critical component is conservation, yet another area where south metro communities are leading the way. South metro residents have reduced per person water demand by 30 percent since 2000. Our region averages less than 120 gallons of water use per capita per day, one of the lowest rates in the state and well ahead of the Colorado Water Plan’s 2050 goal of 129 gallons per capita per day for the Denver metro region.
Every member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority knows that the next drought could happen at any time, which is why all these efforts are so important. They require substantial commitments of money and resources, but when compared to the cost of drought and floods, the need for these investments becomes apparent.
So — what does the future hold? The 2018 Farmers’ Almanac predicts cold but moderate snowfall for Colorado — “not as harsh as usual.” In the months to come, we’ll learn if that’s correct, but no matter what, we’ll be ready.
For more information on these and other projects and initiatives, visit www.southmetrowater.org.
Lisa Darling is the executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority comprising 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in Denver’s south metro area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines North.
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