|The following article was written for the "Colorado Water Rights," published by the Colorado Water Congress in Spring 2000. Its author, Frank Jaeger, is District Manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District. PWSD is a leader in protecting the aquifer and bringing water leaders and experts together to better manage water supplies.
Ciruli Associates provides public policy consulting to the Parker Water District.
Watering the Growth Capital of the USA
News headlines recently proclaimed Douglas County the fastest growing county in America, and Parker one of the fastest growing small towns. It's news the Parker community and its water supplierParker Water and Sanitation Districthave known for a long time. And it's a challenge that keeps Parker Water planning ahead to meet the needs of its burgeoning region.
Located on the edge of an arid, thirsty metropolitan area, Northern Douglas County is by necessity on the cutting edge of water resource planning. To meet its booming demand, PWSD taps into an extensive underground aquifer system through 15 deep wells, and captures limited surface supplies.
Drawing from non-renewable groundwater supplies raises grave concerns for Parker Water and its customers. Among the region's biggest concerns is the declining water table, which requires drilling additional wells. In a recent mail-back survey of Parker area residents, more than 80 percent agreed that "It is important to protect our groundwater and extend the life of the aquifer."
Like many of Colorado's large water agencies, PWSD has taken numerous steps to manage limited resources. Its advanced sanitation treatment and reuse program provides more than a third of the system's water supply, and the program leads to more water being returned to Cherry Creek than is withdrawn. Overall, water consumption in the Parker district has been reduced by 39 percent through vigorous conservation pricing and metering programs, and more simple measures such as xeriscape education and free, low-flow shower heads for customers.
New Reservoir Plans for Future
The reservoir is a conjunctive use project that will help extend the life of the aquifer in several ways. First, by capturing and using storm runoff that normally flows downstream from Cherry Creek and Newlin Gulch, thereby reducing dependance on groundwater. Second, by allowing reuse of treated wastewater through a system of "exchange," in which treated water is released into Cherry Creek, and water is then drawn back into the Parker system through shallow tributary wells along Cherry Creek. Third, by supplying water during high demand summer months and reducing the need to pump high volumes of aquifer water. Finally, by injecting surplus surface water back into the aquifer during low demand season. A draft environmental impact statement for Rueter-Hess is due for review in spring 2001 and is being managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The reservoir has gained strong public support from local residents and officials. As the Denver Post said: "The reservoir is a good idea" and there is really "no choice" to easing "the demand on groundwater, which is a non-renewable water supply."
New Century Requires Cooperation
Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs summed up the issue in the Spring 1999 Colorado Water Rights newsletter when he said "Coloradans know that the state must share its water and financial resources as a whole. Eighty percent of the water supplies arise on the western slope. Eighty percent of the population currently resides on the eastern slope."
Parker Water Joins Cooperative Effort
The study will begin by defining supply, demand and management issues within the basin. A second phase of the study will focus on strategies to extend supplies within the basin, such as conjunctive use projects with South Platte River water. Finally, a third phase will study the potential importation of Colorado River water.
While Douglas County's growth and lack of dependable surface supplies are severe problems, they are not unique: Water issues impact Front Range communities from El Paso to Fort Collins.
Front Range water agencies and local governments have begun a vital dialogue on statewide water issues in order to raise the awareness of the problems, involve lawmakers and the executive administration, build a broad coalition and examine a full range of options. This effort will take time and, of course, require participation from water interests around the state. But it represents a new start in water resource discussions at the beginning of the decade.
Parker Water and Sanitation District believes planning and prudent investments can help secure reliable water supplies for the public, and that working together is the linchpin of that success.
Frank Jaeger, District Manager, Parker Water and Sanitation District