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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 supplier—Parker Water and Sanitation District—have 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than a third of the system's water supply, and the program leads to more water being returned to Cherry Creek than is withdrawn.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
Parker Water is planning for its future with $80 million in new capital projects over the next five years. The most significant is the proposed 16,000 acre-foot Rueter-Hess Reservoir, to be located about three miles southeast of Parker. Rueter Hess Reservoir is a water management tool that will better serve residents and businesses during the summer peak season and will protect against shortage in a drought. As former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown said at a recent water conference on the dangers of drought: "Carrying water over from a plentiful year to a drought year in enlarged or new reservoirs ultimately may be the best and cheapest insurance policy any consumer could have." The reservoir employs the lessons of Two Forks and the technique of conjunctive use facilities, which produce more reliable supplies of local water.

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
Beyond Parker Water's local efforts, solving the area's water problems requires cooperation with agencies both in the Denver Basin and throughout the state. Colorado's water history may be steeped with local, independent decision-makers and fierce competition to secure rights and transport water, but the new century requires cooperation. Limited supplies, high costs, the challenge of basin transfers and environmental considerations require that water agencies work together.

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
To foster cooperation and build consensus, the Douglas County Water Authority, the Denver Water Board and the Colorado River Water Conservation District have joined to carefully examine strategies to meet the near and long-term water needs of Douglas County. PWSD is one of the largest contributors to what is estimated to be a $1 million dollar study.

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