The Colorado Springs Gazette

‘Loop’ holds promise of sustainable water for El Paso County


A proposed regional water project dubbed “the loop” could help provide a sustainable water supply and relieve pressure off the Denver Basin, which provides water to thousands of El Paso County residents, local water district representatives told county commissioners Tuesday.

Water in the Denver Basin — which stretches from Greeley to Pueblo, with its most substantial water sources around the Palmer Divide in northern El Paso County — is not renewable and is a finite resource, they said.

“Complete reliance on Denver Basin (water) supplies is economically and physically unsustainable,” Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District Manager Jessie Shaffer said. “Cooperation and regionalization are needed” to find other long-term, sustainable water sources, he added.

Extracting water from the Denver Basin is difficult because it lies in bedrock layers, water experts said, and does not replenish quickly. Providers have been tapping into the basin for more than 30 years, and over time water yields have declined, forcing them to drill new, costly wells to keep up with demand.

“We don’t have a water supply issue in El Paso County, but we’ve got an extraction problem,” Shaffer said. “Costs are going to surmount to such high levels in the future with our current rates of extraction, the growth we’re seeing and the demand for water up and down the Front Range. As staggering as the amounts will be to convert to a sustainable water supply, that’s going to be the answer.”

The loop would use its members’ water rights to divert water from Fountain Creek to Chilcott ditch in southern El Paso County and deliver it to a nearby reservoir. There, providers would treat it to near-potable standards at an onsite treatment facility before pumping it northward and delivering it to users along the way. Water providers would treat the water again to ensure it’s clean, then deliver it to their customers.

Water district representatives estimated the system could serve as much as 29% of El Paso County’s population. That number could jump to 58% if providers in southern El Paso County — like the city of Fountain, Security Water District, Widefield Water and Sanitation District, and the Colorado Centre Metropolitan District — join as users, they said. Water providers in this area of the county are outside the Denver Basin but still face water supply challenges as the area grows, they said.

The loop would use existing infrastructure, possibly including a Cherokee Metropolitan District water line representatives said was currently underused, and would build new infrastructure to create a pipeline from southern El Paso County moving northward, they said.

Capital improvements could cost around $134 million, Shaffer estimated, plus an additional $4 million annually to treat the water to non-potable standards and another $2 million each year for water providers to make it safe for consumption.

“Infrastructure costs are heavy,” Shaffer said. “Even if you have the best of water rights and they’re somewhat local, to be able to transport that water right is very costly.” th0r0o0u.0g0h0.0it0s00u/s/ebrusdageltoblnineds.rceoqm uires “major” rate hikes, but without the system, some providers will be forced to keep drilling expensive new wells in the Denver Basin and further stress the current system, he added.

Project leaders asked county commissioners to consider helping fund the loop.

“It’s imperative that we look at this from a regional perspective,” Cher- okee Metropolitan District General Manager AmyL*aatdh diet in on as lad iidsc.ou“nw ts asking you so tome lo re ostk rica t io tnt shape pb ly. ing opt via c lt iduwrie th, the number of people that could be served with renewable sources and take pressure off the Denver Basin and maintain sustainability … in perpetuity with this kind of a system, letting nature replenish some of this water in ways it’s not doing right now.” Project leaders are completing a cost study for the project, which they will then compare to other studies done by Colorado Springs Utilities to ssible ways both groups can work together, Lathen said. The next steps include identifying the loop’s founding members while extending the invitation to other water districts to join in the future, and developing a funding plan before moving on to engineering and design. “Water is absolute. This is game, set, match,” Lathen said. “… Nothing in El Paso County matters without the water. We’ve got it, but we’ve got eo’nvlye. got to plan it properly.





The Gazette, Colorado Springs