Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency: WISE

Twelve entities, including Denver Water, have joined forces to supply customers with more water while minimizing the need to develop new infrastructure and water rights.

WISE, which stands for Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, is a regional partnership that provides new supply by combining unused capacities in Aurora Water’s Prairie Waters Project with unused water supplies from Denver and Aurora. During the years Denver and Aurora don’t need all of that water, and when excess capacity is available in Prairie Waters, 10 Douglas County entities that are part of the South Metro Water Supply Authority can buy the unused water to help reduce its reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.

This cooperative regional effort is rare in Colorado, which divvies up water based on a first-in-time, first-in-right style of water rights (prior appropriation).

But WISE is different.

After the 2002 drought, Aurora Water knew it needed to find more water supplies and fast. If the city had had another horribly dry year after 2002, it would’ve been in trouble.

So Aurora, which is one of the largest water providers in the state, built the Prairie Waters Project. The $653 million project began operating in fall 2010, increasing Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent.

The project allows Aurora Water to divert South Platte River water it owns from wells near the river’s bank just north of Brighton. The water is then piped 34 miles south to a purification facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it is treated and delivered to Aurora customers.

Such a massive project required an immense amount of infrastructure. During times when Aurora has excess capacity, the infrastructure can be shared and water made available to South Metro.

Denver Water and Aurora Water realized that excess Prairie Waters capacity and occasional unused water supplies were an opportunity to work together regionally to develop an entire new water supply.

Here’s how the WISE Partnership benefits the parties involved:

  • WISE creates a new reliable and sustainable water supply for South Metro. WISE will provide South Metro with a minimum of 100,000 acre-feet of water every decade, for an average of 10,000 acre-feet per year. This supply will help reduce South Metro’s use of nonrenewable groundwater.
  • Aurora Water benefits by putting excess Prairie Waters capacity of unused water supplies to use, helping keep water rates lower for Aurora customers.
  • WISE creates a new water supply for Denver. Denver Water will use WISE during emergencies or severe droughts. Using Aurora’s Prairie Waters system allows Denver to develop up to 16,000 acre-feet of water that we cannot currently access. 

And WISE will provide this new supply without needing to divert additional water from mountain rivers and streams.

The water that Denver and Aurora put into WISE is primarily reusable return flows from its existing supplies. Because of this, WISE has had broad support from environmental and recreation groups, as well as from state agencies and the governor’s office. WISE is widely considered to be the new model for future water development because of its regional nature and efficiency using existing water and infrastructure.

Denver Water’s role in the partnership stems from a decades-old request from the Board of Water Commissioners to cooperate regionally when looking for new supply instead of working with only one agency at a time.

WISE map