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A new, WISE way to use water

Regional partnership provides a sustainable, renewable water supply for 2 million people in the metro area.

With the turn of a tap, people across Denver’s south metro region are showing how communities across the West can share and reuse water.

Starting in August, people in parts of the south metro area began getting some of their water through the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, known as WISE.

The partnership is a regional project between Denver Water, Aurora Water and 10 members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority which serve water to communities in Arapahoe and Douglas counties including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch and Parker.

“WISE is an innovative project to share water, pipelines and treatment facilities in a way that benefits 2 million people in the metro area,” said Dave Bennett, water supply manager at Denver Water.

Water goes through an extensive treatment process at the Binney Water Purification Facility in Aurora, Colorado.

The WISE partnership works by recapturing water after it’s used by Denver and Aurora Water customers, treating it and sharing supplies when available with South Metro WISE partners.

“It’s a creative and efficient way to get the most out of Colorado’s limited supply of water,” Bennett said.

South Metro WISE members benefit by getting an additional source of water so utilities don’t have to rely heavily on water from an underground aquifer.

“The south metro area has relied on nonrenewable groundwater for decades, but with rapid growth in the region, water in the underground aquifer is drying up,” said Lisa Darling, South Metro Water Supply Authority executive director. “We realize we have to move to sustainable water resources, and WISE meets that challenge head on.”

Under the agreement, Denver and Aurora Water agree to provide a minimum of 72,250 acre-feet (or 23.5 billion gallons) of treated water to South Metro WISE members every 10 years — that’s enough water to meet the needs of 289,000 homes over a decade.

The backbone of the WISE agreement is the Prairie Waters treatment system, owned by Aurora Water and running since 2010.

The Prairie Waters complex recaptures water along the South Platte River near Brighton, Colorado.

“After customers use water in their homes, Prairie Waters lets us recapture it and treat it over and over again,” said Joe Stibrich, water resources policy manager at Aurora Water.

Prairie Waters uses natural filtering processes, a 34-mile pipeline, and state-of-the-art technology to capture, pump and purify water from the lower South Platte River near Brighton and send it back to customers.

“The water is treated to the highest quality and meets all drinking water standards,” Stibrich said.

Aurora Water built the Prairie Waters system in response to the 2002 drought and to supplement its mountain supplies to meet water demand for the city’s growing population.

By selling water to South Metro WISE members, Aurora Water receives additional revenue to stabilize rates and offset Prairie Waters’ construction and operating expenses.

Denver Water is connected to WISE and Prairie Waters infrastructure and can use water for its own customers if needed.

“Over the past 100 years Denver Water has built a robust system that will help us get through a drought,” Bennet said. “WISE provides another option to make sure we always have a reliable supply of water.”

The WISE project helps protect rivers and streams on the West Slope.

Helping the West Slope, Colorado and future generations

“One of the great benefits of the WISE project is that it recycles our water supplies,” said Laura Belanger, environmental scientist at Western Resource Advocates. “Reusing water means Front Range communities can meet their demand without diverting more water from mountain rivers and streams.”

As a result of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, a surcharge on WISE water sales also goes to the Colorado River District to support river enhancement programs on the West Slope.

“WISE is an impressive partnership and we think it’s the wave of the future,” Stibrich said. “As we demonstrate its success, it will serve as a model for Colorado, the Front Range and other states.”

The partnership earned support from Colorado political leaders including U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter along with former Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. The partnership also has the support of David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Full implementation of the WISE water deliveries to all 10 South Metro partners will be phased in over the coming weeks and months.

Communities across the West are looking at the WISE project as an example of how to create regional water-sharing partnerships.

The project is a permanent agreement between the three organizations and also helps address water supply shortages identified in Colorado’s Water Plan.

“Our population is growing, but the amount of water in Colorado has stayed the same,” Bennett said. “Regional partnerships like WISE show how we can get multiple uses out of every drop and create a sustainable water supply for future generations."