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Douglas County summit brings support for Rural Water Users Authority

Douglas county officials and staff, water providers and state and local interested parties attended Douglas County’s first annual water summit in Parker in October.Douglas County commissioners started the meeting with a statement committing to “set aside what separates us regarding water … politically, philosophically and geographically.” The goal of the day, the said, was “to better understand the role of the county … in our pursuit of a mutually beneficial water solution.”Patricia Limerick, Ph.D., chairman of the board for the Center of the American West and a professor of environmental history at the University of Colorado, moderated the forum.Highlights of current projects in Douglas County were presented, including the Rueter-Hess Reservoir expansion. This expansion, located three miles southwest of downtown Parker, will cost more than $80 million and will increase the reservoir capacity from 16,000 acre-feet to 70,000 acre-feet. Surface water, including storm water runoff that is now lost downstream, will be collected and directed into the reservoir. During non-peak demands, water will be injected and stored into the Denver Basin aquifers; whereby, it will be pumped out again and used when needed. The expansion is projected to be complete by 2009 and filled in 2010.Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper called for “unwavering commitment by all” in a video presentation, where he stated: “Rather than wasting time and energy predicting when these issues (water) will come to a head … or waiting until a crisis occurs to react … we can and must all work proactively and collaboratively today.”South Metro Water Authority Vice Chair Ron Redd projects the SMWA will be servicing 82 to 92 percent of Douglas and part of Arapahoe County residents. Redd said they are open to input from rural water users as they will have future needs but admitted they haven’t a clue as to the “where and when” of those needs. The focus of the SMWA is on conservation, water reuse and water purchases. Their vision for the county was to “be supportive of SMWA, create a policy advisory committee, and organize rural water interests”.Douglas County commissioners have encouraged the organization of rural water users. With financial support by the county, the formation of the Rural Water Users Authority is in progress. This independent organization will represent the interest of rural water users and small water districts across the county. Their mission is “to promote, protect and ensure a safe reliable and sustainable water supply for total and non-urban water users in Douglas County.” Under the legal framework, this organization will be able to obtain grants, receive funds from the county and have taxing ability to pay for alternate water supplies. As an authority, they can be a voting member on the local water authority.”With real money when pipelines go in, we can pay for additional capacity; we can use the money to contribute to local water providers and contribute to alternate solutions; and we can buy water rights”, said RWUA representative Jack McCormick.Those who attended the summit agreed that a sustainable water supply will require thinking in coalitions and trust.Where does El Paso County fit in to the big picture? What direction has El Paso County taken to lay a foundation for sustainable water in the future? How is El Paso County supporting the interests of our rural groundwater users?”I can’t see a million-dollar home with a pickup and a tank bringing water to their cistern,” said Colorado State Representative Diana Hoppe. “I would venture to say not too many folks would like this as their only alternative. I think Hickenlooper was right on the money when he said, ‘If Douglas County runs out of water and has to suspend building permits and that gets into Times or Newsweek – that affects the value of every home and business in our region.”I am certain this goes for El Paso County, too.

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