Utilities analysis: SDS under budget and on time

This photo illustrates the diversion structure at the Pueblo Reservoir. Water will be pumped from Pueblo to Colorado Springs.

This photo illustrates the diversion structure at the Pueblo Reservoir. Water will be pumped from Pueblo to Colorado Springs.

Fifty years from now, residents of Colorado Springs will be pleased the leaders of today developed the Southern Delivery System, say a number of state water specialists.

The oft-maligned $898 million project will have the capacity to pump 50 million gallons of Arkansas River Basin water per day north to Colorado Springs. The project is scheduled to be operational in 2016.

A group of water specialists spoke recently to members of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of the Colorado Springs Utilities water services division, said the Southern Delivery System will be completed on schedule and $150 million under the original budgeted amount.

In the early history of El Paso County, “it did not take too long for our community to figure out Pikes Peak, Fountain Creek and Monument Creek did not have enough water for this community to grow and prosper,” Vanderschuere said. “So they very quickly started looking to the west to the Colorado River for that.”

Since then, Colorado Springs residents have benefited from four major trans-mountain diversions delivered through three pipelines to the city, and soon to be four pipelines when SDS is complete.

“We have water interests in four areas — the Arkansas, the South Platte, Metro Denver and the Colorado River basins,” Vanderschuere said.

Identifying the need

In 1996, the city wrote a comprehensive plan for water supply. The study anticipated conservation and a new water system (the SDS), but what it did not consider were natural disasters, Vanderschuere said.

“Fire and floods put our water systems in direct jeopardy,” said Vanderschuere. “If you’re not taking care of the forests and the watersheds, we simply will not achieve that quality and quantity” of water.

“Now, what do we do for the next 50 years?”

Trends in water consumption have led to competing values. Water is needed for cities, endangered fish in the Colorado River, rafting in various rivers and agriculture east and west of the Continental Divide.

Vanderschuere invited the business community to become involved in an advisory committee that meets monthly to discuss needs and possible solutions.

In the audience, Jack Flobeck suggested reusing water would solve some of the water problems.

“You can’t conserve yourself out of a drought,” Flobeck said. “If you put three bricks in every toilet in the western United States, you wouldn’t have enough water to solve any problems.

“If we were to reuse, desalinate, treat brackish water, we could solve a great number of our problems. Where is it written that we have to flush our toilets with drinking water?”

It’s illegal in Colorado to reuse domestic water, whereas in other states, it’s illegal not to, he added.

There is no system at Colorado Springs Utilities to capture used water and reuse it for residential use, said Steve Berry with CSU.

“We don’t have a system or policies or rules and regulations to allow for that,” Barry said. “The cost is extremely prohibitive to build such a system.”

CSU, the Denver Water District and Aurora Water have reuse programs (see article, right).

Edge for the Springs

Doug Jeavons, managing director of BBC Research and Consulting, said that in this current environment of drought, “We have the advantage of being in the headwaters. It’s not a big advantage in quantity because of agreements with other states” to provide water.

BBC Research and Consulting, based in Denver, studied the public perceptions and found that the top concern of Colorado residents was the quality of water, followed closely by the quantity provided for farms and ranches. After that, people were concerned about water for cities and the condition of underground water infrastructure. Rounding out the list of public concerns was water quality in rivers, lakes and streams; effects of energy development on water quality, and the amount of water for fish and wildlife.

“The Southern Delivery System is expensive,” Jeavons said. “Projects done 50 years ago are critical today.”

In the future, “the people will be very pleased their predecessors invested in that project,” Jeavons said.

Eventually, when all the water adjudicated to the state has been used, the state should build reservoirs to capture stormwater that falls during major storms, he said.

Also, the state will benefit by rotational fallowing, a program in which farmers give up a portion of their water to allow nearby cities to use it. Cities lease water from farmers during a drought.

Under this plan, the money stays in the area, Jeavons said. During a traditional “buy and dry” sale of water, the farmer receives a large sum of money and may leave the area.

“They stop farming and go off and retire someplace else,” Jeavons said. “The money doesn’t stay in the community. These programs encourage people to keep farming.”