Steve Tarr moved to Parker 15 years ago, and it didn't take him long to learn that perhaps no other topic stokes as much controversy and concern in Colorado as water.
“I'm from Michigan originally, so we have a lot more water than Colorado …
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“I'm from Michigan originally, so we have a lot more water than Colorado does,” Tarr said. “Yeah, water's a very important issue.”
Speaking from the edge of the pool at the Parker Recreation Center, Tarr said he, his wife and two children take conservation seriously. Tarr said their lawn is xeriscaped and they are careful about watering the grass they do have.
“I have restrictions of my own,” Tarr said. “I only water certain parts of the day, I only water three or four times a week, there are a couple areas of our yard I don't water at all.”
Efforts like his appear to be paying off.
The South Metro Water Supply Authority released its 2016 Master Plan update last week, and it shows a combination of conservation, improved efficiency and increased surface-water sources are putting the region ahead of schedule toward achieving a renewable and sustainable water supply.
As of 2005, nonrenewable aquifers provided 57 percent of the area's water. This dependence on a finite source, officials say, threatened property values, economic development and quality of life for residents — business owners and homebuyers don't typically flock to areas without a reliable water supply.
“Years ago, people were under the impression our aquifers were going to last forever, so Douglas County went around poking straws in the ground,” Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella said.
“Local community leaders became concerned that if current trends continued, it could affect future economic development,” said Eric Hecox, executive director for the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a collaboration of 13 water providers, most of which serve Douglas County. “People wouldn't want to move to the area.”
As the problem became evident in the 1990s, local governments decided to step in.
Reversing the trend
It took a “fundamental shift in thinking,” Repella said, for water providers and local districts to get comfortable with the idea of partnering with the county government. But she said it was that partnership that turned a threatening situation into a promising one.
“It's been a great transformation,” Repella said. “A lot of good people in the water community have come together to make this happen.”
Conservation by residents has driven down per capita water demand by 30 percent since 2000, according to the report. And a focus on efficiency and supply by providers in the SMWSA has taken a few of the straws out of the ground.
Future projections are that 78 percent of the region's water will come from renewable sources by 2020, and that figure is projected to increase to 85 percent by 2065, despite demand increasing by 130 percent during that same time frame.
A united approach
Hecox credited the progress to an “all of the above” strategy — everything from educating homeowners about conserving water to increasing supply by reallocating water from Chatfield Reservoir and building the Rueter-Hess Reservoir.
Local governments have also played a role, Hecox said, citing Castle Rock's turf buyback program that encourages homeowners to xeriscape. Hecox also pointed to Centennial Water and Sanitation District's “water budget” system that increases rates for homeowners who go over a specified amount of water during a billing cycle.
“The best incentive for people to really participate in water conservation is their pocketbook,” said John Kaufman, general manager of Centennial Water, which serves Highlands Ranch.
Kaufman said the credit for the community's reduced demand goes to residents as much as to the officials. In addition to reducing the water used for landscaping, Kaufman said residents have increased efficiency by using fixtures and appliances like low-flow shower heads and water-saving washing machines.
“Conservation and efficiency are, of course, two of the pillars of the plans to transition to renewable water,” said Mark Marlowe, Castle Rock's utilities director.
'The numbers are amazing'
Douglas County's initial goal was to reduce consumption to 129 gallons per person per day by 2050, but the SMWSA report states that progress is ahead of schedule. The current average is down to 120 gallons a day.
Parker's water district manager, Ron Redd, also cited per capita numbers as proof of a shift toward sustainability.
“The numbers are amazing,” Redd said, adding that citizens in the region have played a vital role in conservation just by being well-educated on the issue. “A lot of people in the communities in the area are just better educated, and that's showing in the way they've been taking care of that resource.”
Redd, who held Marlowe's position in Castle Rock before transitioning to Parker in 2012, also pointed to the increase in surface sources provided by securing water rights and building Rueter-Hess as critical steps to provide enough water to match the growth in Parker and surrounding areas.
The people of Douglas County may not read the 20-page report, but Marlowe said understanding the details of the plan isn't as important as knowing that there is one.
“The most important thing for the community to understand is that there is a comprehensive plan in place, a group of dedicated professionals that are working on this issue every day,” Marlowe said.
Hecox stressed that the report shows the job isn't finished, but the south metro region is making strides toward ensuring a reliable water supply for the future.
“There is clear evidence that we've made tremendous progress,” Hecox said. “There's more work to be done, but we're definitely on the right path.”
Back at the pool, Tarr said he's cautiously optimistic about the region's water prospects. After learning of the SMSWA's plan, and the encouraging results in the report, he said he feels “pretty good.”
And he dove in.
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