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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

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Water Education Colorado

New Development: Reuter-Hess Reservoir

Planning and permitting a reservoir is no small undertaking. There are years of engineering studies, environmental reviews, public comment, logistical and funding challenges. To complicate matters further, imagine if you are one of the fastest growing counties in the nation relying totally on nonrenewable groundwater. For one Douglas County water provider, it was time to cobble together sources of water from every angle. The result will be a unique new reservoir called Reuter-Hess.

Located just southeast of Denver, Douglas County encompasses the towns of Castle Rock, Larkspur, Parker, and the City of Lone Tree. According to an April 2004 news release by the U.S. Census Bureau, Douglas County was the third fastest growing county in the United States between 2000 and 2003.

Unfortunately, the county also faces rapid depletion of its primary source of water for thirsty homes and businesses: groundwater. Most of county's municipal water suppliers rely on high-volume wells located in the Dawson, Denver, Arapahoe, and Laramie-Fox Hills groundwater aquifers. Numerous other homeowners have private wells that tap the same resource.

The Parker Water and Sanitation District (PSWSD) has provided water to the homes and businesses of Parker and the surrounding areas since 1962.

Until now, it relied solely on groundwater sources to deliver potable water for indoor and outdoor use by its more than 22,000 customers.
Reuter-Hess Reservoir will be the district's first foray into storing water aboveground. Frank Jaeger, PWSD district manager, says that planning for Reuter-Hess began in 1985, when PWSD's engineering consultants projected a 3,000 acre-foot shortfall based on growth levels projected in the city's master plan.

Initially, the district looked to stretch existing supplies by employing water conservation and reuse methods, and purchasing additional undeveloped land so that it could tap the groundwater below. It also implemented tiered pricing, where customers are charged increasingly higher rates for greater levels of water consumption. Over time, these methods resulted in a 40 percent reduction in residential water use. But it was not enough.

Initial studies investigated the feasibility of constructing a reservoir in Castlewood Canyon located in Castlewood Canyon State Park. However, unable to acquire the land, the district had to look elsewhere for a potential dam site. Finally, in 1993 PSWD acquired rights to purchase the almost 2,500 acre Reuter-Hess site located about three miles southwest of Parker in Newlin Gulch. Preliminary studies began in 1996 for the geotechnical feasibility of the dam. Environmental impact assessments of the dam and reservoir area were initiated the next year.

It was not until late February 2004 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved PWSD's environmental impact statement, clearing the way for the district to begin construction of the 16,200 acre-foot Reuter-Hess Reservoir in the fall of this year. Final voter approval of the district's use of water rates and tap fees from new homes and businesses to repay project bonds was received in May.

This $105 million reservoir will provide terminal storage of reclaimed wastewater, storm runoff, and irrigation return flows. ‘Unlike traditional reservoirs like Dillon, where water is captured from stream flows and runoff, Reuter-Hess water will come from irrigation water returned to the system, from wastewater treatment plant effluent, and storm runoff that flows down Cherry Creek and Newlin Gulch,’ explains Jim Nikkel, PWSD district engineer. A 48 inch raw-water pipeline will transport this water to the reservoir.

First, the reservoir will store wastewater using an ‘exchange’ system whereby treated effluent from the PWSD wastewater treatment plant is released into Cherry Creek. Then the water will be drawn back into the Parker system through shallow wells along the creek. PWSD currently releases about two million gallons per day from its wastewater treatment plant. According to Nikkel, two million gallons is enough to supply the entire Town of Parker with domestic water for one day.

In addition, these same shallow groundwater wells will also intercept irrigation return flows. In this context, return flows generally enter the shallow groundwater system as a result of watering of urban landscapes such as lawns or golf courses.

A certain amount of water will also be provided by diversions from Cherry Creek. However, the 1985 water rights owned by the district are so junior, they are available primarily during peaks in creek flows provided by storm events.

In addition, in a process known as conjunctive use, surplus or ‘carryover’ water stored in the reservoir during off-peak months will be injected back into aquifers to help preserve and increase the groundwater supply.

Although the reservoir will engulf some 470 acres, the project will retain 2,000 acres of open space around the reservoir site. PWSD would also like to open up the reservoir and surrounding lands to recreation. However, it lacks the authority to operate recreation programs such as non-motorized boating or hiking trails.

‘No one (from state or county parks departments) has yet approached us about the recreational opportunities for the reservoir,’ says Nikkel. ‘But when someone does approach us, we'll be ready to plan and add the recreational components.’

It will take 40 years for PWSD to repay the Colorado Water and Power Development Authority for the loan to build Reuter-Hess. Nikkel says it will be repaid primarily through taxes and tap fees. This means that in order to make payments, the district needs to sell some 600 taps per year, a level below or on par with previous tap sales over the last 15 years.

‘Growth seems to happen whether or not we are water-rich,’ says Nikkel. ‘Instead of stopping the growth, which we can't do, we are being proactive and finding solutions.’

Construction of the reservoir is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2004, and is expected to be ready to fill in 2007. But after spending 18 years to complete the Reuter-Hess project, Jaegar and his team are not slowing down to celebrate.

‘We are always looking at what's next,’ says Jaegar. ‘We are trying to find solutions to how we can get more water, how we can expand the reservoir, what else we can do to ensure long-term supply.’ ❑

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