- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

PARKER, Colo. (AP) - The shimmering surface of Rueter-Hess reservoir seems out of place in arid Douglas County, where almost all of the water resources are in aquifers a quarter-mile under ground.

Yet the $195 million body of water, southwest of Parker, is poised to play a crucial role in providing water to one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.

As recently as a few years ago, developers were content to tap the seemingly abundant Denver Basin aquifer to serve the thousands of new homes built each year along the southern edge of metro Denver.

But a problem arose. As homebuilding in Douglas County exploded, the groundwater that once seemed abundant turned out to be finite. Land developers and utilities found that the more wells they drilled into the aquifer, the more grudgingly it surrendered water.


“Now we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a consortium of 14 water suppliers that serve 300,000 residents.

As water pressure in the Denver Basin steadily declines, developers and water utilities that rely on the aquifer are being forced to drill more wells and pump harder from existing wells.

Enter Rueter-Hess. The massive storage facility - 50 percent larger in surface area than Cherry Creek reservoir - aims to help developers wean themselves from groundwater by shifting to other sources.

The reservoir anchors a multifaceted water plan for the south metro area that includes the purchase of costly but replenishable surface water, reuse of wastewater and a greater emphasis on conservation.

Douglas County, long a magnet for builders enticed by easy access to Denver Basin aquifers, is taking the water issue seriously.

A new proposal floated by the county government would give developers density bonuses - up to 20 percent more buildout - for communities that reduce typical water consumption and commit to using renewable sources for at least half of their water.

“In the past, the county had not taken an active role in water supplies because groundwater was sufficient,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. “But we understand that we cannot continue to be solely reliant on our aquifers. What we’re doing today will help us plan for the next 25 years.”

Parker Water and Sanitation District launched construction of Rueter-Hess in 2006 and began gradually filling the reservoir in 2011, fed by excess surface and alluvial well flows in Cherry Creek.

Partners in the project include Castle Rock, Stonegate and the Castle Pines North metropolitan district. Parker Water and Sanitation district manager Ron Redd said he expects more water utilities to sign on for storage as they begin acquiring rights to surface water.

The chief source of new supplies will be the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, or WISE, in which Denver Water and Aurora Water will sell an average of 7,250 acre-feet a year to 10 south-metro water suppliers beginning in 2016. Most of them are expected to purchase storage for the new water in Rueter-Hess. An acre-foot is generally believed to be enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year

Parker Water and Sanitation also is exploring ways to develop recreational uses at the dam - including hiking, camping, fishing and nonmotorized boating - through an intergovernmental agreement with other Douglas County entities.

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