To say that Aurora has a prolific portfolio of water rights and reservoirs is apt. Spanning across three water basins, Aurora water is transported 180 miles through a vast and complicated system.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
“Aurora got into the water game late,” said Greg Baker, Manager of Public Relations for Aurora Water.
Aurora was wholly served by the City and County of Denver until 1954, when Denver put into place a “blue line” no longer granting permits for new taps in the ever-growing metropolitan area, leaving parts of Aurora out of Denver’s service region.
In 1957, Aurora purchased the water rights to the Last Chance Ditch and diverted the water that ran through it to be stored near the Cherry Creek Dam.
The completion of phase one of the Homestake Reservoir, which the city shares with Colorado Springs, was in 1967 and with that, Aurora was able to become completely self-reliant when it came to supplying the wet stuff to its residents.
The next 20 years saw rapid growth of Aurora’s water rights acquisitions, including rights in the three major basins being Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte. The city has continued to purchase water rights in areas spanning from Park to Eagle counties.
While the water rights are large in number for Aurora, 95% of the municipality’s water comes from reusable water.
“A water right has to be either reusable or single-use,” Baker said, “And 95% reusable is an advantage.”
This is where the Prairie Waters filtration system plays its vital role in supply for the city. Meeting approximately 10% of the demands of the city’s water, the system begins at the South Platte River in southern Weld County, and through a system of 23 wells, water is ushered through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel which serves as a filter to clean out impurities in the water. It is then pumped into basins where it goes through another level of filtration removing even more contaminants. The water is then sent to one of three different pump stations and finally to a purification facility.
The Peter D. Binney Purification Facility uses what are some of the most advanced processes of purification in the country, through ultraviolet oxidation, water officials say. With the ability to treat 50 million gallons a day, it’s the largest facility in the nation to use this technology.
“We’ve truly ingrained re-use into our mentality here,” Baker said.
Currently there are approximately two dozen in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, but great number is expected to at least double in the next 15 years according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.
A practice once dubbed “toilet to tap” is continuing to take hold as the regions of the country not only experience severe drought due to climate change, especially in more arid climates, but population growth as well.
With Aurora’s acquired water rights and the Prairie Waters System, Aurora looks to be prepared for the city’s growth.
Aurora Water serves more than 91,000 accounts in a city of more than 386,000 people and that number is rapidly increasing. The population is expected to double in the next 30 to 40 years.
With a bevy of new housing developments popping up on the eastern plains, it’s imperative that Aurora has the water to serve the increasing population with the most recently announced development promising 5,000 new homes.
Aurora water managers have long said that the city is set to provide water to tens of thousands of additional residents for at least another half century. Projections have shown that the city could need more than 40 billion gallons of water a year by 2070, more than double the usage in 2015.
In order to accommodate that amount, there needs to be ample storage, and Aurora has plans for that, too. Aurora currently has 156,000 acre feet of water storage, and enough to provide water to the city for three years, were there not to be another drop.
With 12 current reservoirs along the front range and throughout the mountains, Aurora has plans for three more reservoirs throughout the next 50 years.
One such reservoir has a litany of hurdles to jump, and might even require an act of Congress.
The proposed Whitney Reservoir on U.S Forest land in Eagle County would be shared with Colorado Springs. U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the plan this spring allowing the cities to test for possible sites.
With 95% of Aurora’s water being surface, or reusable water, there is always the risk of a low snow-pack, quick evaporation or plain-old drought. The new reservoirs will prevent Aurora having to sell or lease water resulting from not having enough storage.
Wild Horse Reservoir, which looks to be the next reservoir completed, hopefully by decades end, was planned with the purpose of not only providing adequate and better storage, but work in providing better management of exchanged water.
“The forward-thinking acquisition of water and land to the east has allowed us to grow,” Andrea Amonick, manager of the city’s development services division, told the Sentinel.
In 2016 Aurora adopted a policy that stated the city needed to have enough water for 50,000 additional residents at any given time and it’s the diversity of Aurora’s water rights that a goal as such is possible to achieve.