City officials say Aurora close to purchasing additional water storage


AURORA | City officials, already eyeing three future reservoirs to grow Aurora’s water storage system, appear to be close to buying land for the future Wild Horse Reservoir in Park County.

Aurora’s water system consists of 12 reservoirs that span the Front Range and Continental Divide, providing the city with more than 156,000 acre feet of storage located in three water basins. But even though they can supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought, city officials say demands for water are increasing and that they will need more storage to provide services to potentially 600,000 residents in the coming decade.

Lisa Darling, Aurora Water’s South Platte Basin program manager, said that reservoir is likely to be designed and completed by 2022.

“This is a really fast project. For a reservoir this size and complex, it’s very impressive,” said Darling during a Thursday, April 14, Aurora City Council water policy committee meeting. “Locally, Park County is very supportive.”

According to city documents,  Wild Horse would provide the city with 32,400 acre-feet of water storage. The city is expected to complete the purchase and sale contract for the sea-horse-shaped reservoir by August of this year. Aurora Water officials say the project will cost the city $92 million to build out.

Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, said completing Wild Horse before the end of the decade would be a victory in light of more controversial water acquisition projects, such as the long-stalled, $400-million Windy Gap project, which seeks to divert more water from the Colorado River to the Front Range. Gov. John Hickenlooper most recently ordered state officials to work with the U.S. Army Corps of engineers to obtain the permitting to complete the project by 2019. 

Baker said Wild Horse has been easier to negotiate in part because it is being built on private land owned by Hartsel Springs Ranch in Park County.  He said the owners see the economic opportunity in the recreational elements the reservoir will provide once completed.

Wild Horse will also be located 10 miles above Aurora’s Spinney Mountain Reservoir, which is also in Park County, meaning the city will not have to acquire additional water rights through court to use it.

The other two reservoirs planned are the East Reservoir and Box Creek.

The East Reservoir, which city officials began researching as a site  in  2012, would sit just east of the Aurora Reservoir on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range. Darling said it could be completed in the next decade. Aurora Water is still in the land acquisition process with  the Colorado State Land Board and the Rangeview Metropolitan District.

Darling said the East Reservoir project has been held up in part by federal agencies, who for years have been working to find unexploded ordinances that potentially remain on the site and could be harmful if not detonated properly.

One not-so-bright spot for the city is completing Box Creek, a site  north of Twin Lakes in Lake County.

“The (National) Forest Service has been less than helpful to date,” said Gerry Knapp, the Arkansas and Colorado River Basin manager for Aurora Water, in regards to ongoing negotiations over the Box Creek site. Aurora Water officials stated later in the meeting those negotiations were moving forward.

Aurora’s 12 reservoirs are spread across the Front Range and in the mountains. They include Aurora, Quincy, Rampart, Strontia, Spinney, Homestake, Jefferson Lake, Twin Lakes, Pueblo, Turquoise, Henry and Meredith. 

CORRECTION: a previous version of this story quoted  Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich instead of  Gerry Knapp, the Arkansas and Colorado River Basin manager for Aurora Water. That story also stated Aurora’s 12 reservoirs were created as part of Prairie Waters in 2006, but they were created before Prairie Waters and are Aurora’s first-use water source.