By Peter Chawaga
Of all the fundamental threats to the status quo for water systems, from climate change to digital security, there is one that stands as naturally inevitable.
Population growth, though slowed since the Baby Boomers arrived, is an unavoidable future, one that promises to put stress on water systems that are already pushed to their limits in many parts of the country. To prepare for that future, initiatives like the Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue are being formed.
“By 2030, Colorado is projected to experience a 65 percent increase in population and with it a substantial increase in demand for water,” according to the dialogue. “In a state with limited water, this increase in demand will result in a water supply gap. This impending gap is a well-known and pressing problem for the future of Colorado.”
The group gathers water providers, land use planners, developers, economic developers, and public officials to strategize around solutions to the forthcoming demand. They have discussed new supply and storage projects, reuse, and conservation.
“The dialogue was assembled to provide local communities with data, information, and tools to determine what near-term actions they can take to better prepare for new growth that may occur in their area,” said Matthew Mulica, policy facilitator for the Keystone Policy Center, the dialogue’s sponsor. “The dialogue worked to meet its goals by bringing together key stakeholders who held the right data and information and were focused on a common objective.”
The discussions and strategizing have spurred real change from Denver Water, the state’s oldest and largest water utility.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road, but as a water provider, we need to be prepared for a number of different scenarios,” said Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for the utility. “With half a million more people expected in the metro area by 2040, Denver Water is taking an all-in approach that includes conservation, water reuse, development of new water supplies, collaboration, and investing in infrastructure to ensure we are prepared.”
Denver Water is studying the likely water supply requirements for 50 years into the future, factoring climate change, economic changes, and government regulations into its projections. This planning has influenced its infrastructure decisions and budgeting as well.
“Having the flexibility to move water throughout our system, increase water storage capacities, and build redundancy into our system allows us to be prepared for whatever the future may hold,” Fisher said. “Preparing for various scenarios also helps Denver Water invest wisely in its infrastructure. That ensures we build the right project, at the right time, and at the right cost. Scenario planning means we are able to be financially responsible, while also making sure we have the appropriate facilities and resource to meet our customers’ water needs.”
Denver Water is operating with an understanding that future water stressors will be particularly difficult in metropolitan centers like its customer base, using a strategy it termed “One Water” that focuses on green infrastructure and stormwater management.
“Under the One Water planning philosophy, Denver Water will be looking to utilize the existing urban watershed as a beneficial supply,” said Fisher. “One Water is defined by Denver Water as an integrated, sustainable approach to urban water management… It emphasizes green infrastructure and resource recovery and takes an integrated approach to drinking water, wastewater, groundwater, reclaimed and reused water, rainwater, storm water, and flood water.”
Though Denver Water’s approach is comprehensive and its list of concerns robust, population growth has played a part in a plan that the utility hopes will draw support from all aspects of regional preparation.
“A coordinated approach to land use and water planning benefits cities and their residents by ensuring that investments in infrastructure are cost effective, well planned, and efficiently designed,” Fisher said. “For the future, we must have coordinated policies around water, land use, transportation, and energy based on regionalism and collaboration.”