National recognition for WISE water practices

Denver Water and partners pull down big award for pioneering regionwide reuse project.

January 9, 2020 | By: Todd Hartman

An innovative water-sharing partnership between Denver Water, Aurora Water and water utilities that serve the south metro area has won national recognition.

The WISE Partnership, WISE being short for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, recently brought home a “Community Water Champion Award” from WateReuse, a national organization that advances the use of recycled water.

The award marks another sign of success for a project that showcases sustainability on multiple fronts.

WISE not only provides a way for Denver and Aurora to reuse water supplies, it also creates a dependable supply for 10 water providers that serve the south metro region.

That more dependable supply, in turn, reduces pressure to pull more water from the Colorado River, conserves dwindling groundwater supplies south of Denver and diminishes the need for metro area utilities to buy agricultural water in the South Platte River Basin, which can lead to drying up farmland if the water is diverted.

Communities across the West are looking at the WISE project as an example of how to create regional water-sharing partnerships.
Communities across the West are looking at the WISE project as an example of how to create regional water-sharing partnerships. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

“There is a lot to love about this project,” said David Bennett, director of Water Resource Strategy for Denver Water. “It solves a lot of different problems in a sustainable, responsible way.”

The unusual nature of the WISE project may have helped it capture the national award.

Awards typically recognize a specific facility, such as a water recycling plant, or a technology. WISE includes such features, but also leverages the power of a regionwide partnership to make it all work.

WateReuse described the award this way: “This innovative regional partnership for a sustainable water future will reduce groundwater reliance and bolster renewable water supplies to the South Metro area, while maximizing existing water assets belonging to Aurora and Denver Water.”

WISE works by pulling water that Denver and Aurora have a legal right to reuse from the South Platte River near Brighton. That water is then pumped via pipeline back upstream to Aurora for a series of treatment steps before distribution to project partners. (For a detailed look at how WISE fits together, see the video above).

Simply put, the project’s benefits accrue this way:

  • Denver Water develops a new water supply by being able to use Aurora’s Prairie Waters system and a new revenue stream by selling unused water to the south metro area water providers.
  • Aurora Water benefits by selling unused water and putting unused treatment and pipeline capacity to use while receiving revenue that helps keep its water rates down.
  •  The South Metro Water Supply Authority receives a permanent renewable water supply, helping to reduce its reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.
The Prairie Waters complex recaptures water along the South Platte River near Brighton.
The Prairie Waters complex recaptures water along the South Platte River near Brighton. Photo credit: Aurora Water.

 

The project can trace its origins to the 1990s, when water planners began thinking about supplies for the metro area after the Environmental Protection Agency put an end to the Two Forks dam project southwest of Denver.

Crucial to WISE was Aurora’s construction of the Prairie Waters project, completed in 2010, as well as the construction of a pipeline on the south side of the region, which was put into use to distribute WISE water when the water-sharing partnership kicked into gear in 2017.

WISE is also unusual for its widespread support.

Water projects often elicit concerns from an array of organizations with conflicting perspectives. WISE, however, won support from a broad range of interests that included Colorado’s governor, U.S. senators, the Colorado River District and environmental groups. In fact, one of those groups — Western Resources Advocates — nominated WISE for the national award.

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