Rep. Carl Miller to present water bill to Legislature today
DENVER – State Rep. Carl Miller is tired of Denver taking water from the High Country, particularly since the city sits atop a giant aquifer of its own.
So the Leadville Democrat will introduce a bill today that would prohibit water authorities from diverting water if they have access to local supplies.
The bill, which doesn’t have Senate sponsorship, isn’t likely to pass, Miller admitted, primarily because Front Range water interests are opposed to the idea.
Four giant bowls of water – the Dawson, Denver, Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers – stretch from Denver to Colorado Springs, each lying atop one another like a stack of bowls.
According to researchers with the Geological Society of America, there is an estimated 260 million acre-feet of water in Denver’s aquifers. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre to a depth of one foot, or enough water to supply a family of four for a year.
The Front Range will need that water, if statisticians’ estimates are correct in projecting a statewide population increase of 1 million people by 2025. Most new residents are likely to settle on the Front Range.
“They’re going to need water,” Miller said last November. “I know it’s going to be a challenge; it’s not going to be an easy fight. For Denver, it’s easier and cheaper to just come to the High Country. I want to stop that. I don’t want to export any more water from the High Country.”
According to Ed Pokorney, director of planning with Denver Water, which owns Dillon Reservoir, the water board has commissioned a study to determine the economic feasibility of tapping the aquifer. Study results are due in May.
“Our problem is, Denver is sitting in an unproductive area,” he said. “If you go to Parker and sink a well, you might get 1,200 gallons per minute (gpm). Five hundred gpm is considered low. And in Denver, those numbers are in the 50-to-200-gpm range. The question then is, how economically feasible is it?”
The water isn’t of high quality, either, Pokorney said.
“That’s the problem we have with Mr. Miller’s bill,” he said. “It’s not that we shouldn’t use some local source, but if that local source is really weak and isn’t good, and it isn’t economically feasible, should we have the state Legislature saying, “You will use that source’? We’re sympathetic with what he’s trying to do. The problem is it may not be viable.”
Denver Water might end up using aquifer water in times of drought, he said.
County Commissioner Tom Long, who is well-versed on water issues, said Miller’s bill has some merit, if for no other reason than to initiate discussion among lawmakers. He, too, doesn’t think it will go far in this legislative session.
Tapping into aquifer supplies could produce instant results at less cost than if the Legislature were to decide to build a reservoir and wait for it to fill, Long said.
“If you’re in a pinch, like we are now, they might need to look at that,” he said. “It bears consideration.”
The issue, then, is far from dead.
“It’ll be back,” Long said. “For some reason, the Front Range doesn’t want to discuss what they’ve got right in their backyard. And, unfortunately, given the makeup of the Legislature, with its heavy balance to the East Slope, we might never see something like that. They want to drain the West Slope before they access what they have in their backyards.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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