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Water supply evaporating as community grows 

Voice of Reason

Colorado Springs and El Paso County are on the cusp of a crisis.

As Pam Zubeck thoroughly reported in last week's Independent, the county is on the cusp of a water crisis. It’s trickling down our drains, dripping from leaky faucets, seeping out of broken seals. It’s exacerbated by decades of unmitigated population growth, by improper planning and by our ever-growing quantities of roads and parking lots.

Water reserves and renewable supplies, our most precious resource and a fundamental requirement for our survival, are rapidly evaporating as our community’s demand grows. While it may seem inconceivable that we could reach a point where turning on the tap results in … nothing, that’s not too far off.

You see, the El Paso County Water Master Plan predicts that by 2060, the community will need to have 206,000 acre feet of water on tap. (An acre foot, in case you were wondering, equals just shy of 326,000 gallons of water — or enough to cover 1 acre of land, roughly the same size as a football field, with water 1 foot deep.)

So that’s the need. The current supply, on the other hand, equals just 146,070 acre feet; meaning by 2060, El Paso County is projected to face an estimated 59,930-acre-foot deficit.

Sounds like a lot. And it is. If you do the math, that gap totals a whopping 14.1 billion gallons of water needed to fulfill the county’s hydration needs. Not surprisingly, Colorado Springs and Fountain face the biggest challenges in quenching their future thirst.

And by 2070, Colorado Springs Utilities says, the city will need to grow its supply by 40 percent to sustain a projected 720,000 people.

But have no fear: There is a plan in place. It involves building new reservoirs, increasing storage at existing reservoirs, and buying water from the lower Arkansas Valley and ditch companies, then transferring it to Colorado Springs.
It also involves encouraging water-wise conservation efforts. Encouraging, but not mandating.

We see that as a missed opportunity.

Because, let’s face it, despite its name, Colorado Springs is not exactly well-positioned for sustainable water use. It’s a semi-arid, high-altitude community. Fountain Creek and a few small lakes notwithstanding, there is no natural body of water that can serve as major water storage. And until just recently, a lack of stormwater infrastructure and ever-expanding impermeable roadways and rooftops meant heavy rains went tumbling at high speeds downstream into Pueblo, carrying with it debris and pollution.

But there are steps that can be taken. If development and sprawl are inevitable, then let them at least be handled wisely. Let them include detention ponds and permeable greenspace comprising native and water-wise landscaping. Include high-efficiency and low-consumption appliances, not as upgrades but as standard fixtures.

And when a resident takes the initiative to try something new, beautiful and ecologically beneficial, let them. It’s distressing — and a bit embarrassing — to learn our county has inserted itself into a private landowner’s landscaping decision by demanding that her home-grown pollinator habitat be mowed to meet an arbitrary height mandate. (Oh, and in case you were curious after reading Faith Miller’s story in this week's issue, in March, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a bill that protects homeowners’ rights to xeriscape their properties and encourages developers to embrace that type of drought-resistant and water-friendly planting.)

Look, the fact is the water is drying up. Yes, we’ve had a wet year, but that’s not going to be enough to support unmitigated growth and sprawl. We must all do our part to keep the taps flowing while the city keeps growing.

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