The issue: When it comes to water resources, there are no guarantees.
What we think: Smart growth requires new approaches to planning and conservation.
Tell us what you think: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colorado Springs and El Paso County are on the cusp of a crisis.
It’s trickling down our drains, dripping from leaky faucets, seeping out of insecure seals. It’s exacerbated by decades of unmitigated population growth, by improper planning and by our ever-growing miles of asphalt roads.
Water reserves — our most precious resource and a fundamental need 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 the tap results in … nothing, that’s not too far off.
The Water Master Plan predicts that by 2060, El Paso County 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 one 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. Probably not surprisingly, given the growth, Colorado Springs and Fountain face the biggest challenges in quenching their future thirst.
And by 2070, Colorado Springs Utilities says, the city will need about 136,000 acre feet to sustain a projected 720,000 people. That means it will have to grow its water supply by 40 percent.
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 quantities of impermeable roadways and rooftops meant heavy rains went tumbling straight downstream into Pueblo, rather than into underground aquifers.
But there are steps that can easily be taken. If development and sprawl are inevitable, then let them at least be handled smartly. Let them include detention ponds, permeable greenspace comprising native and water-wise landscaping. Include high-efficiency and low-consumption appliances, not as upgrades but as standard fixtures.
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.