ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Arapahoe County is considering a change to its water rules that would require developers to supply much higher amounts to be able construct new properties.
The county is currently in the middle of an 18-month study to try to determine its water supply and needs in the future.
“One of the biggest things that we want to understand is what does our supply look like and then what does that demand look like,” said Bryan Weimer, the director of public works and development at Arapahoe County. “What is that really going to require in terms of sustainability and along with that is how do we efficiently use the water we have — and/or reuse the water we have.”
Part of that study is considering whether the county should move to a 300-year rule for unincorporated areas.
The 300-year rule means developers would have to provide documentation about their water sources and a letter from the Colorado Division of Water Resources that vouch for the supply and guarantee that it is adequate for three centuries.
“We think that going 300-year is the most efficient way and responsible way of looking at how water is going to be utilized,” Weimer said. “We want the residents that come to Arapahoe County and those that are here to know that there is a sustainable water supply for the development that they're moving into.”
Arapahoe County is Colorado’s third-largest county. Currently, more than 655,000 people live in the county’s 13 cities and towns. However, Weimer said the county is supposed to swell to more than 900,000 by 2050.
Currently, the county requires developers to have a 200-year supply, while the state sets its minimum at 100 years.
However, Mark Squillace, a Raphael J. Moses professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said while providing an adequate supply is part of the equation, water management is key.
“My view has always been that while we certainly suffer from an arid sort of environment, we have enough water to serve the needs of our communities. We just don't have the best management, I think, of our water resources,” Squillace said.
Part of that management picture is looking at water through a regional lens instead of a city-by-city or county-by-county approach.
“If we did better regional management, I think that we would make it easier for new communities and indeed for old communities to provide the water supplies that they need for their residents,” he said.
He would also like to see some reforms to state law to move water around more easily while also protecting rural communities and the agriculture industry in the state.
Along with water supply and management, water demand and use are important parts of the conversation.
“Half of our residential water use goes into outdoor use, primarily for landscaping. And so if we were to move to xeriscaping, and using a lot less water for our landscape, we could save a lot of water,” Squillance said.
That’s why another portion of the water study in Arapahoe County is considering landscape regulations and whether it’s time for a change.
If Arapahoe County were to approve the 300-year plan, it would join others like Elbert, El Paso and Adams counties in doing so.
The 18-month study will cost $500,000 — money that is coming from a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation board, some American Rescue Plan Act funding and a county match. Once it wraps up, the public will be able to weigh in on the water plan.