The Northern Project FAQs
What is the Northern Project?
The Northern Project is a multi-phase project that brings renewable water to East Cherry Creek Valley Water & Sanitation District. The initial phase of the project, known as H2’06, was completed in 2006 and included the purchase of South Platte River water rights and the construction of a 31-mile underground pipeline, storage tanks and two pumping stations to carry renewable water to the District from the Beebe Draw near Barr Lake in Adams County. The next phases of the Northern Project will include the purchase of additional water rights and the design, permitting and construction of a reverse osmosis water treatment facility near the Beebe Draw.
How will the project be paid for?
ECCV is paying for the project using a variety of means. In 2003, the District paid about half of the initial costs ($18.5 million) through the sale of enterprise revenue bonds. ECCV customers and developers will pay a share of the costs. Homebuilders will pay increased tap fees, which is the cost that developers pay per house to connect to ECCV's system, to finance water rights. In addition, ECCV customers now pay a $25 monthly fee into the Sustainable Water Assurance Fee (SWA Fee) to finance the new infrastructure.
Customers may notice other changes in rates that are not related to this project. Those changes reflect the cost of operating and maintaining the water and sewer systems. ECCV is subject to the same type of costs as homeowners in terms of increased energy costs, costs to maintain aging equipment, and costs passed on by service providers. The philosophy behind the combination of fees and charges is that all customers of the ECCV system will pay their fair share of the costs of the project
Where will Northern Project water come from?
Water for the Northern Project comes from the South Platte River. It is stored in the Beebe Draw until needed, pumped from the ground, and transported through a 31-mile pipeline south into the District. In the future, the water will be run through a future water treatment plant to be built near Barr Lake in Brighton. Click here for a map showing the project area.
Why does ECCV need this water?
The Northern Project provides a renewable surface water source that diversifies the resources of ECCV's system and reduces the District’s dependency on non-renewable groundwater. The majority of ECCV’s water comes from limited-supply aquifers in the Denver Basin—a finite resource that will be depleted over time and become much more expensive to draw in the future when an increasing number of wells are needed to provide the same amount of flow. Northern Project water is needed to provide a reliable water supply for ECCV's customers into the future.
What parties are involved in the Northern Project transaction?
The water rights purchase consists of a three-way arrangement between ECCV, Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO) and the United Water and Sanitation District (United). The initial agreement included the delivery of about 3,000 acre feet of water per year from United, backed by water rights from the defunct 70 Ranch in Weld County, which previously were used for agricultural purposes. The property was previously used as a hog farm until the voters of Colorado banned such operations several years ago. The second phase of the water rights acquisition will involve the purchase of about 3,000 acre-feet of water from shareholders in FRICO and other agricultural ditch companies. The FRICO agricultural shareholders unanimously approved this concept in November 2002, and reaffirmed this particular project involving ECCV in November 2003.
Will other water districts benefit from the project?
Members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA) have paid for added capacity in the new pipeline to transport water to serve their communities. These districts must secure their own water to use the pipeline. SMWSA members participating in the pipeline include Arapahoe County Water & Wastewater Authority, Centennial Water & Sanitation District, Cottonwood Water & Sanitation District, Inverness Water & Sanitation District, Stonegate Village Metropolitan District and the Town of Castle Rock.
What is the Beebe Draw?
The Beebe Draw is a shallow aquifer system that was a historic stream channel of the South Platte River. This underground reservoir is filled with sand and gravel, which makes it a perfect spot to store water for later pumping.
Will the Beebe Draw aquifer become depleted over time?
No. ECCV is purchasing renewable surface water rights as part of this project. These rights will be used to make sure there is always water in the Beebe Draw, which is being used as a storage vessel for this project.
What are aquifers?
ECCV currently pumps water from deep underground aquifers, known as the "Denver Basin" aquifers for the vast majority of its water supply. A shallow aquifer is an underground body of water that is part of an overall river system, such as Cherry Creek or the South Platte River. The Denver Basin aquifers utilized by ECCV are only minimally connected to the surface water systems, and very little new water enters the aquifers. Much of the water in the deep aquifers has been trapped in underground layers for hundreds of thousands of years. While this water is relatively clean and often needs little treatment before piping it into homes, the resource is finite, and the cost to extract water increases as the water level in an aquifer drops.
What is the difference between aquifer/well water and surface water?
Unlike Denver Basin groundwater (above), surface water resources are replenished with seasonal rains and snows. Surface water comes from rivers, can be stored in reservoirs for later use, and is treated prior to delivery to customers. It is important for districts like ECCV to maintain a "portfolio" of water resources that rely mainly on this kind of renewable water resource. For example, the entire Denver Water system is built on renewable surface water collected in Colorado's mountains, piped to the Front Range, and stored for municipal use.
What is the direct benefit of the Northern Project to my family and me?
This project will bring renewable water into the District. This benefits you, the ECCV resident, in many ways. First and foremost, the project will serve as an assurance of clean water for everyday use (drinking, gardening, cleaning and irrigating) in the future. This in turn will enhance the value of your property investment.
If renewable surface water is so important, why didn't ECCV acquire some before?
ECCV has always planned for surface water to be a part of its water portfolio. However, legitimate surface water projects in semi-arid Colorado are few and far between. ECCV was a participant in the 1980s in studies of the Two Forks Reservoir with Denver, Aurora, and other metro area water providers, a project that would have provided renewable water to ECCV. However, the Environmental Protection Agency rejected that project in the late 1980s, leaving the study participants searching for other water projects. ECCV has investigated other renewable water projects since that time, although this is the first project that ECCV believed was worth investing in. Prior to the last few years, ECCV was also too small to be able to afford such projects. With the larger customer base in ECCV, along with the remaining development, such projects are now financially feasible.
Has ECCV purchased other water rights previously?
Yes. In 1999 ECCV purchased water rights for 4,100 acre-feet of water per year from Willows Water District in Centennial, CO. To bring the water into the District, ECCV built a 14-mile pipeline along C/E-470 from Quebec Street to its storage tanks on Smoky Hill Road. Called the "Western Water Project," the system began delivering water to ECCV in May 2003.
In addition, ECCV has rights to 771 acre-feet of renewable water from the Denver Water Department as a result of ECCV's participation in the Two Forks project. The District takes delivery of this water through a connection to the Northern pipeline from Denver's system near Denver International Airport. ECCV also has a temporary water lease agreement with Denver Water to receive 1000 acre-feet per year, as a supplemental supply to provide to its customers while completing the Northern Project.
Why doesn't ECCV just buy more water from Denver?
Denver is not offering to provide more water to areas outside of its Combined Service Area. ECCV was able to obtain some water from Denver on an interim basis, as well as the additional water due to its participation in the Two Forks study. Because Denver is not offering to provide enough water to supply ECCV customers for the long term, ECCV had to secure its own supply for its customers' future.
How much will this project cost?
ECCV spent approximately $150 million for water rights and initial construction costs, including $45 million for the initial water rights purchase of 3,000 acre-feet per year and $74 million in facility costs for the two pump stations and 31-mile pipeline. ECCV will acquire an additional 3,000 acre-feet of water over time, and a treatment facility will also be built to provide additional treatment of the Northern water to maximize the project's benefits to ECCV.
Will the quality of the water I receive be affected by the previous livestock operations at 70 Ranch?
No. While ECCV purchased water rights from United that historically belonged to the 70 Ranch, a former hog farm, none of the water ECCV receives will actually come from that property. The water will be moved upstream through a variety of water-rights exchanges, saving millions of dollars on infrastructure. The water will be blended with other ECCV water, ensuring that our customers' water meets all state and federal drinking water guidelines. In 2008, ECCV will begin building a state-of-the-art water treatment plant to handle increasing volumes of Northern Project water.
Will the Northern Project supply water only to new development in the District?
No. This project provides a renewable, reliable water supply for all the District's customers. The surface water supplies complement ECCV's groundwater supplies to ensure reliable, affordable supplies into the future. Furthermore, developers completing new projects within the District will need to pay an annual increase in tap fees to connect to ECCV water.
Would we need this project if area development had been stopped years ago?
Yes. It is a fact that there is not sufficient groundwater under a given area to support urban development. During the earlier years of the District, wells were drilled in undeveloped areas that helped support the water demands of the developed areas. In return for the use of the water beneath the undeveloped portions of the District, the property owners were assured service from the District. Without this commitment, ECCV would not have been able to use the water under the undeveloped parts of the District. Use of this "local water" has kept water rates within the District relatively low for a long time. As more of the District has developed, ECCV has needed to look to satellite well fields, such as the Western Water Project, to keep up with demand.
Because there is not sufficient water under a given area for urban development, outside water sources would have been needed, regardless of the size of the District. And, continued pumping of groundwater by ECCV and others will result in significant increases in costs over time for the development of additional wells or alternative infrastructure to keep up with the same demands. Therefore, a smaller ECCV District would still need a project such as this one but would have a smaller customer base and no growth to help share the costs.
Does this new water resource mean an end to watering restrictions in the District?
While ECCV's staff and Board are excited to help secure the future of the District with these new water rights, they also recognize that the purchase cannot change the nature of the dry climate conditions and drought cycles of Colorado. Watering restrictions are dependent on a number of factors, including weather conditions, water storage and other issues. ECCV's staff and board take all these factors into account when making decisions on water allowances. Watering restrictions are a part of ECCV's conservative outlook, help the District meet demands on peak watering days, and keep aquifers a viable source for the long term. It is likely that ECCV will maintain some kind of watering guidelines into the future.