A yearlong water study will help answer a question that developers and elected officials in Arapahoe County want to know: how much growth is possible with a limited water supply?
The study will look at water resources across the entire County, both unincorporated and incorporated, to help planning officials gauge the amount of growth possible through the year 2050. Planners will use the study results to inform land use decisions that balance new residential and business growth with existing and future water supplies.
“Water is an important factor for sustainable development,” said Planning Manager Jason Reynolds. “If managed efficiently and equitably, water can strengthen the resilience of social, economic and environmental systems in the light of unpredictable changes.”
Those changes refer to the immense growth experienced across Arapahoe County, which is currently the third largest in Colorado and which is expected to grow exponentially over the next few decades. Small towns and farms dot the eastern, mostly unincorporated portion of the County, while the western section is home to large metropolitan districts, such as Aurora, Littleton, Centennial, Englewood, Sheridan and Greenwood Village. In all, 13 cities and towns make up the large County that serves more than 655,000 residents.
Climate change further complicates things, as drought conditions have plagued much of the Front Range in recent years, forcing local water districts to restrict summer watering and promote additional conservation measures. For example, in late August, Aurora passed a new ordinance that restricts backyard turf and bans most front yards for new developments.
In 2018, the County’s Comprehensive Plan was updated to include recommendations on reducing overall water consumption and identifying new conservation and reuse policies. However, the last formal water study was completed in 2001 and studied only unincorporated areas. The new study is funded by a $125,000 Colorado Water Conservation Board grant and commissioners approved an additional $300,000 in funding from the County’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation to expand the scope into incorporated areas.
The new study will look at growth factors through 2050 and make recommendations for implementing a proposed 300-year rule that would require proof of groundwater supply for new developments and facilitate closer relationships with water districts to identify options for sustainable supply, conservation and reuse.
The 300-year groundwater rule is an important planning tool. For example, if a developer wants to build 100 single family homes, they must provide water rights equivalent to what 100 homes would use in a 300-year period in the County.
The study will also generate various population growth scenarios and analyze groundwater and water demand and supply under these scenarios. Those scenarios will ultimately inform the County’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides land use, growth and development decisions.
At the study’s conclusion, policies will be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan, which guides land use, growth and development decisions as well as regulations in the County’s Land Development Code.
County planners are designing public engagement and feedback opportunities throughout 2023 to listen to residents, industry leaders and other stakeholders. Watch the County’s website and social media accounts for opportunities to participate.