It’s time for an honest public explanation of water in rapidly growing Douglas County. The platform of every county commissioner race since I can remember included a focus on water. In fact, the Douglas County commissioners recently announced the formation of a Douglas County Water Commission to encourage consolidations, renewal/reuse solutions and address rural water issues. These are noble goals. My fear, however, is that the commission’s real goal is more political-driven and will ultimately hurt the citizens of this county.
As background, around 70% of Douglas County residents are served by three large water providers: Centennial Water and Sanitation District, Castle Rock Water, or Parker Water and Sanitation District, with the remainder being served by more than 20 smaller districts or private wells. Many of them are currently dependent on depleting deep aquifers. Finding alternative, renewable water solutions is a real issue and one that needs to be addressed.
The good news is that, despite what some outside groups have recently implied, our water providers have been planning for this issue for many years and have identified solutions that will work for their individual needs. They are also working with the South Metro Water Supply Authority to make sure that they have a cohesive master plan for a renewable water future. The three major providers have the water rights and plans they need; they don’t need water from additional sources.
One of those plans, the Platte Valley Water Partnership, was formed in 2021 by Parker Water and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. This long-term solution, which is already in the planning stage with water to begin flowing by 2040, will benefit agricultural and municipal communities in the South Platte River Basin by capturing and storing river water during spring and storm events. This is water that currently exceeds the demands of existing water rights in Colorado.
The plan has the support of state legislators, local officials, the environmental community and the farming community because it protects farmland from buy-and-dry depletion, creates new wildlife habitats and, perhaps most importantly, does not require purchasing any additional water rights.
Contrast that to a plan that is being promoted by a group of private investors known as Renewable Water Resources (RWR). Their efforts have been covered extensively recently due to their false claims in their 2021 fund proposal about the lack of long-term water planning in Douglas County. Their plan relies entirely on finding a buyer to spend more than $400 million to purchase groundwater rights in the San Luis Valley — rights that are very unlikely to be useful to Douglas County as the requirements needed to bring the water here are extremely complicated and nearly impossible to overcome due to political, legal, logistical, environmental and ethical issues related to the project.
Just last year, RWR failed to get the Douglas County commissioners to spend $20 million in COVID funds to buy into the plan after the county’s lawyers pointed out that the complexity and cost of the project makes it unlikely it will ever be completed or benefit the residents of Douglas County. Now RWR has turned to applying to serve on the new Douglas County Water Commission and funding friendly candidates to serve on local water boards, as they did during the recent Parker Water elections this past May.
If they are successful in taking over the majority of a water board or the commission and are in a position to influence water decisions in a manner that benefits RWR directly, I can only assume they will continue making their claims in order to scare residents and force one or more local water utilities into purchasing those $400 million in water rights. Doing so would then leave the utility’s customers with a huge bill and no viable long-term water plan. Along with my Parker Water colleagues, Don Langley and Bill Wasserman, I applied to serve on the Douglas County Water Commission with an eye toward helping protect residents from such an outcome while also protecting our existing water customers. Langley was appointed, but also appointed to an at-large spot is Sean Tonner, who is a principal at RWR and former deputy chief of staff to Owens.
I encourage all my fellow Douglas County residents to be aware of this issue, to keep an eye on the new water commission’s work, to vote with your conscience in upcoming elections, and to tell RWR that Douglas County’s water future isn’t for sale.
Merlin Klotz is president of the Parker Water and Sanitation District Board, which he has served on since 2010. He also served as the Douglas County Clerk and Recorder from 2015 to 2023.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to email@example.com. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)