Water in the Valley: Is there enough?
Last updated 7/12/2021 at 9:58am
With droughts currently covering almost half the state, many Fountain Valley residents are wondering how water supplies are doing. This is especially true after reports several weeks ago that the city of Fountain had turned down development plans due to not being able to provide water for new homes. To see if there was any truth to these claims, and how things are doing across the board, this paper contacted the local water officials:
• City of Fountain Utilities Director Dan Blankenship
• Security Water and Sanitation District Manager Roy Heald
• Widefield Water and Sanitation District Manager Lucas Hale
Blankenship confirmed that Fountain had recently turned down several development offers.
"We have a limited capacity for new taps, and we are issuing those on a first-come, first-serve basis," he said.
However, he stated this did not mean that the city can't expand at all, nor does it mean that the city can't service its current customers.
"We are limiting the number of taps that are available because we are protecting existing customers and their access to the system," Blankenship said. "We have more than adequate water to meet the needs of our existing customers. That is our very first priority, meeting the needs of our existing customers. Then, when we have additional capacity beyond what is needed to serve our customers, that is when we then allocate for new taps."
Over the last decade, Fountain has added 100-200 new taps each year. Blankenship estimated that right now the demand for more taps is higher than usual, but whether that trend continues depends on developers.
"It's all market-driven," he said. "We've had a lot of developers who have come in and expressed interest, and we have some developers who are actually following through and are going through the development process. So, the level of growth, to some extent, is going to be dependent on how many of those developers actually follow through with their projects."
Regardless of how much Fountain expands, the city's long-term supplies are looking good.
"Our raw water supplies are 100 percent full," Blankenship said. "Raw water is water that is in storage that is waiting to be treated, and our raw water storage is equivalent to two-plus years of water consumption."
Most of Fountain's raw water supply comes from Pueblo Reservoir, of which the city leases a section. As of press time, that section is entirely full. Blankenship said that there are no big concerns about that situation changing.
"We have recently done a quantitative analysis of our capacity to provide treated water, and at this point in time, we have more than adequate capacity to serve our existing customers," Blankenship said. "The water that we have available for our existing customers, we have basically set aside. ... So, when we issue new taps, we're not dipping into water that is set aside for our existing customers. We're only dipping into the additional capacity or surplus availability."
Fountain residents can get a copy of the water capacity analysis by emailing Blankenship: [email protected] This analysis will eventually be included in the Water Master Plan, which was mentioned in this paper's April 7 article, "Thinking Strategically" (to read that story online, go to epcan.com/story/2021/04/07/news/thinking-strategically-city-begins-work-on-a-2022-24-strategic-plan/9618.html). Blankenship estimated that the Water Master Plan will be ready for release in October. It will provide a more complete picture of the water situation.
Blankenship also mentioned a new project that would increase how many new homes Fountain can service.
"We've initiated the process to build a water transmission line from our southwest water tank into the southern part of our water distribution system, and that will give us additional capacity for the system up to probably about another 500 taps," Blankenship said. "We expect it to be completed in two years. We're still waiting on the final approval of the funding for it."
Roy Heald had similarly good news about the Security Water and Sanitation District.
"The drought has not had a significant effect on us yet," Heald said. "We've got ample storage in Pueblo Reservoir, we've got a diverse water portfolio of raw water, and we've got sufficient delivery systems to deliver that water to Security and on to our customers."
As far as development goes, Heald isn't concerned about Security's growth outpacing its water supply.
"We're completely surrounded by other entities, so we can't grow outward," Heald said. "There is some in-filling that can be done, but we think we have sufficient water resources to accommodate that in-filling. We're talking to a few developers currently about some projects that may happen at some point in the future, but there are no firm plans on any of those developments. We certainly have not curtailed or given anybody an indication that we would not approve a development because of a lack of water."
Recent rainfall has helped Security, but Heald said it's too early to say whether that sets a pattern.
"Through May, our water use or the amount of water that we sold to our customers was down, I believe, 15 percent from the average of the past three years... but it just depends," Heald said. "When you hear people talk about normal – normal weather conditions or normal water use or normal weather patterns or whatever – there's no such thing as 'normal.' You can look at averages, but just because we had below-average use and above-average precipitation in May doesn't mean anything when you look at the rest of the year. ... It's our goal to be prepared for anything and to have a diverse portfolio on supplies and be able to accommodate whatever customers need."
Heald freely admitted that much of the credit for Security's diverse portfolio goes to past planners.
"The district was formed in 1954, and we've always had farsighted leadership and boards that participated in the Fountain Valley [Authority] and the Southern Delivery [System]," he said. "There has been a cost to those projects, but we're very thankful that we have that water now."
Heald also explained that even if surrounding entities have a water shortage, it doesn't affect his district.
"We do have a connection with Colorado Springs, and have basically an emergency agreement with them that if we need water they will provide it," he said. "It's more expensive water, so we'd rather not use that water. So, if Colorado Springs had a shortage and could not fulfill that lease, then that could be problematic. ... Otherwise, if surrounding entities were short on water, it really wouldn't have an impact on us. In fact, we always try to help each other. So, if there are ways to help surrounding communities on a short-term basis, we'd be happy to do that."
Heald said that neither Fountain nor Widefield has recently contacted his district seeking short-term help.
Lucas Hale confirmed that Widefield's water supplies are doing well, and said that the drought hasn't created any restrictions yet.
"The district's long-term water supply is in good shape; we currently only use 56 percent of our existing water supplies," Hale said. "At the district, we are always looking to the future of water."
While Hale didn't say whether the Security or Fountain water districts had reached out recently, he confirmed that his district would collaborate if the need arose and it didn't jeopardize existing customers.
"All three agencies have a long-standing history of joint ventures, projects, mutual-aid considerations and great working relationships," Hale said.
In June, it was announced that Widefield Water and Sanitation would provide water for the proposed Corvallis development (formerly known as Singer Ranch), which could result in 1,800 homes eventually. This confused some residents, since Corvallis is within Fountain's city limits. The city previously had annexed the property - located south of Fontaine Boulevard and west of Marksheffel Road - and it juts into land generally considered Widefield.
"This is a unique property," Hale said. "It is technically in the city of Fountain, and the project is governed by city of Fountain. However, the property is within the district's water and wastewater service area. As a result, the district will provide water and wastewater services. As for water and wastewater services, the project is in the early stages of design and concept."
The Fountain City Council will consider a development plan for Corvallis on July 16.
Hale said that his district hasn't changed any development plans over water concerns. Still, conserving water is always a good option. Hale encouraged Widefield customers to check the district's Water Conservation Plan (wwsdonline.com/water-conservation) for more advice.