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Communique items for Feb. 24

County must face water issues now, UCCS report concludes

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. – Small water districts in fast-growing northern El Paso County may need to consolidate or face steep property tax increases to fund needed infrastructure, a new report from the Center for Colorado Policy Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs concludes.

 “Running on Empty? El Paso County Growth and the Denver Aquifer,” released this week, examines future water availabaility for the many small water districts in rapidly growing unincorporated areas of northern El Paso County. Although most El Paso County residents live in Colorado Springs and purchase water from Colorado Springs Utilities, many new residents live in the unincorporated county and depend on nonrenewable well-water. Much of this comes from the Denver Basin, a sedimentary bedrock aquifer that is rapidly being depleted.

Water supply for non-CSU users is managed through many separate water districts, each with its own exclusive supply of water.  Mill levies in many individual districts would increase substantially to cover projected infrastructure costs for water storage or transport. The study suggests either consolidating small districts to take advantage of economies of scale or cooperation between districts to reach area-wide solutions to water problems.

The author of the study, senior economics major Jacob Stiedemann, writes that “after depletion of water from the Denver Basin, much of northern El Paso County will be unable to finance the infrastructure for the water it needs. People living in these water districts will depend on neighboring districts for water. Despite this, potential home buyers receive little or no information about the long-term water supply situation.”

Stiedemann, of Colorado Springs, received the 2005 Elizabeth Cushman Internship in Public Policy, established by an endowment to further public policy research and increase student involvement.

The study indicates problems with long-term water supplies are exacerbated by a lack of planning for long-term sustainability as well as inefficient allocation of water property rights. Stiedemann concludes that planners and developers must be assuming that outside water sources, such as those developed by Colorado Springs Utilities, will be made available to residents of these areas after the Denver Basin runs dry.

“Jacob chose to focus on a very timely topic – the sustainability of well-water supplies in rapidly growing parts of the county,” Daphne Greenwood, professor, Economics, and Center director said..“His work highlights the mismatch between small water districts facing rising acquisition costs for water, its transport, and its storage and the low tax base available to finance future needs.”

The Center for Colorado Policy Studies applies economic principles and research results to critical policy issues at the state and local level. The Center was established in 2000 to conduct and promote objective and timely research on issues facing Colorado and its communities. Research on local growth issues, sustainability, quality of life, tax policy, and education finance can be found on the center’s website at http://web.uccs.edu/ccps. A copy of “Running on Empty? El Paso County Growth and the Denver Aquifer,”is also posted. For more information, contact Greenwood, (719)-262-4031 or  dgreenwo@uccs.edu.