Post-World War II brought unprecedented growth to Colorado Springs. The city grew from about 45,500 people in 1950 to 135,500 by 1970, and local sources of water from Pikes Peak were not enough to sustain that number of people. The city’s first initiative to transfer water from the Western Slope was completed in the 1950s when it tapped the Blue River near Breckenridge and sent water through pipelines under Hoosier Pass. But that was not enough, so by 1963 it began a larger project to bring water from Eagle County, under the continental divide and into Turquoise Lake near Leadville, down the Arkansas River Valley, and then through the Otero Pump Station just north of Buena Vista to be sent to reservoirs on Pikes Peak for storage. The Homestake Project was a massive undertaking in partnership with the city of Aurora that increased the city’s water supply by over 50%, and a second phase was planned to provide even more. However, by the 1970s cities could not take water as cavalierly as before, namely because the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act required an environmental impact statement, and because of a new Colorado law strengthened counties’ jurisdiction over land uses. The Homestake II plan would tap water in the Holy Cross Wilderness, an affront to the supposed protection of wilderness lands. Ultimately Homestake II was denied in 1988, forcing the city to again look for new sources of water. Colorado Springs next bought water rights from Arkansas Valley farmers stored in Twin Lakes in Lake County, then partnered with the federal government to divert more Western Slope water from the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork Rivers to further provide for its needs. the Southern Delivery System (SDS) was the latest of the city’s big water projects. This project pumps water upstream from the Pueblo Reservoir, a facility built with federal money as part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas water project in 1975. Phase I of the SDS was completed in 2016. The project uses 11 pumps in three pumping stations to send water through a 66” pipeline from the Pueblo Reservoir 50 miles and 1,500 feet uphill to new storage reservoirs, all to provide water for people who do not yet live here. The project ultimately will cost billions and provide water for over 200,000 new households beyond the 2010 Metropolitan Area population of over 645,000.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs