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Water Innovation Center Slated for National Western Complex

Colorado faces water quantity and quality challenges


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Denver Water and Colorado State University expect to have a center for water innovation emerge from the ground by 2019 at the soon-to-be-redeveloping National Western Complex.

Need drove this partnership. Denver Water needed a new water quality laboratory, but Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead thought circumstances deserved something bigger than a mere lab. He defines four pillars:

Education — Because the stock show complex is expected to have a million visitors a year

Policy

Research

Innovation.

Both Lochhead and former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who represents CSU in the initiative, see water innovations leading to private-sector entrepreneurial opportunities.

Colorado faces water quantity and quality challenges. Little water remains to be developed, but the warming climate threatens even existing deliveries to farms and cities. Still, nobody expects water shortages to halt growth. Demographers project today’s population of 5.6 million will nearly double by mid-century, putting even greater emphasis on water-sharing agreements between cities and farms.

But quality also matters greatly to Denver Water, which supplies a quarter of all Coloradans. Lochhead stresses the importance of preserving healthy watersheds. Water quality in places Denver gets its water is threatened by forest fires, faulty septic systems and emerging contaminants. The latter includes health-care products and drugs, both legal and illegal, that can linger in water even after conventional treatment. It costs less to treat high-quality water, which Denver mostly has now, than degraded water.

Both Lochhead and Vilsack envision the water innovation center along I-70 making a splash in the West — and, perhaps, even nationally and internationally.

But then, as he charts Denver’s future, Lochhead already necessarily thinks of a vast chunk of geography. Denver draws half its water from the Western Slope, in Summit and Grand counties, at the headwaters of the Colorado River. The same river feeds Phoenix and Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Nevada — and some of the farms in Mexico that provide winter produce in King Soopers and City Markets. But metropolitan Denver is also a major source, through its wastewater, for agriculture in the South Platte Valley to Nebraska. It’s complicated — and the water innovation center intends to explore those increasing complications.

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Allen Best

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