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How does Durango’s water plan address growth over next 50 years?

City must consider how to handle peak demand as population increases
Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director for the city of Durango, at the water-treatment plant near SkyRidge subdivision on College Mesa. A draft water plan outlines next steps for Durango’s water infrastructure. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Conservation and water storage at Lake Nighthorse surfaced as top priorities for Durango residents offering feedback about the city of Durango’s new Water Master Plan.

The draft plan outlines projections for water demand, infrastructure needs and other improvements as the city’s population grows over the next 50 years. If approved by Durango City Council, it will act as a guiding document for the Utilities Department’s next steps.

During a virtual open house last week, community members wondered why the plan did not address water conservation measures and encouraged accessing water storage at Lake Nighthorse, said Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director.

“Our hope is council will consider this plan ... and then hopefully, in the near future, we will be pursuing the recommendation in the plan to build a connection to use that water,” Biggs said.

Durango’s population is expected to hit about 25,500 people in 2025, 34,500 in 2045 and 49,500 by 2070, according to the draft plan.

As the population grows, the city’s water system needs to be able to handle peak use every day. In 2020, the maximum demand on any given day was 9.3 million gallons. By 2070, it is expected to be 21.3 million gallons.

That means infrastructure will need to catch up. The plan, prepared by SEH Engineering, would act as a guiding document as the city prepares to meet future demands for water.

The plan recommended three top-priority projects in the near future, Biggs said.

One project would give Durango access to its stored water by building piping to deliver water in Lake Nighthorse to the city’s treatment plant near SkyRidge subdivision on College Mesa in east Durango.

Another project involves the rehabilitation and expansion of the College Mesa treatment plant.

The third would improve water storage tanks that are “underperforming,” Biggs said. For example, Tanque Verde, at the base of Animas Mountain in north Durango, and the Wildcat Tank, west of downtown off U.S. Highway 160, struggle to cycle water because of elevation issues where they are sited, he said.

The draft plan also covers long-term goals, such as an expanded service area as more people move into areas like Twin Buttes in west Durango, Ute Pass and Edgemont Ranch northeast of town, and Three Springs east of the city.

The planners expect increased water delivery south of the downtown area, near La Posta Road and Bodo Industrial Park, Biggs said.

“Right now, about 65% to 70% of the water distributed in the city is north (of Santa Rita Park),” he said. “In the future, one of the things we’ll have to manage is that more water, 50% to 60% of the water, will be going south of that line.”

One question that came up during the virtual meeting: Why doesn’t the plan include conservation measures?

Some felt conservation is not sufficiently represented in the plan, Biggs said.

Conservation measures are outlined in other plans, such as the city’s drought management, water-use efficiency and sustainability plans, he said.

“We didn’t want to muddy the waters,” he said. “This is really an engineering report to say, as we grow, how will we have to move water?”

Some engineering investments can be delayed if water use isn’t as high because of conservation.

“We definitely want to encourage conservation,” he said.

About 13 community members attended the virtual meeting. Residents will have a second chance to offer input during an in-person open house at 5:30 p.m. July 28 at the Santa Rita administration building, he said.

The draft plan is scheduled for review by the city’s Infrastructure Advisory Board on Aug. 2. The City Council will review the plan and the board’s recommendation in August or September.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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