When you turn on the faucet, you expect a flow of fresh, clean water. It seems like a constitutional right.
Ensuring that freedom is a big responsibility for water companies that often vie for rights to supply residents with water.
During this year's annual September water tour, sponsored by the Colorado Springs Utilities Water Department, some 80 participants, mostly local residents, learned how the department quenches the city's thirst.
Because Colorado Springs is a semiarid area with no major water supply nearby, the water we use for drinking, cooking, bathing and watering the yard travels up to 200 miles to reach our homes.
The majority of local water comes from high-country snow and rain that is collected in reservoirs and piped to Colorado Springs, aided by gravity and pumping systems.
Planning for the city's extensive system began early, in 1891, after Fountain Creek canals that supplied homes and businesses became polluted. City leaders that year purchased seven lakes on Pikes Peak for $70,000 and built a dam on Lake Moraine.
Today, the city owns water rights to 182,900 acre feet, said Gary Bostrom, manager of the resources and planning division for the water department.
An acre foot is what an average family of four uses in its home in one year, roughly the equivalent of a football field filled with 11 inches of water. An acre foot of treated water costs about $640 a year.
"We're dependent on delivery because of our geographical location," Bostrom said. "Denver can use the South Platte River, Pueblo can use the Arkansas River to deliver water. We don't have a nearby resource."
Several major projects, extending from Twin Lakes to Pikes Peak to Pueblo, supply Colorado Springs' water needs.
Homestake Watershed: Northwest of Leadville. Phase I opened in 1967; Phase II is tied up in litigation related to permitting. It is a joint transmountain diversion project that transports water from Colorado's Western Slope, across the Continental Divide, to Spinney Mountain Reservoir, then to Aurora residents, or to Rampart Reservoir and then to Colorado Springs residents. Water crosses the Continental Divide by way of a 5 1/2-mile tunnel through the mountains.
Blue River Watershed: Northwest of Fairplay and Alma, the watershed was completed in the early 1950s and was the city's first attempt to bring water from the other side of the Continental Divide. A series of three tunnels diverts water to Montgomery Reservoir. Water flows 70 miles to reservoirs on the North Slope of Pikes Peak.
South Slope Watershed: This watershed, located on the south side of Pikes Peak, was Colorado Springs' first major water source, developed in the late 1800s. Water from six reservoirs, fed by 11 streams, is diverted to the Mesa Water Treatment Plant.
North Slope Watershed: Three reservoirs on the north side of Pikes Peak, opened to the public last year, feed the system, which also serves Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Cascade.
Northfield Watershed: This watershed is located 21 miles northwest of Colorado Springs on the Rampart Range. Water from Homestake, Blue River and other projects is held in three reservoirs and piped to treatment plants.
Twin Lakes Water: The Colorado Springs utilities department owns 54.6 percent of the Twin Lakes Water Co. in Twin Lakes. The local share is collected from Roaring Fork River tributaries.
Fryingpan-Arkansas project: This is a reclamation project that includes collecting and diverting water from the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers in Western Colorado to the Arkansas River in Eastern Colorado. Water is delivered via the Fountain Valley Pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, and services Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security, Widefield, Stratmoor Hills.
Colorado Canal Co.: The project is east of Pueblo. Colorado Springs in 1985 purchased 54.6 percent of the Colorado Canal Co., Lake Meredith Reservoir Co. and Lake Henry Reservoir Co., along with water rights, storage land and rights-of-way. Water is diverted from the Arkansas River.
In addition, ground water from Pinello and Hanna Ranch wells, south and east of Colorado Springs, services Security and Fountain. Local creeks, such as Fountain, Bear, and North and South Cheyenne Canon creeks, collectively supply 10 percent of the city's water needs.
Seven facilities, including five water-treatment plants, prepare the raw water for consumption.
A new J.A. McCullough Treatment Plant is under construction on the grounds of the Air Force Academy and is expected to be completed in 1996.
Another major project under development is the Southwest Water Project, which includes a pipeline that will carry water out of North and South Cheyenne Canon creeks to the Mesa Plant for treatment.
Bostrom said Colorado Springs' estimated 310,000 residents now use 74,000 acre feet of water per year. "Our supply is good: We have enough water to serve twice the amount of residents, up to a million," he said.
But city officials estimate that, by the year 2010, the current delivery system will be at capacity. Because a major water project takes 15 to 30 years to develop, the city in 1989 began examining options for the future.
The system would offer high-quality water that would require less pumping than other options, Bostrom said. But the main drawback and concern, he said, is that it would deplete the upper Arkansas River, which now is used for recreational activities such as river rafting and fishing.
"It's a controversial issue," Bostrom said.
"When the Bureau of Land Management began the process of designating the Arkansas as wild and scenic, it precluded added development, so to keep the option open, we filed for a water right," Bostrom said.
The action has prompted protests. Signs outside of Buena Vista proclaim: "Don't let Colorado Springs flood this valley."
The 1989 cost estimate of the project was $360 million.
Another future alternative is to transport additional water from Pueblo Reservoir and construct a new pipeline that would parallel the Fountain Valley Pipeline. The cost estimate was $300 to $450 million, and the water quality is not as good, Bostrom said.
The most expensive choice, at a cost of about $800 million, is to construct a direct pipeline from the Colorado Canal's Lake Meredith and Lake Henry to Colorado Springs.
Water conservation also will play a big role in the future, Bostrom said, along with reusing water for irrigation and exchanging reusable water with other communities for unused water.
Bostrom said the city is conducting preliminary water studies this year, and next year will invite the public to give input before recommending a plan and working on obtaining permits and authorization.