AURORA, COLO. — The city of Aurora recently celebrated the completion of the Prairie Waters Project, an innovative and environmentally friendly water system that was finished ahead of schedule and more than $100 million under budget.

A large Colorado crowd excited to see the completion of the $653 million project gathered Friday, Oct. 8, for the system’s formal dedication. Speakers included Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, Interim City Manager Nancy Freed, Aurora Water Director Mark Pifher, former Aurora Water Director Peter Binney, and CH2M HILL Chairman and CEO Lee McIntire whose company provided design and program management services.

The project is the fastest, most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way to meet Aurora’s water needs and went from design to completion in just five years. Construction broke ground in July 2007. The system includes 34 miles of 60-inch diameter pipeline, three pump stations, a natural purification area, and a new water treatment facility that is one of the most technologically advanced in the country. Designed to protect the city against drought, like the one in 2002 that left Aurora with only a 9-month supply of water, the system is a forward-looking project that uses a sustainable water source by recapturing river water. Aurora, like many other cities in the state, gets most of its water from mountain runoff, but it’s difficult to predict how much water will be delivered from year to year. Prairie Waters provides the solution.

Calling it a “project of a lifetime,” Freed remarked on the visionary nature of Prairie Waters as it provides a sustainable future for Aurora and protects residents from drought. The project begins in Brighton, where water is pulled from the South Platte River. Riverbank wells pull the water through sand and gravel to perform the initial cleaning process. Water is then pumped to Aurora where it is treated with multiple water purification steps at the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility, including an advanced ultraviolet oxidation process that is one of the largest applications of UV oxidation in the world. The plant can treat 50 million gallons of water each day.

Both Pifher and Tauer stressed the importance of collaboration during the project and noted that the project  demonstrates how working together to develop regionalized water solutions can benefit everyone. McIntire added that in today’s world of water systems stressed by climate change and aquifers drying up, that Prairie Waters sets a new trend. “This project uses a first of its kind strategy that is an innovative and sustainable approach for new water resources,” he said. “This positions Aurora for the future.”

Binney, the former Aurora water director and the driving force in the development of Prairie Waters, said that the water solutions from the 19th and 20th centuries would not address the needs of the Aurora community and many others facing water crisis. It took a creative, sustainable, environmentally conscious approach, utilizing both natural treatment and cutting edge technologies, to deliver the needed solution.

Although Aurora Water utilized some traditional funding mechanisms — $213 million in cash and net bond proceeds of $367 million — the department also sought, and received, funding from some unique sources. The environmentally friendly nature of the project allowed Aurora Water to create partnerships with conservation agencies who applauded the city’s efforts to design a sustainable project that protected wildlife habitats during construction and use its water resources responsibly. That helped the department secure a low interest $75 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Prairie Waters also provided jobs at a time when economic belts were tightening. As of March 2010, 313 separate companies were contracted for the project, and payroll during the last several years has exceeded $44 million.

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