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Wild Horse Reservoir

Wild Horse Reservoir

About Wild Horse Reservoir

The proposed Wild Horse Reservoir would be built near Hartsel, Colorado in Park County about six miles west of Spinney Reservoir. To meet the city’s future water needs, Aurora Water must use an “all of the above” approach that includes ongoing aggressive water conservation and reuse efforts, as well as adding a new storage reservoir.  Wild Horse is the most cost-effective way to meet its community’s future needs. The project is currently in the planning stages. 

Water Source
Aurora’s existing water rights from the Arkansas and Colorado rivers will be the source of water. No new rights or decrees are being pursued for this project. The reservoir would be ‘off-channel’ meaning no river or stream flows into or out of the reservoir.

Wild Horse gives Aurora the ability to better manage water from the Arkansas and Colorado River basins that it already owns the rights to. The area in Park County was selected due its proximity near the Otero Pipeline, an existing pipe that already delivers Colorado and Arkansas River water to Aurora’s system.  At times, Aurora is unable to store or move some of its water rights from the Arkansas River due to constraints in Pueblo Reservoir. Aurora leases capacity in Pueblo Reservoir to store its Arkansas River rights in and that water can be “spilled” other rights take priority.

Wild Horse would allow Aurora to move Arkansas Basin water into the South Platte Basin more efficiently to minimize these spills. The reservoir would only be filled with water Aurora currently transports through the Otero pipeline. It would then travel to Spinney Mountain Reservoir before making its way into the city’s water system via the South Platte River.

Fast Facts:

  • Evaluating a reservoir sized to store up to 96,000 acre-feet of water
  • Favorable environmental conditions/minimal environmental impacts
  • Two-thirds of the land needed to build the reservoir has been acquired
  • Environmental permitting led by BLM
  • Working with Park County to minimize impacts and maximize county benefits
  • Target completion date late-2020s

Conceptual representation of Wild Horse Reservoir

Why is Wild Horse Needed? 

To protect the city against droughts and climate change and to enhance the reliability of its water system, Aurora Water needs to store more water to serve its growing population. Colorado’s extreme weather patterns are producing more intense droughts followed by some very wet years. Wild Horse will be an additional water savings account.  Aurora will bank “extra” water in wet years, as well as the water saved through conservation, to use in dry times.

The reservoir is one of 19 potential water supply projects Aurora considered in its 2017 Integrated Water Master Plan. The Colorado Water Plan projects a significant gap in water supply statewide by 2050 and projects like Wild Horse are being planned to help meet that need. A new Aurora reservoir is identified in the Colorado Water Plan as a project needed to meet the water supply gap within the South Platte River Basin.

Aurora Leads Colorado in Conservation and Reuse

Aurora is the state leader in water conservation and reuse. It has to be. Aurora is the third largest city in Colorado and provides drinking water to over 400,000 residents, yet it’s not located by a major water source. The city must rely on a complex system and multiple strategies to ensure Aurora has the water it needs.

Conservation and storage reservoirs work hand in hand.  Aurora residents use the least amount of water among Front Range cities, due to ongoing conservation ethic that has slashed household water use by 36 percent since 2000.

In 2022, Aurora became the first city in the state to limit non-functional turf. Aurora’s ordinance limits the use of cool weather turf in new developments and golf courses. The ordinance prohibits installing turf for aesthetic purposes only, including no turf in common areas, medians, curbside landscape and front yards. Backyard turf is restricted to 45% of the area, or 500 square feet, whichever is smaller.
Aurora was an early adopter of using reclaimed water for irrigating parks and golf courses, and was the first city in Colorado to implement water reuse for drinking water with its Prairie Waters system.

From drastically reducing water consumption through conservation and pioneering potable reuse to exploring the use of water rights from an abandoned mine, Aurora has a proven track record of looking for creative, cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to meet its  water needs.

For more information on Aurora Water’s conservation and reuse initiatives, click this innovations link.

Wild Horse Reservoir Benefits

Wild Horse Reservoir will allow Aurora to better manage its water supply, helping protect against drought and improve operational efficiency. Its location minimizes impacts to streams and the environment. Initial studies have determined there are no jurisdictional wetlands or endangered species at the site.

The site has very favorable site topography, geology and environmental conditions. The depth of the lake will help minimize evaporative loss. 

Additionally, the reservoir will bring substantial economic benefits to Park County and the region.  Construction alone will provide significant financial benefits to the surrounding area. After the lake is complete, fishing, non-motorized boating and nature viewing will provide additional recreational and commercial opportunities to draw locals and visitors alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

What recreational facilities will be at Wild Horse Reservoir?
It's too early to know what recreation facilities will be at Wild Horse Reservoir, or even how these would be managed.

It appears from the map that several county roads will be impacted How will I get access to my private property?
While the map we display on our Fact Sheet and website is very preliminary, we will work with Park County on any road realignments.

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