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Aurora's Prairie Waters system - Expanding drinking water supply through potable reuse & multi-barrier treatment process

Aurora, CO, USA
Aurora Water

Government Champion

Aurora Water


638 Million USD

Project Status

Operational since 2010

At a Glance

Prairie Waters is a sustainable and innovative potable reuse system that will help meet the needs of a growing city for decades. The system uses both natural cleansing processes and state-of-the-art purification technology to deliver up to 10 million gallons per day.

Problem Addressed

Aurora averages 15 inches of precipitation annually and is expected to double its population in the next 40 years. This will require additional water resources to meet demand. Aurora has a diverse water system, using three river basins and over 180 miles of pipes, tunnels and rivers to move water into the city. Colorado experienced an extreme drought from 2002-03 that resulted in Aurora having less than 9 months of water in storage. Aurora Water looked at 54 scenarios that could quickly provide additional water in future droughts. Potable water reuse was the logical choice. Aurora’s water supply is reliant on pristine mountain sources. To ensure water quality, an innovative multibarrier process is used to remove substances such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, commonly found in rivers that contain cleansed water from reclamation facilities. Cost and timing were a concern, but Prairie Waters was designed and built in 5 years, requiring no federal permits and coming in over $100 million under projections.

Aurora Water used/is using potable reuse technologies (with extensive community engagement!) to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Aurora is a growing community in an arid environment. The easy solutions for water in Colorado are gone, yet continued economic growth requires a sustainable and dependable water supply. Reuse is a unique solution since the more water a city uses, the more it can reuse. Aurora residents and businesses have embraced water conservation as a way of life, so the acceptance of the ultimate conservation effort, Prairie Waters, has been extremely high. Since the system came online in 2010, there has not been a single water quality concern that has been tied directly to this water source. Prairie Waters has also become the backbone for a regional water sharing solution called the WISE Partnership. Both Aurora Water and Denver Water provide reuse water to 10 communities in the south metro area that have been dependent on non-renewable sources. WISE reduces this dependency, and provides Aurora a revenue stream to help mitigate the costs of construction, operations and system expansion, resulting in rate stability for Aurora Water customers.


  1. 10 million gallons per day of additional clean, high-quality drinking water.
  2. Provides a revenue stream through the regional WISE Partnership that helps stabilize water rates.
  3. System is fully expandable to 50 million gallons per day.
  4. Construction was tightly managed through a contractor/city team philosophy that resulted in 0.6% change order, with final cost of $638 million vs. $753 million projection.
  5. No water quality complaints from customers accustomed to a very high-quality water source.

Something Unique

Even with a 34 mile pipeline to move water from the South Platte River to Aurora, no federal permits were required. Wetlands and sensitive wildlife areas were avoided, and pipes were tunneled under Waters of the US to avoid this nexus.

Who Should Consider?

All communities facing water shortages or water quality concerns could benefit from the multi-barrier water treatment approach used, which remove substances such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

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