Sterling Ranch selected as state’s first rainwater-capture site


The Colorado Water Conservation Board voted unanimously July 21 to name Sterling Ranch, a proposed water-efficient community south of Chatfield Reservoir, to become the state’s first rainwater harvesting pilot project.

Sterling Ranch’s innovative water conservation plan currently calls for using just one-third the water traditionally required in Douglas County — without relying on rainwater collection. With the rainwater pilot designation, Sterling Ranch will develop a new water source to be used for outside irrigation that could result in even more water supply savings.

“We are very excited about this pilot project,” said Geoff Blakeslee, chairman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, at the board meeting held in Salida.

Sterling Ranch estimates that at least half of the community’s outdoor irrigation demand can be met by capturing rainwater from storm drainage systems and rooftops in underground storage tanks or retention ponds and recycling it to water the community’s lawns, gardens and open space.

“This is a giant leap forward for water conservation,” said Harold Smethills, Sterling Ranch managing director. “It combines forward-thinking rainwater harvesting with Sterling Ranch’s vision for innovative water conservation. This has been done effectively in many other states and it’s time to put this water supply to use in Colorado as well.”

Smethills and his family made water conservation a top priority for Sterling Ranch from the start. During a decade of planning, the family grew passionate about the possibility of incorporating rainwater harvesting into their planned water conservation practices. Sterling Ranch was a key supporter of HB 1129, signed by Gov. Ritter in June, 2009, that permits 10 pilot residential developments to use rainwater collection systems.

“Sterling Ranch is an ideal pilot site,” said state Sen. Ted Harvey, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It’s the largest undeveloped parcel in water-challenged Douglas County, and its founders are committed to cutting-edge conservation methods to save Colorado’s most precious resource.”

A 2007 study commissioned by the water conservation board showed that on average in northwest Douglas County just 3 percent of annual rainwater actually reaches a stream. Ninety-seven percent either evaporates or is used by vegetation.

As part of the pilot project, Sterling Ranch’s data collection will measure the potential of rainwater harvesting as a supplemental water supply and will explore how the water supply could be developed without affecting senior water rights.

“We hope Sterling Ranch will be a model for future developments in Colorado by pairing rainwater harvesting with outdoor demand management to save more water than traditional conservation methods,” said Smethills. “Rainwater collection is a natural opportunity that fits with our vision and the community’s way of life.”

Sterling Ranch is a 3,400-acre proposed community in northwestern Douglas County that will create more than 4,000 permanent jobs at build-out, 1,000 construction jobs annually for 20 years, and a $411 million economic impact at completion. For more information, go to


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