By Denver Business Journal

The proposed, $4.3 billion Sterling Ranch community in Douglas County will get the stateâ¿¿s first rainwater harvesting pilot project, ranch developers said Wednesday.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board in Salida unanimously picked Sterling Ranch, which includes 3,400 acres, to have one of 10 such projects. The ranch will collect rainwater, from storm drainage systems and rooftops, and keep it in underground storage tanks or retention ponds. The water will be recycled for lawns, gardens and open space at the community.

⿿This is a giant leap forward for water conservation,⿝ Harold Smethills, principal at Sterling Ranch LLC and the project⿿s managing director, said in a statement. ⿿It combines forward-thinking rainwater harvesting with Sterling Ranch⿿s vision for innovative water conservation.

Making sure Sterling Ranch has adequate water has been controversial. Project developers say they expect to have access to all the water they will need in the near future from sources such as the Platte River, reservoirs to be built on the property, Denver Water and the rainwater-capture project.

But some officials at the City of Littleton thought the Sterling Ranch principals were interested in possible annexation of their project by the city early this year, largely because they want water from Littleton. The projectâ¿¿s developers, who said they were more interested in sharing the cityâ¿¿s sewer plant, subsequently withdrew their annexation application at the end of March.

The rainwater pilot project is part of the 2009 Colorado Legislatureâ¿¿s House Bill 1129, signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter last June. The legislation permits 10 rainwater collection systems to be developed.

Smethills and his developer wife, Diane Smethills, as well as her brother, Jack Hoagland, are spearheading the mixed-use, sustainable Sterling Ranch project. The developers envision it including several types of residences in themed villages, plus sports facilities, retail space, hotels, restaurants and schools.

The new development has been in the works for several years, but has not yet started construction. The Sterling Ranch partners applied for zoning in 2009, and said this spring they hope to get it by 2011, so that homebuilding can start next year.

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