Here’s the latest installment of their Colorado Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier (Rio De La Vista). Here’s an excerpt:
The value of water is rising along with Colorado’s population, increasing demands for limited water supplies. One of the key roles of water managers and communities is to better understand where, when and how water is used, and to try to figure out how to meet those many needs as sustainably as possible.
Over many decades of water “development” to meet such needs, people have built systems and infrastructure to expand their ability to use water. These range from the vast system of reservoirs, canals and ditches to wells, irrigation sprinklers and drip systems that have been built to deliver water for ranch and farm operations to the wells, storage, pipelines, treatment plants and other systems that deliver clean water for municipal and industrial needs.
Within the current statewide conversation about water planning, these agricultural, industrial and municipal uses are referred to as “consumptive” uses. However, even within these consumptive uses, not necessarily all the water that is stored, diverted and/or delivered is actually “used” or fully consumed in the process. In many cases, some of that water may return to the system and be available to be used again.
Consumptive use of water in agriculture is measured (for management and legal purposes) by the amount used by the plants grown, and again, not all of the water applied to the land is actually “consumed.” For example, some of the water that flows across an irrigated meadow is used by the plants there, which serve as pasture or hay for livestock. But not all of the water applied is consumed, and some of it may flow into lower areas, creating wetlands and habitat for wildlife; and some of it may return to the river as well, sustaining flows to some degree and being available to the next user, some seeps into the ground recharging the aquifer, and so on.
This leads to another defined set of water uses that are every bit as vital to the “water is life” concept. Water uses for or by the environment and recreation are called, in the water vernacular, “non-consumptive” uses. These uses also don’t fit neatly into categories, as the environment, from the highest forests which take the first “drink” of the melting snow in the spring, to the wetland plants (that provide food and habitat to the multitude of ducks, geese, cranes and other birds and wildlife that rely upon them) do actually consume some water to grow too, like any other plant.
A healthy environment can provide all kinds of important “services” to people, from storing water in natural settings, recharging aquifers, purifying water to mitigating floods, to name a few. At the same time, there are many factors across the landscape that people can also affect profoundly, which can help the environment help us too. From good grazing management to building soil health on farms, management practices can help nature better stretch limited water supplies further as well.
More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.