Update on the Subsurface Irrigation Efficiency Project — United Water

Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM
Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

Here’s the release from the Subsurface Irrigation Efficiency Project (Brenna Wieker):

On a 165­acre plot of land, donated by United Water and Sanitation District President Bob Lembke, and located off of U.S. 34 and Weld County Road 63 a multi­million­ dollar project is underway that will point the way to improved efficiencies for both agriculture and municipal water users.

The Subsurface Irrigation Efficiency Project (SIEP) partners researchers from CSU with Jewish Colorado, Netafim, 70 Ranch, the Platte Water Development Authority and United Water and Sanitation District on a project inspired by the irrigation techniques used in Israel’s Negev Desert.

SIEP is the brainchild of Bob Lembke who found his inspiration for the project during a 2011 trip to Israel with Jewish Colorado.

“When I saw what they were able to do with far less, I was amazed and thought, ‘Why won’t this work here?’ This area continues to grow at a rapid pace and our current efforts to improve water efficiency and conservation just don’t work. This could be the solution to not only improve water efficiency, but also improve productivity, crop quality and overall profitability.”

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the agricultural sector of the economy reasonably consumes around 90 percent of available surface and ground water in the West. At the same time, Colorado’s Front Range municipalities are growing at a rapid pace and are expected to attract over one million new residents in the next few decades. Subsurface drip irrigation presents the opportunity for rural landowners, farmers and ranchers and municipal users to efficiently conserve and use one of Colorado’s most valuable resources.

SIEP utilizes a system perfected by Netafim where water, fertilizer and pesticides are supplied directly to the plant roots by polyethylene lines that are located 10­16 inches below the surface. Subsurface irrigation allows for better control of water resources and fertilizers and is more efficient than center pivots and furrow systems.

Phase one of SIEP consisted of a Netafim designed 82.5­acre parcel divided into 19 zones. Sorghum­sudangrass was selected as the first year’s crop for the entirety of that parcel and yielded 297 bales at a combined weight of over 215 tons from a single cutting Construction of a new research building will be completed in early spring, this building will be used as an office for the CSU Researchers and will operate as an educational facility for farmers, students and public who wish to learn more about drip irrigation. The SIEP research facility will provide a real­time demonstration of subsurface irrigation and the water savings the technology can bring to residential lawns.

If you would like to learn more about SIEP please visit our new website http://www.siepwater.com.

USGS: Acid Rain Effects on Forest Soils begin to Reverse

Coal fired plant
Coal fired plant

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey:

Soil acidification from acid rain that is harmful to plant and aquatic life has now begun to reverse in forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, according to an American-Canadian collaboration of five institutions led by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The new research shows that these changes are strongly linked to acid rain decreases, although some results differ from expected responses.

“Reduced acid rain levels resulting from American and Canadian air-pollution control measures have begun to reverse soil acidification across this broad region,” said Gregory Lawrence, a USGS soil and water chemist and lead author. “Prior to this study, published research on soils indicated that soil acidification was worsening in most areas despite several decades of declining acid rain. However, those studies relied on data that only extended up to 2004, whereas the data in this study extended up to 2014. ”

As acid rain acidifies soils, it depletes soil calcium reserves, which are important in preventing the formation of aluminum that is toxic to plants and aquatic life. Calcium is also a nutrient essential for healthy ecosystems. Results of this study show that soils are no longer being depleted of calcium and that toxic aluminum levels have substantially decreased.

The uppermost soil layers have shown a strong recovery response, but deeper layers are actually increasing in aluminum, which suggests further acidification. However, this may be part of the recovery process as aluminum moves downward in the soil to be stored in a non-toxic form.

“The start of widespread soil recovery is a key step to remedy the long legacy of acid rain impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,” according to Lawrence.

The results were obtained by resampling soils that had been originally sampled eight to 24 years earlier. The collaboration among the USGS, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, University of Maine, Canadian Forest Service and the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, was developed through the Northeast Soil Monitoring Cooperative, a group of scientists focused on how soils are responding to our rapidly changing environment.

The study is available online.

The latest climate briefing from Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

Click here to read the current assessment. Here’s an excerpt:

Latest Monthly Briefing – November 12, 2015


  • October saw wetter-than-average conditions over most of Utah and Colorado, while dry conditions prevailed for most of Wyoming. Temperatures were extremely warm for the month across all three states.
  • The seasonal snowpack is off to a slow start in mountain areas in northern Utah and most of Wyoming. Snowpack conditions in Colorado, southern and eastern Utah, and southeastern Wyoming are near normal to well above normal.
  • El Niño conditions have strengthened further by some indicators, but this event is likely near its peak. The El Niño event is very likely to continue through the spring, with varying influences on weather across the region.
  • Upper Colorado River Basin October 2015 precipitation as a percent of Normal via the Colorado Climate Center
    Upper Colorado River Basin October 2015 precipitation as a percent of Normal via the Colorado Climate Center

    New-found attention to #AnimasRiver health called ‘silver lining’

    A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
    A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Not wanting to let attention waiver on the need to improve water quality in the Animas River watershed, key stakeholders on Sunday held an informational open house at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

    “If there is a silver lining, it’s that now there is all this awareness concerning the health of the river,” said Ann Oliver of the Animas Watershed Partnership.

    Oliver’s concentration has been monitoring the lower Animas, near the Colorado-New Mexico border. There, she told interested participants that the water is less affected by acid mine drainage. Instead, high levels of E. coli and other potentially dangerous nutrients pollute the river.

    “It’s not as visible an issue,” she said. “It doesn’t color the water. It’s not coming from a specific point source. So it’s hard to say, ‘Let’s fix this.’ But it’s an issue we need to keep working on.”

    Priscilla Sherman has been in Durango full-time for eight years, but has lived in and around the area since 1972. She was well-aware of mine contamination before the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine blowout.

    “I used to hike all around Silverton, and for years wondered what the heck was coming out,” she said. “I’ve been very interested in the health and future of the Animas River, and I’ve become more knowledgeable with real facts. I’m really happy to see there continues to be a movement to be proactive in the cleanup.”

    A major step in that direction is the push from the San Juan Clean Water Coalition to provide stronger legal protection for local groups that look to address mine drainage, known as the good Samaritan law.

    “The question now is what to do post-spill,” said Ty Churchwell, a campaign coordinator for the coalition and coordinator for Trout Unlimited. He added that a good Samaritan law would offer an alternative to a Superfund listing.

    However, Kristine Johnson, a member of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, took her Sunday afternoon to seek answers why stakeholders are opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazardous cleanup program.

    “I’d like to know who are all the members (of the Animas River Stakeholders Group) and why they’re so reluctant to do Superfund,” Johnson said. “I realized two years ago the Stakeholders’ mission was to stave off Superfund, and it’s very unclear why.”

    Babbitt says conservation starts with conversation at local level — The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Bruce Babbitt is a former governor of Arizona who served as secretary of the Interior from 1993 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. Since, Babbitt has become a vocal proponent of protecting significant landscapes in the West and is a board member of Conservation Lands Foundation. On Tuesday, he sat down with The Durango Herald…

    Q: In 2013, you were critical of President Barack Obama’s conservation work. Has that changed in recent years as he finishes out his final term?

    A: It has changed enormously. The president, to his credit, has awakened to Western land conservation. He is doing an excellent job. The area we’re concerned about, national monuments, protecting (Bureau of Land Management) land, he’s issued a series of remarkable proclamations all across the West.

    Q: From your experience with past presidents, what do you think changed?

    A: He has awakened. When a president is newly elected, they don’t campaign on these issues. They campaign on health care and foreign policy. There is a process of discovering these other issues in the course of a presidential term. Clinton was the same way. In that last term, a lot happened. I think that’s sort of a typical kind of route. Some of it surely is a president thinking about their legacy.

    Q: What are your thoughts on Obama’s new greenhouse gas emission regulations, the Clean Power Plan?

    A: It is the most important step forward. It is a really important step to deal with global warming.

    Q: So you are on the record for believing in global warming? Do I have that correct?

    A: Well, I don’t want to go too far in this interview.

    Q: Do you think the current presidential debates give enough attention to the issue of land conservation?

    A: No. It’s not being talked about enough. President Obama has begun a national discussion about climate change. I think it will show up in the national campaign. It’s such an overwhelming apocalyptic threat to our entire national future. I think it will be the debate.

    Q: You’ve taken a hard stance on public resistance to federal management, such as the Clive Bundy standoff. Where do you think that resentment for the federal government in the West comes from?

    A: There has always been in the West a certain kind of resentment of the federal government. It’s always been there. I come from a five-generation ranching family. When Teddy Roosevelt came to Arizona and said he was going to make a national monument around the Grand Canyon where my family ranched, my grandfather led the opposition.

    And now, a few generations later, my relatives are all saying, “We were out there with Teddy when all these great things happened.” There’s just a kind of independence about Westerns on the land. We don’t want anybody from Washington here.

    But it’s changing. Colorado has changed a great deal. There is real support for conservation. I was part of a couple monument proposals in Colorado, and they all had tremendous support. But Utah is still kind of like my family was in Arizona.

    Q: In trying to preserve lands, how do you bridge that gap?

    A: Start a discussion at the local level. Get everyone in. Talk, communicate, listen and try to isolate what the issues are. You have to get away from ideology and to a discussion out on the ground.

    Q: What, in your opinion, are the major issues facing the West?

    A: One is working with the BLM as an institution for conversation. The BLM is the biggest land agency of them all, and never had a strong conservation program.

    Only in the last generation we have begun to open our eyes to the reality of the arid landscapes of the west, which are mostly BLM. We have finally begun to awaken to the importance of it, and that has to be worked on because government agencies respond to the people. That’s the reason local engagement is so important.

    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org
    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

    Drainage district sends out notices of impending fees — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries -- Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
    Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries — Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Several thousand Mesa County businesses and governments received notices this week of the bills they will get in January from the Grand Valley Drainage District.

    Many of them promptly put in calls to the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which as it happens has scheduled a roundtable on Friday with the district about those very fees.

    “It’s a job-killer,” chamber President Diane Schwenke said of the district’s plans.

    Actually, said Tim Ryan, general manager for the district, the bills were tailored to be “palatable, but still generate revenue” the district needs to manage storm water.

    While the chamber doesn’t question the need to control storm water filling the district’s pipes and ditches, the district’s plans for fees are an unnecessary damper on an already struggling local economy, Schwenke said.

    While some businesses might be able to absorb the fees, for many others the costs will be significant, Schwenke said.

    “They’re solving a problem by creating a problem,” Schwenke said.

    The drainage district this summer put in motion plans to collect a $3-per-month base fee on the more than 44,000 tax parcels within its boundaries, and a $500-per-unit impact fee on new development. The $3 fee is based on parcels containing 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — which describes most of the affected residential parcels.

    The fee schedule, however, makes no accommodation for large properties.

    The biggest bill, for $14,000, will go to Halliburton, Ryan said, who noted that when the company received notification, it starting making arrangements for payment.

    Many of the 100 most-substantial bills will go to companies with headquarters outside the county, so, “We’re actually bringing in outside money and hiring local people to do the construction,” Ryan said.

    A major problem is that the $500 fee on new construction could damper business expansion, said Schwenke, who contends that the district should look at how other communities are collecting storm water fees.

    The district’s fees, however, are minor in comparison with water, sewer and traffic fees, Ryan said.

    It’s difficult to offer reduced fees to businesses or other entities with large, impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, because the size of the surfaces contributes to the runoff issues the district is trying to control, Ryan said.

    The chamber is hosting a business roundtable from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday at Ute Water Conservancy District’s office, 2190 H 1/4 Road, to discuss the drainage district fees.

    Get Involved: The Bureau Of Land Management’s Eastern Colorado Plan — Elevation Outdoors

    From Elevation Outdoors (Kirsten Dobroth):

    Currently, the Bureau of Land Management is drafting a plan to dictate how this land, and many other areas scattered throughout Eastern Colorado totaling 668,000 acres and 6.8 million acres of BLM managed mineral estate, will be used in the decades to come. As diverse as it is extensive, the area constituting this massive acreage stretches from Cañon City to Leadville, and encompasses plains as well as high alpine terrain. Land use plans take years to draft, and create a guideline for decisions about land use within the given area for at least twenty years. Land allocation decided in the drafting process for the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, or the Eastern Colorado RMP, will create a guide for decisions about conservation, recreation, grazing, energy development, transmission lines, logging- pretty much anything the land could and would be used for. With a growing population, and many interested parties that include environmentalists, recreationalists, ranchers, miners, and the oil and gas industry, the Bureau of Land Management has the enormous task of creating a plan that falls within the framework of the law, while also meeting everyone’s needs.

    The Process

    However arduous this may seem, the drafting process for the BLM’s Eastern Colorado RMP isn’t shrouded in layers of bureaucracy as one might assume. In fact, the BLM is launching a new format for this process, dubbed Planning 2.0, which promotes transparency, and heavily depends on public involvement. Members of the Royal Gorge Field Office, which is in charge of the Resource Management Plan, explained that much of Planning 2.0 hinges on public input, and that because of the length and scale of the drafting process (land use plans typically take anywhere from 4-8 years to put together), they have organized both recreation focus groups and envisioning meetings with the purpose of asking participants, “What do you want from your public lands?” Resource Management Plan Project Lead, John Smeins, explained that the drafting process the BLM will be using for Eastern Colorado aims to keep the public in touch with BLM officials. “The new process of Planning 2.0 creates more of a conversation between us and the public. This land use plan really affects everyone, whether they know it or not, and we want to get everyone involved in creating it,” he said. In this sense, the revised land use drafting process seeks to decrease the time between plan revisions, and keep the comment period open as well.

    Outside Influence

    Other groups around Colorado are also using the drafting process as an opportunity to get the public engaged in decisions that will affect the land that many live and play on for years to come. Conservation Colorado and Wild Connections both have had a hand in getting people involved in the Eastern Colorado RMP discussion. John Sztukowski, of Wild Connections, has been involved with the project for over two years, and has helped to increase advocacy for land preservation by helping the BLM take inventory of land with wilderness characteristics. “It’s a huge project, and they’re really receptive to feedback,” he said. Sztukowksi helped make the case for nearly 250,000 acres of land with wilderness characteristics that is being considered in the drafting process from the BLM’s original inventory of 77,000 acres. “They [the BLM] often find discrepancies between current land use and previous inventory, and they appreciate outside input in the process of drawing up a plan for land use.” While the BLM will also have to accommodate for industrial use along with conservation, Sztukowksi hopes that much of the inventory he has mapped out will help preserve wildlife habitat and recreation outlets for future generations of Coloradans.

    Conservation Colorado has similarly taken a proactive role in assisting the BLM with a public use plan that balances environmental protection with development and private use. Scott Braden, Conservation Colorado’s Wilderness Advocate and Policy Lead, explained the importance of public awareness and involvement in the drafting process for Eastern Colorado’s RMP as pivotal, as it guides land use in an area that is heavily trafficked by the Front Range for the next two decades. “The land in the Eastern Colorado RMP is pretty extensive as it goes from southeastern Colorado all the way up towards Leadville, and encompasses the Arkansas River headwaters. As more and more people from around the state use this land each year, it’s important to put together a plan that balances recreation, preservation, and more extractive uses,” he explained.

    What do you want from your public lands?

    The common thread between all of the parties involved in developing the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan is the importance and value of public input. Although the BLM has been proactive in organizing meetings for members of the public to have their voices heard over proposed land use, the numbers turning out for the meetings has oftentimes been disappointing. Scott Braden, of Conservation Colorado, similarly echoed the sentiment that many people who use the land avidly for recreation are unaware of the land use plan being drafted, even if it directly implicates land on which they regularly hunt, fish, or hike. While groups like Wild Connections has been organizing hikes to familiarize people with some of the areas this land use plan will affect, the biggest way to have an impact is to directly get in touch with the Bureau of Land Management.

    “The purpose of restructuring the drafting process is to encourage more people to get involved with decisions about the future of their public lands, ” explained Kalem Lenard, the project’s Outdoor Recreation Planner, “This is a long term vision for a large area of Colorado, and public input is so important for us to create a vision that people are happy with.”

    Get involved by contacting the Bureau of Land Management’s Royal Gorge Field Office.


    Reclamation Releases a Draft Environmental Assessment for Piping the Zanni Lateral of the Crawford Clipper Ditch

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Jenny Ward):

    The Bureau of Reclamation announced today that it has released a draft environmental assessment on the Zanni Lateral of the Crawford Clipper Ditch located in Delta County, Colorado.

    The project would replace approximately 1.7 miles of open irrigation ditch with buried water pipeline. The purpose of the project is to improve the efficiency of water delivery to canal users and reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Basin.

    The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/envdocs/index.html, or a copy can be received by contacting Jenny Ward at 970-248-0651 or jward@usbr.gov.

    Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Comments can be submitted by email to lmcwhirter@usbr.gov or by mailing Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Friday, December 11, 2015.

    Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
    Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Report: Western Water Threatened by Wildfire — American Forest Foundation


    Click here to read the report. Click here to go the website.

    Here’s the release from the American Forest Foundation:

    Amid record drought and a record wildfire season in the West, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) today released a new report that reveals private and family landowners offer a solution to helping ensure that clean water in the West is protected from future catastrophic wildfires.

    The report Western Water Threatened by Wildfire: It’s Not Just a Public Lands Issue, shows that across 11 Western states, 40 percent, or 13.5 million acres, of the forests and other lands that help protect clean water and that are at a high risk of catastrophic wildfire are private and family-owned.

    In addition to revealing this new information, the report also includes findings from a West-wide survey of family landowners that show these landowners want to do the right thing and are motivated to take action that will reduce the risk of wildfire and help protect clean water in their forests. However, what prevents most, is the high cost of implementing management actions.

    The report also includes a series of recommendations to help landowners overcome this obstacle, including increased engagement and outreach to private and family landowners to help provide both financial and technical help, policy solutions that fix how wildfire is budgeted for at the federal level and that encourage cross-boundary action, and increased market opportunities to utilize private sector strategies to reduce costs of management actions.

    “The four-year drought, plus a record-breaking wildfire season has made protecting clean water an urgent and pressing problem in the West,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation. “Private and family landowners are ready to act and now, and we need to do everything possible to empower them to ensure that wildfires don’t hurt this limited resource that is vital to all Americans.”

    Approximately 64 million Westerners depend on surface water that comes from forests and other lands for their clean drinking water. These lands store water, replenish streams and rivers, and filter pollutants from the water. When catastrophic wildfires burn these lands, they bake the ground, destroying this natural storage and filtration system and creating a hard-packed layer. This causes soil, debris and other pollutants to runoff during the next rain storm, which compromises water quality. Protecting this clean water supply requires action to reduce wildfire risks on public, private, and family lands.

    “Today’s report underscores the urgent need for action to address the runaway growth of fire suppression costs, which continues to erode the Forest Service’s capacity to mobilize resources to reduce fire risk and restore the health and resiliency of the nation’s forests so that we can prevent fires in the first place,” USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie said. “The most important step Congress can take to confront the ever-increasing percentage of the Forest Service budget dedicated to wildfire is to pass the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.”

    “Being forest stewards and responsible landowners is very important to forest owners like myself,” said Scott Hayes, a woodland owner near Forest Grove, west of Portland. ”We want to protect our families, our homes, our property and the natural resources like clean water that make Oregon so special. We do what we can, but many need financial and technical support to implement good forest management.”

    Contact: Elizabeth Bender; ebender@forestfoundation.org; (202) 253-1096

    Third Annual Poudre River Forum, “Cultivating Connnections,” Friday, Feb 5, 2016


    SAVE THE DATE! Friday, Feb 5, 2016

    Next year, the Third Annual Poudre River Forum with the theme “Cultivating Connnections” moves to a weekday following up on the recommendations from the 2015 evaluations. We will return to The Ranch in Loveland.

    Participants can look forward to an emphasis on water for agriculture with a panel facilitated by Luke Runyon from Harvest Media/KUNC. Also featured will be a panel of ecologists and engineers exploring how river infrastructure can be planned and/or managed to meet both human and ecological goals, with Coloradoan journalist, Kevin Duggan, facilitating. We’ll enjoy lunch together and finish our day with Odell brews, other refreshments, and bluegrass music from Blue Grama.

    More program details and registration information coming in early December.

    We are actively seeking sponsorships for this self-sustaining community event. If your company or institution is interested in this opportunity to show that they value bringing diverse voices and concerns together to learn about the Poudre River, please review the attached Sponsorship Letter and Form.

    We welcome your inquiries at PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com.

    Check out the updated CSU website for Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group (PRTI), which facilitates the Poudre River Forum. And “Like” PRTI on Facebook – thanks!

    “My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs” — Liesel Hans

    Tap water via Wikimedia
    Tap water via Wikimedia

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Thirteen gallons: It’s the volume of a standard kitchen trash bag, a 6-minute shower or a little more than a full tank of gas for a compact car.

    And it’s the crux of Fort Collins Utilities’ vision for the city’s water use come 2030.

    Average daily water use was 143 gallons per person in 2014. Utilities wants to reduce that to 130 gallons per person, a 9 percent cut, over the next 15 years.

    The water saved would fill 2 1/2 Olympic-size swimming pools in just a year…

    Conservation strategies laid out in a document released this month could affect your water bill, your lawn or even your toilet. And utilities staff hope a wide range of methods will prepare the community for inevitable dry spells in a semi-arid region vulnerable to unpredictable climate patterns.

    “My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs,” said Liesel Hans, water conservation program manager with Fort Collins Utilities. “There’s a lot of ways to fit our goal, and it doesn’t have to be a one size fits all.”

    Utilities is seeking feedback on its water efficiency plan update through Jan. 15. After resident and City Council review, the department will start making changes on a rolling basis in the coming months and years.

    There are some big goals in the plan update, including:

    • Requiring more efficient plumbing and irrigation fixtures for re-developed homes and businesses.
    • Changing water rates to encourage conservation.
    • Increasing use of the online “Monitor My Use” tool, which shows users how much water they’re using on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. This helps customers see what time of day they’re using the most, among other features.
    • Revamping and spreading the Xeriscape Incentive Program, which pays residents to re-do their lawns with plants that conserve water.
    • Offering more rebates to businesses that conserve water.
    • Providing more education to increase community water literacy.

    The strategies and their timelines are purposely vague because the department wants to hear what people think of them before deciding which ones to implement. And the plan targets residential and business use because both make up gluttonous portions of the water-use pie: Businesses account for 39 percent of water use in the district; homes account for 47 percent.

    Utilities will “look at a wide range of options” for changing rates, Hans said, which could include changing the fixed rate, the variable rates or both…

    Graphs of Fort Collins Utilities’ water demand over time tell a gripping story. Demand increased steadily as more people and businesses moved in during the 1990s. By 2000, the city was using more than 200 gallons per person per day to meet an annual demand of more than 10 billion gallons. That level of demand would fill Horsetooth Reservoir in about five years.

    Then came the 2002 drought. Some people, including then-Gov. Bill Owens, called it Colorado’s worst drought in 350 years.

    Fort Collins saw about 9 inches of rain that year, about 6 inches less than normal.

    The historic drought got the city thinking about water conservation, Hans said. It wasn’t long before the utilities department switched to a “conservation-oriented” rate structure, so people who use more water pay a higher rate.

    That change and other conservation efforts have helped the department cut use per person and in total. In 2014, annual demand was about 7 billion gallons, a 30 percent reduction from 2000 demand even as the city’s population swelled by 25 percent.

    But progress has plateaued, Hans said, so her department hopes new methods — and a goal more ambitious than the original 2030 target of 140 gallons per person each day — will help galvanize next-level conservation.

    A lot of the strategies involve building on existing programs that identify water leaks in homes, show residents how to more efficiently water their lawns, set efficiency goals for businesses and teach children and adults why water conservation matters.

    Conservation fans say the 2030 water use goal is made more achievable by what seems to be an ingrained value for many in Fort Collins.

    “We live in a semi-arid desert,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Water Conservancy District — the agency that facilitates close to one-third of Fort Collins Utilities’ water supply.

    “From Day 1, settlers realized you had to supplement what Mother Nature gave you if you wanted to grow crops. We were very conservation-oriented from the get-go.”

    Julie Kallenberger, water education and outreach specialist for Colorado State University’s Water Center, added Colorado’s headwaters state status fosters more of a conservation-oriented mindset.

    “Water becomes more of a topic because people understand how important it is,” she said. “I came here in ’02, and I immediately noticed it.”

    Water efficiency plan

    You can find the Fort Collins Utilities water efficiency plan at http://www.fcgov.com/utilities/residential/conserve/water-efficiency/water-efficiency-plan.

    Flexible water sharing [water banking] reduces risk in dry times — Jon Stavney

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Jon Stavney):

    “Water banking” is an emerging term in western Colorado as water planners work on concepts to protect water supplies in the face of long-term drought, increasing demand and the uncertainties of a changing climate.

    Simply put, water banking is a voluntary, market-based tool that could facilitate water transactions between willing sellers and buyers. Water right owners, who are willing to free up some of their water in a particularly dry year or years, would temporarily lease it to those who simply can’t afford to be without water.

    Also known as water sharing, it is one mechanism that could address the needs and concerns of agriculture, cities and the environment in advance of a crisis. It can add predictability and certainty for users of Colorado River water in unpredictable times. It may also enable agricultural water right owners to realize the value of their senior rights without outright selling those rights.

    Perhaps most importantly, water banking could be employed to avoid a crisis should declining Colorado River water supplies force a curtailment of uses either because of low reservoir levels at Lakes Powell and Mead, or under water curtailment requirements to meet Colorado River Compact obligations.

    The elevation of Lake Powell is a critical indicator of water availability in the Colorado River Basin. The reservoir helps manage water deliveries to the Lower Basin and generates more than 4,200 megawatts of electricity. The reservoir elevation is now around 3,612 feet, just 53 percent full. “Minimum Power Pool” in the reservoir is about 3,500 feet of elevation. Below that level, Lake Powell can no longer generate hydropower.

    Lake Powell elevations also impact the reservoir’s ability to release water downstream, which in turn may threaten the Upper Basin’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact to provide for a minimum delivery of water from Colorado and its sister Upper Basin states to the Lower Basin. Should continuing drought jeopardize our ability to meet that obligation, the Upper Basin states could be forced to cut off water uses in Colorado in order to honor our commitments under the compact. In the face of such scenarios, water banking allows us to manage our water more flexibly in advance of a crisis.

    Colorado’s water bank effort is being led by the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Front Range Water Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The goal of this collaboration is to avoid agricultural dry up on the West Slope while minimizing risk for all Colorado River water users. The group seeks to develop solutions that strike a balance between urban, agricultural and environmental needs and sees water banking as an excellent tool to do that.

    While we all hope for the best as the record drought in the Western states prolongs, there is an increasing urgency to be prepared for the worst. To be ready for whatever comes, we must consider all possible methods to prevent water shortages. Casting a wide net for solutions yields diverse and effective ways to meet the many possible challenges ahead of us and increases the likelihood that Colorado is prepared if a crisis similar to what California is currently experiencing occurs here. Whether it’s clean water for your kitchen tap, for your crops and animals, or for rivers and streams, this uncertainty affects us all.

    To best address the water challenges before us, awareness is key. First, we must fully recognize the urgency at hand. A few months of welcome rain this year did not change the overall trajectory of the Colorado River supplies. Second, we must act in collaboration — communities, water managers, farmers and conservation groups developing solutions together. The best plans will benefit from input from a diversity of voices. Farmers and communities especially need to get involved to ensure that any new water programs are in their best interests. We all must be part of the solution.

    We will need a smart range of options to reduce water use in the region on a temporary basis to help get through critical dry times. As we forge into an unknown future, water banking emerges as one of the most promising components in Colorado’s portfolio of options to better manage our limited water resources.

    Jon Stavney is president of the Board of Directors, Colorado River District and a member of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality/ Quantity Committee.

    Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall
    Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall