Preventing Water Pollution Starts in Your Backyard

Your Water Colorado Blog

USDAPhoto Credit: USDA

Agricultural runoff is a prominent source of excess nutrients in water sources, but this nonpoint source of water pollution can originate with excess fertilizer being used on urban landscapes as well.

On April 13, 2017, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education was joined by Steve Lundt with the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association for a webinar about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water. 

“[BMPs] apply to your own lawn, just as they do on a corn field in Weld County,” says Lundt. “Don’t [fertilize] before a storm event and do soil testing—you may not even need phosphorus to grow your lawn.”

Sam DeLongPhoto Credit: Sam DeLong

So, what can an urban lawn owner do when they want to grow a vibrant, healthy, lawn without contributing to nutrient pollution? The following blog post by American Turf & Tree Care discusses…

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Trout Unlimited hails Long Draw settlement and native trout benefits

From Colorado Trout Unlimited (Jeff Florence):

Agreement includes largest native trout restoration in Colorado history

The U.S. Forest Service this week finalized a litigation settlement that will allow the Water Supply and Storage Company, a northern Colorado ditch company, to continue to use Long Draw Reservoir on the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forests, and will launch a large-scale native trout restoration program for the Cache la Poudre river headwaters within the Forests, including the Neota and Comanche Peaks Wilderness Areas, as well as in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Completion of all project elements is expected to take more than 10 years, but when completed will provide for a connected “metapopulation” of trout across the watershed – the largest such restored native trout habitat in Colorado. The native trout restoration project will span more than 40 miles of connected river and multiple lakes, as well as Long Draw Reservoir itself. To protect the watershed from invasion by non-native species, fish barriers will be established on the Grand Ditch and on the mainstem Cache la Poudre below its confluence with La Poudre Pass Creek. Within the watershed, temporary barriers will also be installed to enable fishery biologists to complete restoration of native trout one section of the basin at a time. After installing temporary barriers, biologists will remove non-native fish from the upstream areas. Once the areas are confirmed to be free of non-native trout, they will be re-stocked with native greenback cutthroat trout. Work will be done in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Under the settlement, a trust will be established with $1.25 million from the Water Supply and Storage Company for purposes of funding these restoration activities. Colorado Trout Unlimited will serve as the Trustee, while the U.S. Forest Service will be the lead agency for project implementation.

David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, issued the following statement:

“The settlement finalized today is a great example of how open dialogue and a spirit of cooperation can yield conservation solutions. After years of litigation and debate, the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Water Supply and Storage Company, and Trout Unlimited have agreed to launch a collaborative restoration project for Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout, which will be the largest native trout restoration effort in Colorado history.

“Over the next decade, we will be restoring a true Colorado native to the Cache la Poudre headwaters in spectacular alpine wilderness within both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. The watershed will be a stronghold for native trout, helping secure this piece of Colorado’s natural heritage for generations to come.

“We are pleased that settlement efforts enabled all the parties to find a solution for the area’s natural resources that meets federal stewardship responsibilities, respects the operating needs and challenges of long-standing water users, and achieves meaningful benefits for Colorado’s environment and the millions of residents of and visitors to our state who enjoy it.”

Keith Amen, president of the Water Supply and Storage Company said:

“We are pleased to have concluded the terms necessary for us to obtain a thirty year easement agreement for the continued operation of Long Draw Reservoir, a very valuable resource that contributes a great deal to the local, state and national economies.”

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Watering down the war: How we may move forward on the issues of growth on the Front Range

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Rentsch):

More than 4 million acre-feet of water has left the state via the South Platte River since 2009, and in an arid environment like the Northern Front Range of the Rockies, a drop unused inside the state boundaries is considered a drop wasted – especially as the area grows in population and demand for water subsequently increases.

Experts say that the growth of Northern Front Range towns and cities will not be limited by physical access to water – the supply exists. What is up for debate is how we allocate the resource to provide a sustainable supply of water to meet both human and environmental needs.

One attempt to solve this problem is the Northern Integrated Supply Project, also known as NISP – a proposed water storage plan that has been in the stages of federal permitting and review since 2004. It may be the most famous – or, depending on who you ask, infamous – water project in the region…

On the surface, debate over the project seems to be gridlocked as participants wait for the final Environmental Impact Assessment to be complete. Discussion has stagnated over the basic question of whether the NISP project is in fact a dam on the Poudre.

However, at the heart of the debate are larger questions about how to manage growth on the Front Range without sacrificing the health of the region’s rivers and agricultural land.

“It’s really a deeper question of what do we want Northern Colorado to look like and how do we want to get there,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado State University Water Center and the Colorado Water Institute.

NISP basics

The current project plan calls for the building of two reservoirs: Glade in Larimer County and Galeton in Weld. Additionally, there would be a small reservoir for temporary storage near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, three pump plants and pipelines to deliver the water to the participants and updates to an existing small canal.

Designed to provide a reliable 40,000 acre-feet supply of water annually to the fifteen participating cities and water districts to meet needs through the year 2030. The project’s participant list includes the cities of Dacono, Eaton, Erie, Evans, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Frederick, Lafayette, Severance and Windsor; participating water districts are Central Weld County, Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand and Morgan County Quality. Per Northern Water’s estimates, these 11 towns and four districts serve about 240,000 residents in total.

In order to do this, Northern plans to divert water from the Poudre during wet periods of the year — under projected conditions, the June rise of the river would be considerably lower than ecologists say is healthy. Northern Water is working on a plan to abide by guidelines that will be set by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but what constitutes a healthy flow is up for debate.

“We’re willing to work on a flushing flow plan because we know it’s a big enough issue,” said Brian Werner, a public relations officer for Northern Water.

NISP was originally expected to cost $500 million; at this price, participants will pay about $12,500 per acre-foot of water they receive from the project. An equivalent amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson costs around $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot.

However, more recent changes to make the project plan more feasible and sustainable have pushed the estimated price up to around $800 million.

The project’s effects on the Poudre are of particular concern to ecologists.

“The Poudre … is a working river, and it’s been developed to meet human needs since the late 1800s,” said Leroy Poff, a doctor of aquatic ecology at CSU. “But it continues to function ecologically in the lives of the citizens of Fort Collins… Proposed future development of the Poudre presents strong challenges to sustaining the ecosystem that we have today.”

Planning the future of the Front Range

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs reports that population in Larimer and Weld counties is forecast to increase by 92 percent from 2015 to 2045, exceeding the 53 percent growth forecast in the statewide population. In addition to the increased municipal demand for water, this level of growth has been attributed as responsible for traffic problems, both local and statewide housing shortages, and increasingly unaffordable housing.

Despite the region experiencing a slight economic dip due to layoffs in the oil and gas industry as the price of oil lowered, the estimates of the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization say that employment in the region is projected to increase by 80 percent between 2010 and 2040.

The rising cost of living associated with these trends is causing people who hold jobs in metropolitan areas, but who cannot afford the high price tag of living within city limits, to move to smaller communities to take advantage of the more affordable sprawl. These ‘bedroom communities,’ as they’re termed, predominantly consist of residences, schools and churches and lack the commercial development that characterizes a healthy, balanced city.

“We’re pushing people who don’t have two good incomes out of Fort Collins because of growth,” Waskom said. “What happens is that growth is now occurring in those places that weren’t here (before) and developed water supplies early on in the game.”

Growth in these areas indicates that there is a lot of logistical work ahead for the various entities coordinating the region’s infrastructure. In addition to issues of water supply, there must also be planning to ensure adequate water quality, air quality and transportation to support the population. Numerous infrastructure improvement plans are in the works, but none have been as publicly contentious as NISP.

While some opponents of NISP say that stopping the project, and therefore limiting the supply of water available to these developing communities, might be a solution to curb growth, experts say that this is not the case. If absolutely no action is taken, agricultural water rights would be on the hook to make up the difference.

“I think it’s true and evident that water is probably not going to be what limits sprawl or growth in this area,” Waskom said. “It’s just got to come out of ag, and it comes out of the environment. Those are the two sectors that are at risk, and the economics of it are such that, as agriculture dries up and houses grow on top of what were cornfields, the economy grows. It doesn’t skip a beat.”


Some groups are seeking to transcend the back-and-forth over NISP by way of compromise.

Rather than depending on large new reservoirs and diversions, the nonprofit group, Western Resource Advocates, proposes an alternative plan with a diverse water supply portfolio. WRA’s ‘A Better Future for the Poudre River’ plan would, like NISP, provide 40,000 acre-feet of water to participants annually, but would utilize conservation, reuse, water transferred as a result of growth onto irrigated agricultural lands and voluntary agreements with agriculture.

The Poudre Runs Through It, a group of professionals facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, is looking at ways to bring together the diverse stakeholders on the river and to explore the continuing challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

“I think until we start to engage more people in that discussion and more groups in that discussion, this is going to be a real tough thing to crack,” said Kehmeier, who is also a member of The Poudre Runs Through It. “It’s going to take more of the water users on the system than just one to make this work.”

@GreeleyGov: Water & Sewer Annual Summer Tour, June 30, 2017

Click here to register and read about the event:

The Greeley Water & Sewer Board invites residents to this year’s facility tour to learn more about how water and sewer is treated, where the water comes from, and the various ways water is used. Residents will tour the Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF) and Boyd Lake facilities and learn about system exchanges, points of diversion, and non-potable systems. A light breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Those interested in attending should contact Ettie Arnold at 970-350-9812 before June 23. Space is limited.

Get more information about Greeley’s Water System at

@CFWEwater: Southwest Basin Tour June 13-14, 2017

Click here for the inside skinny about the tour from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:

Join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education for the Southwest Basin Tour, hosted in Colorado’s beautiful San Juan mountains June 13-14.

Tour attendees will visit sites up and down the San Miguel River, from Telluride to the confluence with the Dolores River, hearing from local water managers, city officials, conservation groups and business leaders about water management, economic development and collaborative restoration projects. Share a unique educational experience with other tour participants, which will include members of the Colorado legislative interim Water Resources Review Committee, and get an in-depth look at how the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan is being put into action.

Outdoor Water Use Is Where the Action Is — @DrewBeckwith @wradv

From Western Resource Advocates (Drew Beckwith):

Should we be watering lawns with our drinking water? As our water-strapped region seeks to balance growing populations in our cities with the needs of our world-class rivers, the future of urban water conservation efforts will increasingly be focused on outdoor water use.

Surface water from rivers and lakes provide the majority of drinking water supplies for communities across the West. As our communities grow and pull ever more water out of rivers and lakes, our precious water resources are put under increasing strain. Effective water conservation efforts can reduce that strain, and there is an interesting shift currently underway in the focus of water conservation efforts.

The future of urban water conservation efforts will increasingly be focused on outdoor water use. All that treated drinking water used to irrigate our front lawns is going to come under increasing scrutiny as our water-strapped region seeks to balance growing populations in our cities with the needs of our world-class rivers.

The indoor side of water conservation has recently seen advances with changes to state law and local plumbing codes. Several Western states, including California and Colorado, have recently adopted new laws that limit the sale of indoor fixtures (think toilets, faucets, and showerheads) to only those that are EPA WaterSense® certified – which use 20% less water than currently required by federal regulations. And several communities on the local level in Arizona, and in other states, have adopted similar regulations that apply to all new development, too. So while more certainly needs to be done to expedite the replacement of old fixtures, the good news is that all new fixture options are more water efficient.

The other good news on the indoor side is that most all indoor water use goes down into the sewers and back to a treatment plant, where it has the potential to be put to use again! That water can be recycled to irrigate landscapes, or used for industrial cooling, or perhaps treated to the highest possible standards and used to supplement drinking water supplies – something called potable reuse. All to say that indoor water use stays in “the system” and can be put to other purposes. So reducing indoor use in a system that is fully recycling all its wastewater has the potential for diminishing returns on investment.

By contrast, outdoor water use does not go back to the local river system…it gets used up by plants and evaporated into the air. Wasteful outdoor use is often visible (who hasn’t seen sprinklers watering the sidewalk!?) but can also be often invisible too, like through over-watering landscapes in the spring and fall. Hence the need to prioritize, in particular, on outdoor water conservation efforts.

This isn’t a new focus for some communities – Southern California spent $350 million dollars replacing turf grass with more water-smart landscaping during the drought these past few years; Las Vegas will pay you $2 per square foot to rip out turf grass; and communities across Colorado offer discounts for homebuilders who plant water-smart landscapes for new residents.

And I’m not the only one who thinks prioritizing outdoor water use reductions is important. I recently had an interview with John Fleck. Fleck is the Director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program. Prior to that he was a reporter for over 25 years with the Albuquerque Journal focusing on the interface between science, politics, and policy. Most recently, he authored “Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West.” In this interview, Fleck shared:

Beckwith: Do you have a hunch on whether additional savings are going to be more from indoor, outdoor, business, or behavioral water conservation actions?

Fleck: I think the most important piece is outdoor because that’s where the consumptive use (water that ‘leaves’ the system) is. If you’re being clever, and all these cities are, your indoor water use goes down the sewer pipe to a sewage treatment plant, and then that water is available for re-use. With wastewater reuse, indoor conservation is going to be less important. Indoor conservation is going to keep happening partly because the technology keeps getting better. The toilets use less and less water. The showerheads use less and less water.

But outdoor conservation, that consumptive fraction on the garden, is really where the action is. You see this evolution, especially in a place like Albuquerque and water-stressed communities in Southern California, where movement toward a much more xeric landscape is inevitable. That’s where your biggest savings are and that is, in significant part, a cultural shift and a change in people’s attitudes towards their water supply. There is a realization that we do live in a desert and we don’t need a Kentucky bluegrass lawn and tons of trees in our yard. We are going to shift in that direction. There’s still a lot of room to go.

In this conversation, Fleck also had a lot of other interesting things to say about water use in Arizona and the challenges facing the Colorado River. The full transcript of our discussion together is an interesting read for all those wanting to dive a little deeper on water, available here.

But getting back to the outdoor topic at hand, this transition to using less water outdoors will not necessarily be an easy one. Outdoor water use is much more about changing people’s behavior – e.g., how long to run your irrigation system – and physical changes to landscapes are much more expensive than replacing a showerhead. But the fact remains that most of the West is a semi-arid (if not straight up arid) place, and we will all need to adjust our expectations about what is most appropriate and sustainable for water use in an area that has so little to begin with.

So, consider giving your landscape a makeover, put in a nice patio, take up your water provider on their rebate program, get a garden in a box…do something to use a little less water outdoors. The rivers that supply our water, and are suffering from low water levels, will thank you.