Steady progress means that Colorado can achieve the big goals set out in its Water Plan.
One step in front of the other—and milestones to see progress along the way. For a journey of any length, we need waypoints and measurements to understand how far we’ve come. And, just as importantly, we need enough energy to continue making steady progress.
This is equally true about our collective progress toward meeting the objectives of Colorado’s Water Plan. The Plan, a final version of which was released 18 months ago, has now entered its most important phase—implementation—putting the Plan into practice.
Stepping forward to achieve big goals
The Plan has many excellent objectives, including those for stream health, urban conservation, land use planning, and more flexible arrangements for irrigators to get paid to share water to meet a range of other needs. I encourage you to check them out—they’re clearly articulated in the Plan’s Chapter 10—Action Plan. But, because many of these objectives have due dates many decades into the future, we need milestones to make sure we’re moving fast enough down the path.
Take municipal water conservation as a good example. The Plan spells out the goal of saving 400,000 acre-feet annually by 2050. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre (about the size of a football field) with one foot of water, equivalent to one third of a million gallons. In other words, the 400,000 acre-feet goal is saving a football field of water stacked 75 miles high, every year. That’s a lot of water.
Reducing water use by 1% per year is a great step
The good news is we can get there by hitting key milestones along the way. Reaching the goal means reducing water use by roughly 1% each year, something that many customers, encouraged by their water utilities, already have been doing for more than a dozen years. Continuing this active municipal conservation will include replacing indoor fixtures with more efficient ones, encouraging the replacement of some of our outdoor landscaping with more xeric (i.e., drought-tolerant) options, and incentivizing water savings by charging less per gallon when water customers are water-thrifty.
Connecting water conservation to land use and new development
A couple other keys pieces to the puzzle. First, we need to accelerate making the connection between water use and land use. Many communities have figured out that it saves water and money when new residential and commercial growth embed water efficiencies from the outset, being “water-smart from the start.” New growth can have a smaller water footprint, thereby placing less of a burden on our rivers and less pressure on cities to build expensive new water supply projects.
We’re all in this together
Second, and just as important, is to make sure funding is made available for communities all around the state to become able to save water. Smaller and mid-size communities usually have fewer financial and human resources to deploy, and so need more assistance. We really need additional public funding to give all communities the ability to set their conservation goals and implement the programs to meet them. In the end, we all benefit, because we’re all in this together.