2020 #COleg: HB20-1072, Study Emerging Technologies For Water Management

Water from the Colorado River irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Boulder Daily Camera (John Spina):

On the surface, HB20-1072 [Concerning a requirement that the university of Colorado study potential uses of emerging technologies to more effectively manage Colorado’s water supply, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation, conditioned on the receipt of matching funds from gifts, grants, and donations] appears basic, proposing the state match $40,000 in research funding for the University of Colorado and Colorado State University to study water management technology like remote sensors, cellular and satellite telemetry, areal observation, water resource forecasting and blockchain documentation.

Despite the relatively small dollar amount, the results from this study, said Evan Thomas, the director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Mortenson Center and co-author of the bill, could create a better understanding of the entire state’s water portfolio and allow for more informed conversations about what can be done to preserve it.

“These technologies offer greater transparency, which can often lead to greater trust,” Thomas said. “Right now you just have a bunch of ditch riders, people you have to pay to go around and look at meters on people’s lands, and it’s expensive, it’s not done very often, the meters aren’t that good, and the farmers are suspicious. It’s adversarial.”

As a result, many water rights holders have strongly resisted any sort of change of use for fear of unintended consequences that could end up interrupting their supply.

Furthermore, because water rights can be reduced if the entire allotment is not put to beneficial use each year, Blake Cooper, Boulder County’s agricultural resource manager, said farmers use as much water as they can, when they can, because they don’t know if it will be there later in the season.

“But,” Thomas said, “if you have more objective and more regular measures of water use and availability, as well as forecasting, and if you could be paid to conserve water instead of being penalized for using less water, it starts to create market incentives that will facilitate relationships (among water users) and let us to be a lot smarter and proactive about making sure that water is available year-round and year over year.”

While these markets already exist, with more robust data on how much water a right holder is using, how much water is currently available, and how much is forecast for later in the season, Thomas said right holders could trade water “quarterly, monthly, or even weekly potentially,” with more certainty it will not effect their own supply later in the year.

Dan Lisco, a hay farmer in Boulder County, installed remote soil moisture monitors on his farm last year. Because he could see when soil moisture was high and wouldn’t absorb any more water, he was able to turn off his center pivot irrigation system for several days throughout the season.

Not only did Lisco say this allowed him to save a little water and nearly eliminate runoff, which can lead to nutrient pollution and soil erosion, but it also cut down on pumping and electricity costs, which helped cover the costs of the monitors.

According to Phytech, the company that makes soil moisture monitors deployed by Lisco, the monitors can reduce a farm’s water use by up to 40%.

With the new technology discussed in House Bill 1072, Lisco could have extrapolated how much less water he was using and how much water was forecast for the rest of the season, then sold off any excess water to another farmer or environmental group looking to keep more water in the river to improve recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat.

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