San Juan Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Following an executive session, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors voted to take action on some water rights issues, as well as a potential contract offering.

The SJWCD board entered one executive session to discuss two separate items. One item dealt with legal advice pertaining to questions involving water rights, district contracts and strategic plan preparation…

Upon returning from extensive executive session and calling the meeting back into public session, Porco noted that no decisions were made in the executive session.

However, Porco then asked for a motion to file a statement of opposition in a water case involving Bootjack Ranch.

That motion was approved unanimously by the SJWCD board. According to Kane in an email to The SUN, in December of 2018, the SJWCD authorized its legal counsel to file a statement of opposition in a water rights case filed by Bootjack Ranch LLC.

According to Kane, Bootjack Ranch is now requesting several new water rights, as well as a plan for augmentation.

This plan involves what Kane referred to as “release water,” which is stored in a pond to replace depletions from its other water rights.

“To have adequate time to evaluate the potential for those water rights and the plan for augmentation and to have standing to protect its water rights from injury, the Board authorized its counsel to file a statement of opposition by the February 28 deadline so that it can be a party to the case,” Kane explained.

“I think it’s needed so that we can protect our water rights,” Pfister said at the meeting.

Also following the executive session, Porco called for a motion to offer a contract to Lewis “and authorize Mr. Pfister to begin ne- gotiations with her.”

That motion was also unanimously approved by the SJWCD board.

Regarding future negotiations with Lewis, Kane explained that SJWCD authorized Pfister to propose a contract that was similar to the original one that had her assisting the SJWCD with its strategic planning.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Another item that required a motion following the executive session pertained to SJWCD’s legal counsel to withdraw a statement of opposition for the Lovato case.

“I move that we authorize legal counsel to file our withdrawal of our statement of opposition in the Lovato case,” Pfister said.

That motion also carried unanimously.

The Lovato case is a case that was filed in the Rio Grande Basin in 2010, Kane explained in the follow- up email.

“The application originally involved use of a water right for a transbasin diversion from a stream tributary to the San Juan River, known as the Treasure Pass Ditch,” Kane wrote.

Initially, the SJWCD filed a statement of opposition in order to gain standing to protect its water rights from injury, Kane further explained.

“In September, the applicant decided to withdraw the claim involving the Treasure Pass Ditch. With that claim removed, the Board decided that it had no further interest in the case, so it authorized its counsel to file a notice of withdrawal so that SJWCD will no longer be a party to that case,” Kane added.

The notice of withdrawal will be filed sometime this week, Kane noted.

Local involvement and input needed for determining water use — Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From the Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson and Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Sun:

Local stakeholders participated in the first public meeting for the new Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) in Pagosa Springs on Jan. 10, contributing vital information on how to address concerns and identify opportunities to optimize the region’s water resources in accordance with Colorado water law.

With a focus on creating a community-driven process that incorporates all uses of water — including agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental — a panel of steering committee members from diverse sectors explained the group’s goals and engaged discussions on what values and interests could drive these efforts.

WEP Steering Committee representatives include: local ranchers/managers, ditch company leaders, local outdoor recreation businesses, water districts, local and state government agencies, nonprofits, and private citizens. This partnership hopes to collaborate and build upon the accomplishments of existing cooperative groups within the area, such as Growing Water Smart, the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership and Resilient Archuleta.

Funding for this voluntary initiative comes from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Southwestern Water Conservation District as part of the Colorado Water Plan to help communities enhance their water resources through cooperative projects. The meeting fulfilled the dual purpose of introducing the WEP and steering committee to the public and gathering critical input from local water users to provide direction and support for potential projects.

The meeting encouraged the group to discuss issues, opportunities, knowledge gaps, partners to involve, and geographic scope of this initiative to identify common interests and priorities for future steps.

Preliminary meeting results, breakout sessions and surveys revealed an interest to focus on the Upper San Juan, Navajo and Blanco watersheds initially, with the potential to expand efforts into other watersheds in the future. Discussions during the breakout sessions provided critical feedback on local issues of balancing all water uses, drought planning, education and communication needs, and watershed/forest health. Conversations on opportunities focused on creating collaborative, mutually beneficial projects for all water uses in hopes of efficiently using and conserving water resources in preparation for a drier and warmer climate.

Suggestions on what additional information to gather, priority issues and opportunities, and new partners to involve ensure this process aligns with the community’s needs and goals. The WEP will analyze this information over the coming months to further refine cooperative project progress and potential options, like improving irrigation infrastructure or river bank restoration, to discuss with interested stakeholders. Similar projects have been funded and implemented in the past throughout the San Juan River Basin. We are requesting your input and/or involvement in these future efforts.

The WEP Steering Committee strongly encourages all community members to continue submitting input via the online survey. More community input will greatly assist us in implementing projects that benefit all water users, regardless of how you use water resources — be it for rafting, fishing, drinking water, irrigating, or as a water right owner.
With only 31 responses as of Feb. 4, results are showing drought, water quantity, water quality, forest health and soil erosion as the top five concerns, while values aligned with water use rank environmental, agriculture and recreation above municipal/industrial and other uses.

The WEP is seeking an accurate and greater representation of community values and priorities, so please help this process by taking the short (less than five minutes) survey and learn how to be involved in the process at http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan.

If you have additional questions, please call Al at (970) 985-5764.

#Snowpack news:

Statewide basin-filled snowpack map February 17, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

The Upper San Juan site snowpack totals remain unchanged from last week, with minimal snowfall occurring in the past week.

Levels remain stagnant at 83 percent of median, according to data from the Natural Resources Conser- vation Service (NRCS).

“We really want to see this thing get to at least 100 percent,” NRCS Dis- trict Conservationist Jerry Archuleta said, also acknowledging that the San Juan site is not losing ground, but holding steady.

Additionally, each snowpack basin with snowpack levels is at or above 100 percent of median except for one.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins are up to 100 percent of median as of Feb. 13, up from last week’s total of 99 percent of median.

Snowpack totals for the Upper Rio Grande Basin remain the same as last week at 97 percent of median.

The Yampa and White River basins saw their snowpack levels drop a bit, falling to 106 percent of median from last week’s total of 111 percent of median.

The Arkansas River Basin’s totals dropped 10 percentage points from last week to this week, specifically falling from 126 percent of median to 116 percent of median.

More decreases were recorded for the Laramie and North Platte basins, with snowpack totals of 104 percent of median, down from last week’s 106 percent of median.

Current totals at the South Platte River Basin are 108 percent of median, down from last week’s total of 111 percent of median.

The Gunnison River Basin and snowpack levels of 109 percent of median and 112 percent of median, respectively.

Last week, the Gunnison River Basin was 110 percent of median and the Upper Colorado River Basin was 113 percent of median.

The Wolf Creek summit was 100 percent of the Feb. 13 peak and 63 percent of the median peak.

Last week, the summit was 93 percent of peak and 56 percent of the median peak.

Hunters and anglers flex their political muscles — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Cassidy Randall):

On Dec. 2, 2017, onstage in a cavernous auditorium at Boise State University, two of the three Republican hopefuls for Idaho governor, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and businessman Tommy Ahlquist, discussed their views on public lands in front of a crowd of hunters and anglers. The forum, sponsored by the Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and 16 other sportsmen’s groups, was a pivotal one in a state where public lands are a defining issue. The third candidate was conspicuously absent: Rep. Raúl Labrador, whose voting record in the House already proved him a staunch public-lands critic.

In a political climate marked by public-land threats, Labrador’s absence spoke volumes, and he lost the primary to Little by 5 points. “In not coming to a sportsmen’s forum, you allow everyone to fill in the blanks,” said Michael Gibson, Idaho field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “Gov.-Elect Little was willing to come in front of hunters and anglers and say he supports public lands.” In a state where only 12 percent of voters are registered Democrats, that primary victory all but handed Little the governorship.
Republicans were once instrumental in passing laws like the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In recent decades, however, the party has developed a reputation as the enemy of public lands, a stance further solidified by the Trump administration’s rapid rollback of protections. But in Idaho and Wyoming, two of the West’s most conservative states, hunters and anglers threw down the gauntlet, demanding state policies that protect access and voting down gubernatorial candidates who threaten public lands. As state legislatures shift in 2019, sportsmen’s groups are positioning themselves to fight the administration’s erosion of public-land protections.

IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY, conservation became a political issue in America, fueled largely by Theodore Roosevelt’s desire to protect rich hunting and fishing grounds. Republicans carried on that legacy until the early 1990s, when the GOP began opposing environmental initiatives. Once President Donald Trump took office in 2016, his administration slashed national monuments and put increasing amounts of public land up for resource extraction. In Congress, Republicans refused to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular program that safeguards natural areas.

In the West, the Utah, Montana and Nevada state legislatures have introduced resolutions urging the transfer of federal lands to state ownership. Sportsmen’s groups generally oppose such transfers, as they would likely limit public access. In Wyoming, for example, state lands ban camping, preventing multi-day backcountry hunting and fishing trips. In addition, state land is managed to fund schools, which means potentially cutting off public access in favor of gravel pits, increased logging and land sales.

More than half of Idaho is federal public land, including the Frank Church-River of No Return, the biggest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48, and 891 miles of wild and scenic rivers, including the Salmon, Owyhee and Snake. But the state has no national parks. That’s partly because Idaho is a sportsmen’s state, and hunting is not allowed in national parks. In 1972, for example, state leaders from both parties ended a decades-long fight over making the Sawtooths a national park by designating the region a national recreation area, thereby protecting its status as popular hunting grounds. In 2016, tensions boiled over when Texas billionaire brothers Dan and Farris Wilks purchased vast chunks of old timber company land that recreationists had long used to access adjacent public lands. Gates appeared on roads, cutting off hunters, anglers and off-road vehicles. As the Wilkses bought increasing tracts, people’s frustrations grew, marked by enraged comments on news articles and letters to the editor. A confrontation at a property line between an armed security guard and a recreationist helped push Idaho lawmakers to update trespassing law, which sowed further unrest. “Critics sought the entire session to pin the bill on Dan and Farris Wilks, the Texas billionaires who have angered hunters, ATV riders, campers and local officials in central Idaho after they closed off 172,000 acres of forest they bought in 2016,” the Idaho Statesman reported.

Voters like Jerry and Terry Myers, who manage a ranch and run guided fishing trips on the Salmon River, made public lands protections a central issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary. “We live here because we love this lifestyle, and we’re always continually working to keep that lifestyle as part of Idaho,” said Terry Myers, who is also president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Even if leadership isn’t coming from the top down, it’s coming from the bottom up, with the idea that those things built locally will build into the political arena.”

Labrador’s lackluster reputation on public lands galvanized the Myerses and other sportsmen. Opinion pieces in local media like Idaho County Free Press, Idaho State Journal, and Idaho Press denounced the congressman as a public-lands-transfer activist, while groups like Idaho Wildlife Federation and League of Conservation Voters highlighted his voting record on public lands. His subsequent refusal to attend the candidate forum at Boise State confirmed voters’ suspicions. Little — the establishment candidate, who was seen as likely to continue outgoing Gov. Butch Otter’s opposition to the land-transfer movement — prevailed.

In Wyoming, public lands proved one of the defining issues in the race for governor. As in Idaho, sportsmen are a powerful force: Thirty percent of the state’s 600,000 residents applied for a hunting permit in the last five years, and 18 percent bought fishing licenses. “If you look at the voting public, which is 50 percent, I’m going to bet every one of those guys who hunt, vote,” said Dwayne Meadows, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “And if you look at the fact that roughly two-thirds of the state are registered Republicans, that’s a lot of voting Republicans who are hunters.”

In August 2018, at a candidate forum hosted by the Wildlife Federation in the crowded Republican primary, three candidates, Harriet Hageman, Taylor Haynes and Rex Rammell, expressed support for public-lands transfer, with Hageman going so far as to suggest a one-million-acre pilot program of land transfer to the state.

Hunting groups picked up on the issue immediately. Right to Roam, the most listened-to hunting podcast in the state, made it the focus of an episode on the candidates. The Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance endorsed Mark Gordon — a multiple-use public lands advocate who frequently hunts on Wyoming’s public lands — because of the forum, citing his stance on issues related to hunting, and his opponents’ stances on land transfer (Full disclosure: Both Gordon and Little formerly served on the board of High Country News.) Gordon won the primary with 33 percent of the vote, while Foster Friess, who received Trump’s endorsement but “provided a mix of positive, negative, and neutral stances on sportsmen’s issues,” according to the alliance, got 26 percent. Hageman, who had been polling well before the forum, came in with only 21 percent.

“I think all the public-lands transfer conversation has done is galvanize the sportsmen,” said Meadows. “You can see it in the growth of organizations like mine over the last few years, and it’s powerful.”

Public-land issues also had an impact in other Western states. In the New Mexico race for governor, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce went on the record as supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund despite previously voting against it in Congress. Pearce lost the race to Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supported public-land protections and is also an avid fly-fisher. “Our community is a staunch supporter of public lands,” said Kerrie Romero, executive director of the New Mexico Guides and Outfitters Association.

“Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona are all moving more toward the Democrats, and that’s in part because of the GOP being tone-deaf as to why people of all political stripes value public lands,” said David Jenkins, executive director of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. “I’ve always said that if you’re trying to change the political right on environment, you have to show how that aligns with their values — and in the West, people’s affinity for public lands is part of who they are.”

IN 2019, SPORTSMEN’S GROUPS plan to continue the advocacy that helped Little and Gordon win their governorships. In rural states like Idaho and Wyoming, it can be hard to track what the legislature is voting on day to day. Even if citizens have a subscription to a Cheyenne or Casper newspaper, those papers won’t always list individual legislators’ decisions. That is one reason the Wyoming Wildlife Federation is launching bill tracking with real-time alerts to follow specific legislators, so that citizens can let their elected representatives know how to vote. The group is also stepping up recruitment of local ambassadors in rural communities, to help explain how public-lands transfer and the administration’s removal of protections could limit public access. Groups like Trout Unlimited and Artemis, a new sportswomen’s advocacy organization, plan to ramp up trainings that teach people how to testify in hearings, call their elected officials and generally engage in local politics, all tactics intended to remind state politicians of the groundswell of local support that helped put public-land proponents in office.

Sportsmen’s groups are already taking action in the federal arena as well: On the first day of the 116th Congress, House lawmakers reversed a 2017 measure that made it easier to sell off or transfer public lands — a measure that had been widely criticized by hunters and anglers.

“The overarching thing that every sportsman can agree on is public-lands defense,” said Gibson. “Over beers or at meetings, we might argue about regulations or season length. But whether the season is a week or a month, or you keep two fish or four fish, you have to have access to them.”

Cassidy Randall writes about adventure, public lands and conservation from Revelstoke, B.C., and Missoula, Montana. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

Environmental victories don’t guarantee economic justice — @HighCountryNews

Navajo Generating Station and the cloud of smog with which it blankets the region. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson via The High Country News

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

Without a just transition, the Navajo Generating Station closure will have harmful consequences.

Last year, climate-hawk billionaire Tom Steyer forked out more than $23 million to support an Arizona ballot initiative that would have required the state’s utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2035. Arizonans for Affordable Energy, a front-group for the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, spent nearly $38 million in opposition. The initiative — which failed — was the most expensive ballot measure campaign in the state’s history.

Meanwhile, a group called Save Native American Families, funded by the Navajo Nation, spent an additional $785,000 opposing the measure. This might seem odd. After all, it’s becoming more and more clear that the ravages of environmental degradation — climate change included — have a disproportionately large impact on Indigenous people, people of color and the poor.

Yet too often, the victims of the very efforts to stem that degradation come from disadvantaged communities. A fuel tax takes a greater portion of the income of someone driving an old beater between two jobs than it does from a wealthy, SUV-driving gas-guzzler. If you don’t own a house, you can’t take advantage of rooftop solar incentives, and yet may have to pay for your wealthier neighbors via increased electricity costs. And the great coal phase-out has failed to faze coal corporation executives, who pay themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses while yanking health insurance and retirement benefits out from under retired miners.

This can be the result of badly crafted policies or of wily corporate polluters who have managed to shift the burden of environmental policies onto those in the lower income brackets. Regardless, the dynamic often results in environmental justice coming at the expense of economic justice. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Take the case of the Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona. In early 2017, the majority owner of the plant, the Salt River Project, announced that it would shut down the plant at the end of this year, forcing the closure of the Kayenta Mine on Black Mesa, which is currently operated by Peabody Energy. The closure comes primarily because the plant is no longer profitable, but pollution-control requirements played an indirect role by increasing the operating costs. It is a major environmental victory, keeping more than 14 million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere annually along with a slew of other harmful pollutants. It also represents a dire threat to the communities that have come to rely on the revenue from the plant and the mine. The closure will do away with as many as 900 jobs, 90 percent of which are currently held by Native American workers, in a region where unemployment hovers around 50 percent. It would also eliminate more than $50 million in royalties and other revenue to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe.

As a result, members of both tribal governments have fought to keep the plant open. They’ve sought outside purchasers to no avail, and they’ve appealed to the federal government, which owns 25 percent of the plant, to intervene. And now the tribe’s own Navajo Transitional Energy Company is looking to purchase both coal mine and power plant and keep it running — and polluting — for decades to come.

Indigenous opposition groups, such as ToNizhoniAni, Diné CARE and Black Mesa Water Coalition, have made concerted efforts to stop the purchase, because it would mean taking on financial risk while also allowing the plant and mine to continue to inflict harm. Meanwhile, the major outside environmental groups that have badgered the Navajo Generating Station for years — and remain deeply invested in keeping the plant closed — are in a difficult position. Any interference with the plant’s purchase would constitute an attack on sovereignty and a continuation of the same resource colonization that brought the power plants and mines to the Navajo Nation in the first place. Yet if the environmental groups stand idly by, they risk allowing serious environmental and human harm to continue.

There is a middle way, though. Environmental groups can work with the affected communities, the polluting companies and the relevant governments to push the current owners to live up to their moral duty and repair the damage they’ve done, to make amends for historical land and resource theft, and to patch up the economic hole their departure leaves. They can help pave the way for a just transition away from coal, one in which a solid framework is provided for affected communities to exercise agency and move forward to a greener and more economically robust future.

The initial pain of closure can be soothed by ensuring that the corporate owners live up to their legal obligation to adequately reclaim both the power plant and mine sites, a commitment that will keep hundreds of jobs active for several years after closure. And even though they are not legally obliged to do so, the corporate owners have a moral duty to take the reclamation further by healing the damage caused by dumping nearly 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and poisoning the land, the air and the water — along with the people and other creatures — in the plant’s vicinity. The damage can’t be reversed, nor can much of the mess be cleaned up. But the corporations that are responsible can contribute to the healing by creating a just transition fund that could retrain power plant workers, provide loans for green energy entrepreneurs in the affected community, or perhaps go toward tribally developed utility-scale projects, such as the solar plant recently constructed by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority near Kayenta, Arizona. This healing process can begin by restoring water rights and transferring transmission lines to the Navajo and Hopi nations as soon as the plant closes.

Such an initiative does not come cheap. But the money not only exists; it is owed to the tribal citizens who have been bilked by corporations for decades. Peabody began mining on Navajo and Hopi land on Black Mesa in the 1960s, displacing families and destroying grazing lands and cultural artifacts, sucking up groundwater at a rate of 1.3 billion gallons per year, and shipping the coal — which was owned by the tribes — off to the Navajo and Mojave power plants. In return, the tribes received just 2 to 6 percent royalty for the coal, an amount that was finally increased to the still-below-standard rate of 12.5 percent in 1984. There it has stood since, another product of the bad-faith negotiations that were facilitated by the federal government.

“Royalty” is a euphemism that is employed to obscure what is really going on here: For nearly five decades, these corporations have paid mere pennies on the dollar to wreck tribal land, take the coal that belongs to the citizens of the Hopi and Navajo nations and burn it in power plants that, in turn, poison the land and people of those very same nations. By not adequately compensating the tribes for their coal, the coal company and its customers have cheated the tribes’ citizens out of billions of dollars.

The resulting cheap power lights up the neon of Las Vegas, while the Colorado River water that the plant’s electricity pumps has enabled Phoenix and Tucson to sprawl into the desert, enriching the operators of the Southwest’s growth machine: real estate developers, mass-production homebuilders, the automotive industry, the corporate shareholders, the ratepayers and the executives. Arizona Public Service, 14 percent owner of the generating station, raked in half a billion dollars in profit last year. Peabody’s CEO is paid $20 million a year to run a company that just emerged from bankruptcy. They are all beneficiaries of outright theft.

And then there’s that $63 million squandered on the renewable energy initiative campaign. That money could have offset a year of the tribal government revenue lost owing to the plant’s closure. That same amount could have bought and installed more than 4,000 solar systems in low-income households, providing hundreds of jobs while cutting emissions. Or the money could have been put into a just transition fund. Instead it was squandered on public relations campaigns that certainly brought no environmental gain.

The Navajo Generating Station and the coal mines on Black Mesa were built on a foundation of theft and colonialism. But closing them down will not help unless it is done in a just way, one that heals old wounds rather than opening new ones.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

Forest thinning won’t stop destructive fires — @HighCountryNews

Camp Fire, California, 2018. Photo credit: AOL.com

From The High Country News (Jodi Peterson):

BACKSTORY

Over the last 20 years, hundreds of thousands of homes have been built in the West’s wildland-urban interface. Meanwhile, wildfires have become more frequent, more severe — and more costly, thanks to the expense of protecting those houses. Unfortunately, homeowners often ignore guidelines for decreasing fire risk. Jack Cohen of the U.S. Forest Service’s FireLab in Missoula, Montana, told HCN, “At this point, we need to change the perception of houses being victims of fire to one of them being fuel.” (“What the High Park wildfire can teach us about protecting homes,” HCN, 8/8/12.)

FOLLOWUP

In November’s Camp Fire, which destroyed 14,000 homes in Northern California, buildings burned but surrounding woodlands often survived. Researchers say the pattern confirms that thinning forests doesn’t reduce home loss nearly as much as fire-wise design and property maintenance. Making wildland-urban communities resistant to ignition is crucial in preventing disasters, Cohen, now retired, told E&E News. The Trump administration, though, has decided to concentrate on increased logging and thinning.

Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

Resisting the Lure of the Lawn — The Walton Family Foundation #ActOnClimate

From The Walton Family Foundation (Jill Ozarski):

In Colorado, water-conscious homeowners are protecting river health by removing thirsty turf landscapes

For millions of homeowners, the romantic lure of the lawn is impossible to resist.

Americans are said to have a “love affair with lawns,” spending billions of dollars each year to cultivate and care for vast expanses of lush green grass in front and back yards across the country.

Rachel Mondragon doesn’t understand the appeal.

Over the past four years, the suburban Denver resident has been steadily removing turf grass from her property in the foothills of Colorado’s front range.

Not only does a ‘perfect lawn’ hold little aesthetic value for Rachel, she is bothered by the environmental costs of keeping the grass growing in a semi-arid region under persistent threat of water shortages.

“I kept thinking, ‘Why are we spending so much time, water and effort on this grass turf when, honestly, it just doesn’t bring any joy to my life,” Rachel says.

“I want to save on water. The idea of needing to water the lawn every day, and the thought of all that water going just to grow grass that’s not even native to this area, it just didn’t make sense to me.”

Rachel’s desire to remove her thirsty lawn led to her participation this year in a pilot project designed to help Colorado residents to make the shift from turf to a more water-efficient landscape.

The program, run by the Boulder-based non-profit Resource Central, offered a menu of incentives to 60 homeowners interested in converting their lawns into xeriscape gardens that feature low-water plants, mulches and other turf options that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental irrigation.