@ColoradoRiver: Expanded funding available for agricultural producers to implement irrigation efficiency projects in the Lower Gunnison Basin

Sweet corn near Olathe, CO. Photo credit Mark Skalny, The Nature Conservancy.

The Colorado River District has announced an additional funding opportunity (up to a total of $1.8 million) to support qualifying applicants for planning and implementation of irrigation efficiency improvement projects in the Lower Gunnison Project area. Applications from landowners that address identified resource concerns within the Bostwick Park, Paonia, Smith Fork, and Uncompahgre project areas will be accepted through July 21, 2017, for funding consideration.

This announcement of funding opportunity is an expansion of on-going, cooperatively-managed activities made possible by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for on-farm improvements, like conversion to pressure-piped sprinklers.

“We are excited to be able to continue to provide this funding that can be used to make our agricultural partners more productive and competitive while helping to meet important water resource management objectives,” explained Dave Kanzer, Project Manager and Deputy Chief Engineer of the River District.

Successful producer-applicants will receive financial assistance to plan, design and install advanced irrigation systems that address identified natural resource concerns. For example, these include projects that improve: 1) water availability (i.e., water use efficiency), 2) water quality (e.g. salinity and selenium loading), 3) soil health (e.g., cover cropping), and 4) fish and wildlife habitat (i.e., projects that benefit water quantity / quality). The Lower Gunnison Project uses an integrated application, contract process and a favorable cost-share ratio.

Interested applicants, landowners, and/or producers are encouraged to attend a Lower Gunnison Project Funding Interest Meeting in their area:

  • Hotchkiss: June 29 (6-6:15 pm light food/refreshments; Main program starts at 6:15 pm). Hotchkiss Memorial Hall, 276 W Main Street, Hotchkiss, CO 81419
  • Montrose: June 28 (6-6:15 pm light food/refreshments; Main program starts at 6:15 pm). Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), 11925 6300 Rd, Montrose, CO 81402

An application and more information can be obtained by visiting the Shavano Conservation District (102 Par Place, Suite #4, Montrose, CO 81401 / Phone (970) 249-8407 Ext. 115) or Delta Conservation District (690 Industrial Blvd, Delta, CO 81416 / Phone (970) 399- 8194). Interested individuals can also contact the Colorado River District at (970) 945-8522 or go to the following website: http://gunnisonriverbasin.org/projects/lower-gunnison-project/

This funding opportunity complies with the rules and regulations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program and is open to all eligible agricultural producers without discrimination or bias.

#Colorado Springs: Rain barrel workshop

Photo from the Colorado Independent.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

Twenty plastic barrels once used to ship Mountain Dew syrup were reborn on Saturday into water conservation tools for local gardeners.

The barrels, purchased from a recycled materials provider in Denver, were distributed at a “make and take” rain barrel event hosted by El Paso County’s Colorado State University Extension. The $60 class, the second that the local CSU Extension office has held since the state legalized the use of rain barrels last year, quickly filled up. Two more classes, already full, have been scheduled for the coming weeks.

Organizers said it’s a sign of residents’ growing curiosity about rain barrel use, which Colorado was one of the last states to allow. Under a law passed in May 2016, single-family homes are permitted two rain barrels with a combined storage capacity of up to 110 gallons. Rainwater can only be collected from rooftop downspouts and must be used on the same property where it was collected for outdoor purposes, such as watering lawns and gardens…

The CSU Extension estimates one rain barrel can save the average homeowner roughly 1,300 gallons of water during the hottest months of the summer, when landscape watering accounts for nearly 40 percent of all household water usage.

In addition to conserving water, collecting rainfall during downpours can help reduce the pressure on the city’s stormwater system, said Sean Holveck, who is in charge of marketing and events for The Greenway Fund of Colorado Springs.

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.

Camp Rocky teaches about conservation

Photo credit Colorado Association of Conservation Districts.

From The Greeley Tribune (Kelly Ragan):

The Colorado Association of Conservation Districts puts on Camp Rocky every year. It’s a weeklong experience for kids ages 14-19. The camp is just outside the town of Divide, about 45 minutes west of Colorado Springs.

During the first half of the week, campers choose to learn about soil and water conservation, fish and wildlife management, forest management or rangeland science. For the second half, students work with their groups to complete a management project and have a little fun along the way.

This year, the soil and water conservation group — the one Schneider chose — will learn about the primary components of a watershed. They’ll study a river system and learn how different soil types affect plants, wildlife, water and humans.

“I remember being able to use different types of instrumentation, measuring water flow and testing in ways I was unable to do in the high school classroom,” Schneider said.

Kristi Helzer, West Greeley Conservation District’s outreach coordinator, said the camp is for city kids who don’t spend much time in the wilderness as well as country kids such as Schneider.

“I hope it lights their fire,” Helzer said. “As a mom, there’s nothing better than seeing a light bulb go off for a young person.”

Rangeland science is perfect for kids who come from ranching families or who live on the prairie, Schneider said. The forest management course can teach outdoorsy kids the functions of a forest. The fish and wildlife course can be informative for kids who like to go hunting and fishing with their parents or grandparents, Helzer said.

“There’s something in conservation for everyone,” Schneider said. “It can be as simple or as technical as that person wishes it to be.”

For Schneider, the camp planted a seed.

She went on to college and took a basic soil science class. She remembered how interesting it had been at the camp. The more she learned, the deeper she wanted to dig.

“I knew I needed to work with dirt,” Schneider said.

Schneider now works for the West Greeley Conservation District — the organization that puts on Camp Rocky every year — as a conservation technician.

“Now when I look back and can reflect on that experience and the people I met, whether my peers or some of the guides, I can see it was really beneficial for me,” Schneider said.

Water Banking on the West Slope

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From Colorado Public Radio (Rachel Estabrook):

Ten farmers in the Grand Valley won’t plant some of their fields this summer as part of an experiment that could help them — and other users along the Colorado River — prepare for future water shortages.
Grand Valley water manager Mark Harris is leading the water banking pilot program. He says current forecasts about the effects that population growth and climate change could have on the Colorado River require him and others to prepare for “what if” scenarios, like extreme or prolonged drought.

Participating Grand Valley farmers will fallow fields that otherwise would have grown corn, wheat, alfalfa and other grains. Together, they expect to keep about 3,500 acre-feet of water in the Colorado River and Lake Powell. That amount of water supplies about 7,000 households each year. Farmers will be compensated with money raised from the state, organizations like The Nature Conservancy, and water providers like Harris’ group.

Harris cautions that even if the 2017-18 program is successful, it would take a lot more work to scale it up to achieve the kinds of water savings the area may need in the future.

Water-efficient toilets could save 170 billion GAL a year in #CO, #AZ, #CA, #GA, #TX

From BuilderOnline.com (Lauren Shanesy):

Water-efficient toilets could potentially save up to 170 billion gallons of water per year across five states facing water scarcity, according to new research from the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) and Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI).

The study focused on Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia and Texas, where water shortages are prevalent. The “Saturation Study of Non-Efficient Water Closets in Key States” research found that if non-efficient toilets in residential properties are replaced with water-efficient ones, the five states could save 170 billion gallons of potable water yearly or 465 million gallons saved per day, which is equivalent to up to 360 billion potable gallons of water per year saved nationally.

More than 13 million non-efficient toilets, defined as ones with gallons per flush (gpf) of more than 1.6 gallons, remain installed in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia and Texas residences, and represent about 21% of all toilets installed in these states. As toilet flushing is the largest single indoor use of water, representing 24% of total use in single-family homes, replacing non-efficient toilets in the five states researched would save a significant amount of water overall.

@MSUDenver: Rising curtains, rising tides — “The power of theatre for social change is immense” — Marilyn Hetzel

In observance of Earth Day, we spotlight an MSU Denver theatre ensemble changing lives, one drop at a time.

From Metropolitan State University of Denver (Cory Phare):

In observance of Earth Day, we spotlight an MSU Denver theatre ensemble changing lives, one drop at a time.

If you promote water conservation in the Denver area, chances are good that you’ve already heard of Water Wise.

John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top water advisor, has – and that’s how the MSU Denver theatre troupe got to bring its brand of advocacy-based performance to the 2017 Colorado Water Congress’ annual convention this past January.

The Water Wise ensemble does what’s known as theatre for social change. And, as Marilyn Hetzel, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Department of Theatre noted, it’s a vehicle for delivering important messages that leave a lasting impression.

“The power of theatre for social change is immense,” she said. “They’re stories that can teach.”

Water we going to do about it?

The Water Wise troupe owes its founding in part to when Tom Cech felt the impact of this kind of performance firsthand.

“My wife, Grace, and I attended [Dr. Hetzel’s] production of ‘Here’s to Ears,’ and it was fabulous!” said Cech, the director of MSU Denver’s One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship program. “There were no props – they just told a great educational story about hearing protection.”

Cech reached out to Hetzel, and they strategized a way to develop and stage a similar production – only this time in conjunction with Denver Water, Aurora Water and the City of Boulder’s water department. The agencies had originally contacted MSU Denver looking for innovative ways to enhance their water education programs.

The show needed to convey the importance of conservation and a deeper understanding of natural resources. It would be performed at annual water festivals, and performances would also be integrated within the conservation-rooted school curricula already in place for fourth- through sixth-graders in the region.

For Miles LaGree, the question of logistics was part of the creative solution when he approached writing the theatrical piece as a member of the original Water Wise theatre group.

“The challenge was taking a list of facts, and then translating them into theatrical performances without any props or scenery,” said the senior ensemble member, who is wrapping up a bachelor’s degree in applied theatre technology and design. “How were we going to do the show with just us?”

The answer was simple: a powerful narrative, with an innovative means of conveyance.

Thus, Water Wise performances were born.

Rapid growth, rapid connections

When you do something well, word tends to get around. And just as a soft trickle builds from headwaters into a mighty roar downstream, buzz got louder about what the ensemble was doing.

That’s what led to the Colorado Water Congress stage, where Water Wise circa 2017 performed for members, including engineers and water providers from around the state. After the troupe’s performance (greeted with thunderous applause), representatives from across Colorado approached the group to discuss future performances.

According to Cech, another key value of theatre for social change was demonstrated: constructing a career pipeline to keep the message flowing.

“With the students from the troupe still in the room, we asked [conference attendees], ‘How many of you are hiring right now?’” said Cech. “Hands shot up, and immediately we had connections; students provided resumes to people who were interested in what they had to say and what they could do. That’s how it works.”

Transformative states that matter

According to Natalie Brower-Kirton, senior water conservation specialist with Aurora Water, who served on a post-performance panel at the event, the very process of developing the piece proved transformative for students.

“[Ensemble students] made an empowering and positive message about where our water comes from, why Colorado is unique, and what people can do to conserve it,” she said. “The best thing is not only that they reached a large audience but that they became water advocates themselves.”

LaGree attested to this. He also pointed out that theatre works particularly well as a vehicle because it’s a live art – and one that most younger students haven’t had much experience with.

“Not many kids are heading down to the Buell, so it’s great to bring the work to them,” he said. “And to see that fire lit in their eyes from the performances – that’s what it’s all about.”

And so, lighting that passion for conservation is really the greatest impact of Water Wise theatre for social change. As Cech and Brower-Kirton attest, it’s an indisputably valuable tool for organizational change, and why Hetzel fondly refers to theatre as “equipment for living.”

It’s why LaGree speaks of his time with Water Wise and the lessons learned from Hetzel as “more valuable than anything money could buy.”

“It’s seeing that light turn on in the kids’ heads, knowing they’ve learned something,” he said. “Those smiling faces are what let you know firsthand that it’s effective, that what you’re doing matters.”