Lawn. Be. Gone. — @H2ORadio

Here’s an in-depth look at turf in western cities from H2ORadio. Click through to listen to the podcast or read the transcript. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s hard to avoid getting swept up in Wendy Inouye’s enthusiasm when she talks about her garden.

“I love it!” she gushes. “I have so much joy from my garden. Every time I come out I always pause and look at it. You know that saying, take time to smell the roses? I literally do that every single day I come and go from my home.”

Inouye’s front yard at her home in Thornton, Colorado, just north of Denver, is full of “xeric” plants—shrubs and groundcovers adapted to survive in dry climates.

Inouye took out her lawn last summer and replaced it with a Colorado-friendly landscape, including red rock penstemon, hopflower oregano, and a plant called red-birds-in-a-tree. She didn’t want to waste any more water and said the grass in her front yard had no function. It was in full sun and its water needs were astronomical. By taking out 750 square feet of turf and replacing it with a variety of water-saving plants surrounded by rocks and mulch, she and her husband have reduced their water usage from 413 gallons a day to 200.

Pointing to a larger area Inouye said, “This was just one big flat piece of grass that was full of weeds.” She was tired of fighting nature, using pesticides and herbicides. Now she says, she has fun with all her beautiful flowering plants.

Ditching the “Green Carpet”

It was a lot of work for Inouye to transform her landscape even though she hired contractors to assist with turf removal and changes to her irrigation system. But she got support for her decision from the City of Thornton through a turf removal rebate program that paid her $1.00 for every square foot of turf she took out.

Water conservation and efficiency are important to every utility across the country, and especially in the West where “aridification” is occurring. That’s the term being used in the Colorado River Basin to describe the region’s transition to a water scarce environment due to climate change—a condition that will result in a shrinking supplies.

Water utilities have various strategies to get customers to lower usage. Many offer rebates for installing low-flow toilets and efficient showerheads in older homes to reduce indoor use. With outdoor use, water providers can use “cash-for-grass” incentives as Thornton did for Wendy Inouye. They can also offer free mulch, rebates for efficient irrigation systems, and audits of outside water use.

Recently the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE), a non-profit dedicated to efficient and sustainable use of water, produced an assessment concluding that utility-sponsored programs to promote sustainable landscapes save water. Tom Chestnutt, the lead author of AWE’s study, said that turf removal programs have been very successful, and they hit that tipping point causing customers to do something different with their front yards.

The idea of a “green carpet”—lots of grass in front of homes, buildings, and sometimes, even medians—has been described as an aesthetic (inappropriately, many say) imported from the East. In the West, where lawns require irrigation, some water providers see them as out of sync with a western lifestyle…

Lawns As a “Dispersed Version of a Reservoir”

[…]

[Jeff] Tejral says that Denver Water did an analysis of a cash-for-grass rebate in 2016 and it did not make sense to start one. Tejral’s group calculated the water savings and the cost of the rebates to be $75,000 dollars per acre foot of water conserved, which the agency concluded was not a wise use of its ratepayers’ funds. He said that it would make sense to spend that amount, if they were in dire straits, and a turf rebate were the last option available.

However, there may be another reason that Denver Water doesn’t have a turf removal program—lawns might be a safety net where use could be restricted in extreme drought conditions. At those times of severe need, Denver Water could drastically cut back outdoor usage which would be tolerated more easily than restricting use inside homes. Cutting back lawn watering is much easier to get customers to accept than limiting their shower times or their clothes washings.

This idea was expressed by Colorado University historian Patricia Nelson Limerick in the book she wrote about Denver Water, Ditch in Time: The City, the West and Water. As Limerick writes, Denver water managers see lawns offering a service that is far from evident to most observers. Lawns are devices that receive water that would otherwise bypass Denver unused. She adds that lawns offer a cushion if severe drought should arise, and without that cushion demand would be hardened. “Take out the lawns and water would be directed only to needs that would not be susceptible to restriction.” Limerick writes that to the late Chips Barry, former manager of the Denver Water Department, lawns looked a lot like a dispersed version of a reservoir, holding water that could, in urgent circumstances, be shifted to respond to genuine need.

In response, Tejral said that they are shifting away from viewing turf the way Barry did. He insists there are other benefits to having lawns and landscapes in general, and it’s important to manage landscapes for what is best in the long term for a lot of different purposes, which could include aesthetic. He said that Chips Barry was reflecting on where Denver was, but as it matures as a city and integrates with others, people are going to have to learn the true function of landscapes, which is complicated.

Graphic credit: H2ORadio

How to be smarter with your water — The Highland Ranch Herald

From The Highlands Ranch Herald (Alex DeWind):

Centennial Water has been serving Highlands Ranch for more than three decades, with 90% of water coming from renewable river supplies, according to its website.

The local water district advocates for water efficiency throughout the year, but specifically collaborates with the Irrigation Association during July, Colorado’s warmest month.

Leading by example

Centennial Water follows a number of practices to ensure the community’s water supply is used wisely.

Those practices include utilizing high-efficiency rotary nozzles, which use 20% to 30% less water than traditional nozzles by slowly delivering multiple rotating streams instead of a fixed stream.

The water district also promotes a process called cycle and soak, which applies water in three, shorter cycles, allowing the water to seep into the soil, “promoting healthier plants and landscape and eliminating water runoff.”

Soil in Highlands Ranch has high clay content, meaning its water capacity is reached very quickly, sometimes as fast as five minutes, according to Thomas Riggle, Centennial Water’s water conservation and efficiency coordinator.

“Once soil reaches its water capacity, it can no longer hold water, which results in runoff,” Riggle said in the release. “Therefore watering for multiple, shorter periods of time is more effective and promotes healthier plants and soil.”

Centennial Water strives to educate community members on the history of water in Highlands Ranch and how to implement best water conservation practices. Schools, businesses and organizations can request a visit from a water ambassador or Centennial Water staff member at http://centennialwater.org/water-conservation/education-opportunities. The water expert will go over local water challenges and solutions.

Incentives

Centennial Water offers a number of incentive programs that reward residents for their water conservation efforts.

Piloted in 2018, the turf replacement program offers a rebate of $1 per square foot —with a $1,000 maximum — to residents who replace water-intensive plants, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, with xeric or drought-tolerant vegetation, such as bee balm, aster, coneflower, sunflower and marigold. Replacement with artificial turf or hardscape may be accepted but require further approval, according to Centennial Water.

Another program piloted in 2018 is the high-efficiency nozzle retrofit program. Residents may receive $1 for each traditional, fixed spray nozzle they replace with a rotary nozzle, which fits on most popup sprinkler heads.

To apply for an incentive program, visit http://centennialwater.org/water-conservation/incentive-programs. Staff members evaluate the programs to ensure cost effectiveness for all parties involved.

Feds award $29 million in water conservation grants; one Colorado agency among the winners — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Grand Diversion via the Palisade Irrigation District.

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

The federal government awarded 13 Western states $29 million in cash this month, with a directive to go out and save more water and energy.

Just one of the 45 grants handed out by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation through its WaterSMART program went to a Colorado entity. The Grand Junction-based Grand Valley Water Users Association was awarded $178,884 to finish work improving a set of historical diversion structures that include the Roller Dam on the Colorado River, west of Glenwood Springs.

The dam, which began operating in 1915, is hard to miss driving along on I-70 as the highway parallels the Colorado River. The money will be used to modernize the measuring and monitoring systems on the dam and canal on a critical section of the river, which includes the 15-Mile Reach, where a number of endangered fish species have important habitat.

Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, attributes the win to his agency’s partnership with other West Slope irrigation districts, the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. He said the partnership’s ability to contribute matching funds to the federal project was another key factor in the win.

This year, the GVWUA and its partners provided $220,000 in matching funds to win the WaterSMART grant.

“It’s not that there is anything special about us,” Harris said. “It’s that the stars at this particular time are in alignment.”

An earlier 2017 grant to the GVWUA provided $300,000 in federal dollars. The water users subsequently raised $500,000 in matching funds. All told, Harris said the improvements to the GVWUA infrastructure in recent years have reduced diversions from the Colorado River by 60,000 acre-feet. That’s enough water to serve roughly 120,000 urban households for one year.

The latest project, the second phase, will allow water users to reduce their diversions from the Colorado by an additional 4,000 acre-feet, thanks to improvements that allow more monitoring of the timing and amounts of diversions.

California and Utah were the big winners in the WaterSMART program this year. California was awarded $9.54 million for 12 projects, while Utah secured $5.4 million for 10 projects.

Colorado was second from dead last, with New Mexico coming in last, winning just one grant worth $150,000.

Josh German and Avra Morgan, program coordinators for the WaterSMART program, said the grant process is competitive and that Colorado water agencies, historically, have not demonstrated serious interest in the program.

This year 111 applications were submitted, and 45 were funded, German said. Grants are awarded using criteria that include points for the amount of water that can be saved, the potential to reduce conflict among water users, and use of hydropower, among other things.

Conserving water has been and continues to be one of the main focal points of the program,” German said.

In place since 2004, when it was part of a grant making program called Water 2025, the WaterSMART program also offers grants to help pay for water marketing and new scientific tools that support better water management.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

@USBR announces $29.1 million in WaterSMART grants to use water more efficiently #conservation

The Government Highline Canal, in Palisade. The Government Highline Canal near Grand Junction. The Grand Valley Water Users Association, which operates the canal, has been experimenting with a program that pays water users to fallow fields and reduce their consumptive use of water. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Projects will help communities bolster water supply

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation announced that 13 states will utilize $29.1 million in grants from the WaterSMART Program to help communities conserve water.

“Existing water and hydropower resources are being strained as our infrastructure ages and population grows. The WaterSMART program provides critical support to western communities, helping to best conserve limited water resources,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

Forty-five projects will be funded based on two categories. In the first category, 28 projects from 11 states were selected to share $7.5 million with each project receiving up to $300,000 in federal funding and having a completion timeframe of less than two years. The second category consists of 17 projects from seven states, sharing $21.5 million. These projects are receiving up to $1.5 million in federal funding and will be completed within three years.

“These water and energy efficiency grants help increase hydropower production and contribute to water supply reliability in the western United States,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “WaterSMART is an opportunity for communities to use water more effectively and reduce risk for future water conflict.”

Projects in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming were selected to receive grants. Examples of projects that are receiving funding include replacing unlined canals with pipe or a lining, installing flow measurement for real-time monitoring of water deliveries, advanced meters for residences that will help inform them about water use, or improving irrigation scheduling by installing moisture probes and irrigation system monitoring.

The Colorado River Indian Tribes in southwest Arizona will use $250,000 of federal funding with $250,000 of its own funding to modernize its Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system to enable enhanced irrigation water control and management. The project is expected to result in annual water savings of 10,000 acre-feet that is currently lost to operational spills and evaporation.

The Grand River Diversion

The Grand Valley Water Users Association [ed. emphasis mine], near Grand Junction, Colorado, will combine $178,884 in federal funding with $220,000 of its own funding to implement several improvements at Roller Dam to collect more accurate and reliable diversion and measurement information. The project is expected to save 4,000 acre-feet of water every year and will result in reduced diversions from the Colorado River, benefitting a critical stretch of river known as the 15 Mile Reach, which is designated a critical habitat for many fish species.

The Mission Springs Water District, located in southern California, will combine $300,000 in federal funding with $3.4 million of its own funding to upgrade 12,967 residential water meters to advanced meters that help inform about leaks, breaks and other unusual use patterns. The project is expected to result in annual water savings of 549 acre-feet, which will reduce the amount of water pumped from the Coachella Valley Groundwater Basin.

Some projects complement on-farm improvements that can be carried out with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to accomplish coordinated water conservation improvements. A number of the projects selected today are expected to help make additional on-farm improvements possible in the future, including the West Cache Irrigation Company located in northern Utah. They will combine $400,000 in federal funding with $520,000 of their own funding to convert 2.25 miles of the earthen South Fields Canal to a pressurized pipeline. The project is expected to result in water savings of 1,222 acre-feet annually. Once completed, irrigators will be able to take advantage of the newly pressurized system to complete on-farm improvements, potentially funded by the NRCS through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, such as converting from flood irrigation to more efficient sprinkler irrigation.

Learn more about all of the selected projects at http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/weeg.

Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with states, tribes, and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply reliability through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart to learn more.

#SouthPlatteRiver Regional Opportunities Working Group update: “I would prefer that they [East Slope] find their own water” — Rep. Dylan Roberts

A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Sterling Journal Advocate:

Colorado officials are planning to build multiple large reservoirs on the prairie northeast of Denver to capture more of the South Platte River’s Nebraska-bound water, then pump it back westward to booming metro suburbs struggling to wean themselves off dwindling underground aquifers.

They’re trying to prevent urban “buy-and-dry” of irrigated farmland and preserve rural communities across the South Platte Basin, which covers Colorado’s northeastern quadrant and ranks among the nation’s productive agricultural regions.

Booming growth along Colorado’s semi-arid Front Range has led to cities buying farms to take control of rights to withdraw scarce water from the river, a relatively feeble source given the magnitude of urban, industrial and agricultural development.

This new push to trap an additional 150,000 acre-feet of water, above what is held in an existing chain of reservoirs built by farmers, surfaced in Denver Post interviews with lawmakers and other officials this month. The effort would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and affect natural habitat for wildlife, including endangered sandhill cranes. It reflects a growing willingness in a nature-oriented state to re-shape river landscapes for meeting human needs.

“If nothing is done, up to 50 percent of the irrigated agriculture in the South Platte River Basin is projected to be dried up by 2050 because there’s no other place for cities to get bigger water supplies other than from irrigated agriculture,” said Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, who is helping to coordinate planning…

The latest state data from well monitoring reveal south metro Denver groundwater tables are falling. While the groundwater depletion since 2008 varies across the suburbs, the data show, decreases around Castle Rock exceeded 16 feet. State officials don’t intervene as long as municipalities determine that the sponge-like aquifers they tap wouldn’t be totally exhausted for 100 years…

Costs of piping water back from new reservoirs are “significant” and would be paid by “participants,” including those suburbs, where the current 350,000 households will increase to 500,000 “at buildout” in 2065, Darling said. Daily water use per person has decreased from utilities’ pre-2002 planning estimate of 165 gallons to 120 gallons, she noted.

Colorado’s new reservoirs would capture water that otherwise flows in the South Platte to Nebraska. A 1923 South Platte River Compact requires Colorado to leave a mean flow of 120 cubic feet per second from April through October.

State lawmakers pointed to gauging-station records showing annual surplus flows from 10,000 acre-feet to 1.9 million acre-feet — an average of 300,000 acre-feet of water each year that Colorado could claim.

State engineer Kevin Rein confirmed that “in many years more water is passing that gauging station at the state line than needs to… Conceptually I agree with what they are saying.”

[…]

Nebraska officials contemplated what this could mean. Nebraska monitors “the potential effects of new water-related activities on the states’ apportionment” and “will look at the proposed projects and communicate directly with Colorado on issues of concern relating to the compact” along with efforts to recover endangered birds, Jeff Fassett, the state’s director of natural resources, said in an emailed response to queries from The Denver Post.

South Platte flows nourish a diversity of species, including the imperiled sandhill cranes in Nebraska. Colorado and other states legally must prevent extinction. The birds need flows that form sandy beach habitat.

Reservoir proponents said impacts would be mitigated. They contend off-channel reservoirs could help cranes because reservoir operators, by trapping high flows during wet years, would be able to release water strategically, simulating nature, just when birds and habitat need more.

But less water and distortion of natural surges would be devastating, and reservoirs themselves would destroy habitat, Audubon Society vice president Brian Rutledge said…

The reservoirs would be built at three or more sites northeast of Denver, near the river but not directly blocking the main stem, and hold up to 70,000 acre-feet of water each, according to a consultant’s report. (An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, enough to sustain two families for a year.) That’s about the size of Parker’s Rueter Hess Reservoir, built for $170 million in 2012, one of the largest new reservoirs in the West.

It’s not year clear how many separate reservoirs would be built under this plan.

Sites and pipeline routes haven’t been set. Planners identified more than 20 potential locations for reservoirs but are focusing on areas north and south of Fort Morgan and near Sedgewick. Two or more pipelines, which cost more than $1 million a mile to install, would move captured river water back west to the Front Range, ending near Brighton, Aurora and possibly elsewhere…

Colorado lawmakers strongly supported building new reservoirs and pipelines.

“We should do our best to manage our water, and still meet our compact obligations. If that means less above the compact is going to cross out of our state, we should do that,” said state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who represents 11 counties across northeastern Colorado and serves on the legislature’s water resources review committee. He and eight other lawmakers, including key committee members, recently toured the South Platte Basin with Water Education Colorado…

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Lawmakers from across the Continental Divide in western Colorado, where rivers are depleted by diversions through tunnels to the Front Range, embraced the push for bigger storage as preferable to siphoning more water out of the Colorado River Basin and to boost resilience amid global warming.

“I would prefer that they find their own water,” said Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, vice chair of the lawmakers’ water resources review committee.

Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said Coloradans on the Western Slope sense “that a lot of the water we’re sending over isn’t being utilized fully. … We want to keep as much of it as we can.”

And lawmakers representing south Denver suburbs saw increased storage as essential to enable continued Front Range population and economic growth, which they accept as inevitable, without destroying agriculture.

The push for new reservoirs has gained momentum after Colorado’s 2015 State Water Plan enshrined the notion of boosting storage along the South Platte, though the plan doesn’t specify projects.

Colorado Water Conservation Board director Rebecca Mitchell, an architect of that plan, this week indicated a favorable state posture toward what she called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group project.

“The South Platte River Basin is the most populous basin in the state, and in planning for Colorado’s water future… we need to bridge Colorado’s future water supply-demand gap,” Mitchell said in a statement emailed to The Post. “Combined with conservation and a focus on environmental health, project concepts like SPROWG create an opportunity…”

#GreenRiver: #Wyoming Conservation Pilot Program wraps up — Wyoming Public Radio #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Little Snake River as it passes under Wyoming Highway 70 near Dixon. Photo credit: Wikimedia

From Wyoming Public Radio (Melodie Edwards):

For the last four years, Green River and Little Snake River basin ranchers have been getting paid not to irrigate in late summer to conserve Colorado River water. But the pilot phase of the program is now over. The next step is developing the technology to measure how much water is actually saved.

Big Piney Rancher and water engineer Chad Espenscheid said the key to making sure the program succeeds is proving the water was really making it down to the Colorado River…

As part of a new drought contingency agreement, Upper Basin states like Wyoming will now be able to store as much as 500,000 acre feet of conserved water to fill lower basin demands. But that’s only if they figure out how to quantify the saved water.

Espenscheid said the program is definitely worth keeping. He said it made it worth his while to participate, paying him enough to expand his cattle herd.

But as for quantifying how much water he really conserved?

“How much? Who knows,” he said. “But for sure there was water going down the creek that we probably would have used.”

Espenscheid said he plans to work on possible methods to answer that question, like developing computer models or creating measuring devices to install in streams.

Wyoming’s Trout Unlimited Director Cory Toye says the test run was popular with ranchers and translated to real benefits for native trout.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

#NewMexico: Reducing water demand key to Southwest’s future — Steve Harris #conservation #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

Here’s guest column penned by Steve Harris that’s running in The Albuquerque Journal:

Those of us who live and recreate in the arid Southwest have always faced serious water supply challenges; struggling to survive through endlessly recurring droughts, we understand how precious water is to our communities, livelihoods and economy.

Today, our survival anxieties are compounded by ominous climate trends: shorter winters, declining snowpack and diminishing streamflow. There’s little doubt that water conservation and management will assume even greater importance in New Mexico in the years ahead, which is why we need forward-thinking, bipartisan policy solutions.

In 2009, under the sponsorship of then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Congress passed the Secure Water Act, creating the West-wide WaterSMART program. Under WaterSMART, local water managers, municipal utilities and irrigation districts became eligible for funding to support an array of local water conservation projects, including water-use efficiency, water reuse and recycling, technological innovation – e.g., desalination and precision irrigation – sharing and marketing of water rights and watershed restoration.

All of these conservation strategies aim to achieve a measure of water security in an insecure world.

It’s gratifying to river conservationists like myself that WaterSMART also recognizes the need to protect healthy river flows and ecosystems. Here in New Mexico, WaterSmart is helping to fund the Rio Chama Flow Project, which in part restructures dam releases to serve the river’s multitude of wildlife and habitats, alongside the traditional imperative of securing water for communities and irrigators.

A Basin Studies program was launched under WaterSMART, and one of the studies funded, the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, has contributed many new ideas on how to stretch the dwindling water supplies of the Colorado River system, whose millions of users are clearly confronting a future crisis. Among other achievements, the Colorado Basin Study gathered visionary ideas from each water-using sector – both consumptive, like cities, and non-consumptive, like recreation – and a variety of constituents to boost water supplies in Lake Mead, where stored water is approaching all-time lows.

Under WaterSMART, a Rio Grande Basin Study also received funding. Thus, those of us who depend on New Mexico’s great river will have the opportunity to come together and harness our own unique abilities and resources to secure our water future.

While the results of this cooperative approach are still to be fully realized, surely the recognition of our mutual dependence on the river offers hope that collaborative conservation can help the region “tighten its belt” in the face of a manifestly drier future.

It’s important that Congress supports federal initiatives, such as WaterSMART, that bring people together on the local, state and regional levels to solve these looming challenges. It’s encouraging that Congress recently passed – and the president signed into law – the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, which helps the seven states in the Colorado Basin, including New Mexico, implement plans for conserving water and shoring up supplies.

We must build upon this success and ensure our elected leaders support policy that will sustain this basin for generations to come. Federal funds can be deployed for the benefit of all taxpayers and water users, including by creating ecological resiliency in the face of drought with the kind of stream restoration being done on the Rio Chama.

We all depend on our rivers and water, and the chain of life they support – these are things that we cannot bear to lose.

Working together is our best hope for securing those precious resources for the future.