The document says the county’s current water supply is about 146,000 acre-feet per year, but demand is expected to increase to about 160,000 acre-feet per year by 2040 and 206,000 acre-feet per year by 2060…
The plan, prepared by Englewood-based engineering firm Forsgren Associates Inc., makes a variety of recommendations for closing the gap, including monitoring groundwater well levels, exploring ways to reuse water, finding new water sources and considering changes to the county’s land use approval process.
The county is home to more than 21,300 permitted groundwater wells and roughly 70 water providers, from small districts to municipal departments, according to the plan.
Water providers in once rural parts of the county, such as Monument, face mounting concerns about how to ensure that residents have enough water as the population continues to rise.
The primary water source for areas that are not served by Colorado Springs Utilities is the Denver Basin. Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint the rate at which water levels are falling in the system of aquifers, which were filled by precipitation over many years.
By 2060, the county’s current annual supply would be enough to serve a little more than half of the projected population, according to the plan. More residents could potentially be served by Denver Basin groundwater, but only if it’s still economical to pump, the plan states.
Per state law, county commissioners generally decide if there’s sufficient water to serve a new development during final platting, the stage of the land use approval process in which lots are created, said Mark Gebhart, deputy director of the county Planning and Community Development Department.
But the plan suggests that the county consider changing its rules so that determination can be made earlier, such as when a preliminary plan or zoning change is approved, to help ensure that new developments are planned with water supply in mind.
The plan also recommends that the county re-evaluate a subdivision regulation that requires developers to prove that they have a 300 years’ supply of water. The requirement, three times as stringent as a state standard that requires proof of 100 years’ supply, could be waived if developers agree to conservation-minded practices, such as reuse of captured wastewater to offset demands, the plan suggests…
The plan also advises that the county encourage water providers to find more reliable water sources that are replenished regularly by precipitation, rather than deep groundwater sources that are slow to recharge. One possibility might be importing water from the Arkansas River, the plan states.
Morgan County resident John Yocam and Colorado Open Lands ended 2018 with a deal.
Yocam decided about a year ago that he wanted to conserve his family’s ranchland to make sure it stayed the thriving ranch land and habitat site that they had worked for many years to maintain. He approached Colorado Open Lands, a nonprofit land trust, to figure out how best to ensure the land would continue on as it has…
Yocam said in the past his land has been a site of interest by outside parties, and he wanted to ensure that it stayed the ranchland it has been. As both Yocam and Farmer explain, the land is both ranchland and an important habitat site for local and migrating wildlife…
Yocam explained some of the history of his land and why a conservation easement made sense for him.
“It’s been a long time coming actually. It started back in the ’70s when they were going to put in Centennial Wildlife Refuge here,” he said.
Yocam said the land has been in his family for about 70 years or so, since the mid-1950s, and he himself has lived there since 1976.
“Pressure has just got to so much here from different water projects, recharge projects. I’ve been in court about three times and so I just got tired of fighting off everybody,” he explained. “So I donated it into a land trust.”
‘Rare and Unusual’
Describing the recently conserved land, Yocam said with some pride, “It was deemed rare and unusual and must be protected, was the rating they gave it.”
Farmer explained how this land is valuable in many ways, more than ranchland.
“In addition to being highly productive, the ranch also provides excellent waterfowl habitat with its wetland and upland features,” she said.
The land is located outside of the town of Orchard, Farmer said, and it plays an important role for the wildlife living in the area, especially birds.
“Occurring within the ‘Golden Triangle,’ an area in Morgan and Weld counties defined by Empire Reservoir, Jackson Reservoir and Riverside Reservoir, the ranch and surrounding agricultural lands provide populations of ducks and geese with important upland/agricultural foraging grounds during their migration and over-wintering in the South Platte Basin,” Farmer explained.
For bird migration in the area, this location is critical, she said.
“This region is one of the most important wetland complexes in the South Platte Basin along the Central Flyway Migration Corridor,” Farmer said.
Yocam painted a picture of the land diversity across his property: “It’s river bottom, into a riparian habitat. I’ve got a large sub-irrigated meadow. It’s got a big chunk of wetlands on it and then it goes into the uplands.”
Two shadows slipped across the frozen landscape and away from a freshly killed elk. Their movements quick and light as they navigated a maze of sagebrush, the pair of wolves made their way toward me. The darker one led the other, a younger wolf in the pack, just as she had done during the hunt.
As I watched, they moved closer, their warm breath momentarily visible in the cold air. Soon, I could hear their rhythmic footfalls on crunching snow.
It was my third trip to Yellowstone National Park, my second as a natural sounds recordist, and my first in search of wolves. I’d come to document the sounds of these animals in January 2016, in order to preserve their voices for the park archives and for use in displays and stories for the public.
If the pair I watched knew I was present, they gave no sign of it. Instead, they greeted a third individual off to my right with brief sniffing and posturing. Then, as the light faded and darkness slowly overtook the day, these three members of the Lamar Canyon wolf pack spent the next 20 minutes in what can best be described as play. Just as I have seen my own domestic dogs do countless times before, these three very wild dogs ran, jumped and wrestled with each other, tails wagging as they brought the day to a close. Though millennia of evolution separate our domestic dogs from these wild ones, I saw the evolutionary links between them in their evening play.
Had it ended there, it would have been the memory of a lifetime. But as evening fully set in, the three broke off their play. They stood still in the darkness and, along with the rest of the pack hidden in the hills, sang out in a prolonged chorus which hung impossibly long in the cold night air. Luckily, I’d hit “record.”
I work as a natural sounds recordist for moments like these. My mission is to create an aural history of the sounds of our wild lands, in sad anticipation of the future loss of species and the changes to ecological communities caused by human impact on the planet. At best, these recordings help inspire support for the conservation of species and ecosystems. At worst, I create acoustic fossils of animals and landscapes that are gone too soon. I believe in the importance of my work, but sometimes I wish it wasn’t so damn necessary.
That January sighting was my very first glimpse of a wolf pack, and a remarkable one at that. The dark leader was the famous alpha female known to park biologists as 926F — affectionately named “Spitfire” by wolf watchers. In the two years since, this memory had faded, the details blurring, leaving me with just the unforgettable outlines.
In November, 926F was legally killed by a hunter just outside park boundaries in Montana. When I first saw the story, it was just another headline noting the loss of another famous animal at the hands of a trophy hunter. Her even more famous mother had met the same fate six years prior. But then, a note of recognition rang, and my stomach slowly sank.
I scrambled around, searching through old pictures and leafing through my field notes. It was her: my first wolf, and a prominent figure in my first field recording of a truly wild and iconic predator. She was gone and her voice silenced. I sat alone in disbelief in my basement office, everything still except the humming of the ventilation system. I’d listened to her howl hundreds of times from this same spot, fondly reliving our encounter.
In my recordings, 926F’s voice is forever preserved. I wanted to be upset at the hunter and angry at the hunting laws that allowed her death, but I couldn’t move past grief. For comfort, I put her recording on repeat. As howls filled the room, I drifted back to that January day in the park where our paths first crossed, and I remembered the sounds of a group of wild creatures at play.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Matt Annabel and Sara M. Dunn):
Sustainable agricultural production requires responsible stewardship and financial stability. Since 1976, Colorado has provided a mechanism for landowners to perpetually protect their lands and associated water rights, while enjoying financial benefits through the grant of a conservation easement. The landowner retains ownership of the property after a conservation easement is conveyed.
Conservation easements can be created only by a voluntary agreement between the landowner and a government entity or a charitable land trust created for that purpose. The landowner selects the governmental entity, such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, or a land trust that best suits their goals, objectives and interests to hold the conservation easement. The Aspen Valley Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust hold many conservation easements in our area.
Aspen Valley Land Trust was organized in 1967 and is the oldest land trust in Colorado. To date, AVLT has conserved over 41,000 acres that protect local agriculture, rivers, wildlife habitat, recreational access, and outdoor educational opportunities in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Roughly half of AVLT conserved lands lie within the greater Roaring Fork Valley, and half between Glenwood Springs and the Flat Tops north of De Beque.
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust was formed in 1995 to help Colorado’s ranchers and farmers protect their agricultural lands and encourage the intergenerational transfer of ranches and farms. CCALT focuses on agricultural easements and encourages traditional activities such as farming, grazing, hunting, fishing and recreation on the land.
The first step in conserving a property is identification of the property values that the landowner wants to preserve and the rights they are willing to relinquish in order to conserve the property. Landowners have flexibility in selecting which property rights they are willing to give up in exchange for a conservation easement.
In instances where farming and ranching are identified as the conservation values of a property, easements can be used as a tool to compensate landowners for tying their water resources to the land, defining stewardship obligations and permanently restricting development. This preserves the land for agricultural production while maintaining the scenic landscapes and wildlife habitat that draw recreation and tourism dollars to our communities.
When an easement is granted, the current use and management of the land is usually maintained resulting in very little impact on daily activities. Public access is not a requirement for conveying a conservation easement, although the property owner is required to grant the land trust access for monitoring visits.
Conservation easements are typically monitored on an annual basis and visits are coordinated with the landowner. The annual visit to the property is to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met, to continue to build relationships with the landowners, and to resolve stewardship issues that may arise.
Conservation easements can generate financial benefits for the landowners. Conservation easements are valued through an appraisal process which considers the value of the property without the conservation easement vs. the value of the property in its restricted state subject to the conservation easement. The difference between the two appraisal values is the conservation easement value which is used to calculate how much the landowner will be compensated for conserving their land.
Most conservation easements are donated, in which case the landowner is compensated through federal and state tax incentives. In some rare situations, grants may be available to compensate the landowner for a portion of the conservation value
A typical conservation easement takes approximately one year to complete. There are associated fees which vary greatly depending upon the circumstances. The fees cover a baseline inventory report, appraisals, title work, environmental assessments, mineral reports and the drafting of the legal documents necessary to create the conservation easement.
Landowners interested in more information on conservation easements can contact AVLT at http://www.avlt.org or 970-963-8440. The local Conservation Districts will be holding an Ag Expo on Feb. 2, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Garfield County Fair Grounds in Rifle where additional information regarding conservation easements can be obtained. Registration is required to attend the Expo. More details can be found at: http://www.bookcliffcd.org/.
Water Law Basics appears monthly in the Post Independent in cooperation with the area conservation districts. Matt Annabel is communications and outreach director for the Aspen Valley Land Trust, and Sara M. Dunn is district supervisor for the Bookcliff Conservation District.
In 2002, Mother Nature fired a dry, scorching shot across the bow of the American Southwest, challenging the resiliency of towns, cities, and farms.
Snow had been thin that winter in the Rockies, the source of three-quarters of the Colorado River. A hot, windy spring desiccated what remained. Runoff in the river and its tributaries, which help sustain nearly 40 million people from Denver to San Diego and Los Angeles to Albuquerque, as well as many of the nation’s orchards and vegetable farms, ran at only 25 percent of the average.
The intensity of the drought surpassed anything recorded since American settlement in the late 19th century. It alone galvanized new infrastructure, new policies, and new thinking. But this drought did not just come and go. Despite a few big snow years, river flows in the 21st century still aren’t what they were for much of the last century.
After studying the data, two water researchers recently came to a startling and controversial conclusion: This wasn’t a drought as conventionally understood. Precipitation had declined, but there was more to it. They declared that the warming climate is drawing water into the atmosphere through evaporation, transpiration, and sublimation, causing it to become moister and the land to become drier.
In a 2017 paper, Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, and his coauthor, Jonathan Overpeck, the dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, attributed two-thirds of water declines to temperatures rather than precipitation, which they say is now a secondary contributor.
“This is the kind of drought we will have to deal with in the future,” Overpeck said at the Next Gen- eration Water Summit in Santa Fe in April.
From coast to coast, planners and water management professionals have begun to grapple with changes predicted by climate models, some in conjunction with projected population growth. Their challenge is to build resiliency to changing precipitation levels (both higher and lower amounts depending on the area), increased heat nearly everywhere, and more intense rain and weather events.
Below the water line
Just a half-hour from the eternal lights of Las Vegas lies Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. There visitors can see the evidence of what Udall and Overpeck contend is a temperature-driven drought. Beaches continue to expand as canyon walls reemerge after being under water for decades. As of June, Mead was 37 percent full—the lowest level since 1937, soon after construction of Hoover Dam was completed.
When it began drawing water from Lake Mead in 1971, Las Vegas’s population was 126,000. Now, the metropolitan area has two million residents and draws 40 million tourists annually. Ninety percent of water for Las Vegas and its suburbs comes from Mead through two tunnels from the reservoir’s mid- dle and higher levels.
In 2010, plunging reservoir levels spurred the Southern Nevada Water Authority to a greater extreme: a third tunnel that assumes the worst—a reservoir nearly empty. This third bore comes up from underneath the river bed, like the drain of a bathtub. It’s 20 feet wide, large enough to fit a sub- way train, and three miles long. For the sake of comparison, the Hoover Dam, if built today, would cost $840 million. This tunnel, completed in 2015, and a new pumping station that will be completed in 2020, will cost $1.4 billion. That is one of the costs associated with making the Las Vegas Valley more resilient in the face of a hotter, drier future that is more volatile in its extremes.
Climate models describe varied responses in average precipitation across the continental U.S. Changes in the next 20 to 30 years will likely be hard to detect, lost in the noise of natural variability, says Flavio Lehner of the Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Sixty to 100 years out, the effects of human activities on the climate might become more obvious, but how much will depend upon whether and how much greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.“If we do hit the climate with a big hammer, meaning a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, then some of the more uncertain climate impacts, like average precipitation, become a bit clearer,” says Lehner.
In some respects, this year is a harbinger: Drought in the Southwest and flooding in the upper Midwest, Great Lakes region, and Northeast are the expected climate responses to increasing global greenhouse gas emissions. The Eastern Seaboard and South, already hit by hurricanes, can expect more rain associated with future storms. Extreme precipitation is projected to increase robustly with warming, while average precipitation will increase with less predictability. Temperature changes are more certain than precipitation and will make droughts and floods both worse, if unevenly so.
Lesser climate changes than what scientists expect in the 21st century have shaken past civilizations to their cores. John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, points to Chaco Canyon, in what is now northwestern New Mexico. It was central to thousands of ancestral Pueblo between 850 and 1250 AD. When extended drought visited in the 1100s and again in the 1200s, the cultural institutions could not withstand the changes. People fled. In short, they lacked sufficient resiliency.
One definition of resiliency, Fleck points out, is the ability of large human and natural systems to undergo major shocks and still retain their basic functions and structures.
Even if Las Vegas is everyone’s favorite city to hate, says Fleck, it must be given credit for sizing up its vulnerability and taking steps to become more resilient. The city has made choices. It has kept the Bellagio fountains, the Venetian’s trompe-l’oeil canals, and Treasure Island’s waterfalls—important elements of Nevada’s economy.
However, in addition to a new reservoir tunnel, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has also spent $200 million to remove 185 million square-feet of lawns, saving 55 gallons per square of grass per year. This program is the primary reason Las Vegas has been able to ratchet down per-capita water use from 199 gallons per day two decades ago to 127 gallons today.
Now, the Southern Nevada Water Authority is taking aim at what officials describe as “purely aesthetic turf.” If the only time people set foot on the grass is to mow it, there’s little reason for it, they say. Already, lawns in front of new houses are prohibited, and those in backyards have been minimized. Rebates of $3 per square feet are offered.
When people think of water and the arid West, squabbles and chicanery like those that drove the storyline in Jack Nicholson’s Chinatown may come to mind. Fleck believes the stronger theme is of cooperation and collaboration. For example, pilot programs were launched several years ago in the seven Colorado River Basin states, from Wyoming to California, to determine whether voluntary, measurable reductions in the consumption of Colorado River water constitute a feasible and cost-effective approach to partially mitigate impacts of this new, long-term drought.
Incentives for this mitigation are financial and typically involve urban water providers paying farmers and ranchers to use less water by idling their fields, planting less consumptive crops, or altering their irrigation practices. Agriculture uses 50 to 90 percent of water in Southwestern states.
One five-year project now under way in California expects to keep 5,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead, the result of $1 million paid to Coachella Valley farmers to convert up to 667 acres of farm- land from flood-furrow irrigation to drip irrigation. For perspective, the average California household uses between one-half and one acre-foot of water per year for indoor and outdoor use.
Kim Mitchell, the Phoenix-based representative of Western Resource Advocates, cites multi-jurisdictional storage of water in aquifers as another tool. In Arizona, one recent agreement gives Phoenix the right to store 3,800 acre-feet of water from its share of the Colorado River diversion in an aquifer of the Gila River as it flows through the Gila River Indian Community.
This recharge has yielded three miles of a riparian ecosystem. Phoenix can tap the water when needed.
Climate change is not the only driver for these efforts. Arizona has perennially been among the nation’s fastest-growing states, despite its native aridity. Population has quadrupled in the last 50 years, but water use has stayed constant. This is partly because of shifts to water from farms to cities, but also increased efficiency in both. “What I’m hearing now at conferences is the need for the next genera- tion of conservation and reuse efforts,” says Mitchell.
In more arid states, greater attention has been focused on landscaping. In Colorado, 40 percent of total annual urban water use happens outdoors. In Arizona, where precipitation varies between seven to 11 inches annually, 77 inches of water will evapo- rate from a standing pool of water. In Las Vegas, one study found that lawns used 73 gallons per square foot annually, compared to one gallon for yards landscaped with the aid of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water-Smart Landscapes program.
Southern California is home to 19 million peo- ple and is gaining 150,000 each year. It draws water from diverse sources, including a quarter from a 242-mile aqueduct from the Colorado River on the Arizona-California border. A major water whole- saler, Metropolitan Water District, chalked up a 36 percent reduction in water use from 1985 to 2015. Much of this, like in Las Vegas, has been done through replacement of water-hogging landscapes.
Bill McDonnell, water efficiency manager for Metropolitan, said at the Santa Fe conference that his budget went from $19 million to $450 million during California’s five years of drought ending in 2016–2017. This money incentivized the removal of 150 million square feet of turf, saving six billion gallons of water annually. Metropolitan, partnering with the California Landscaping Contractors Asso- ciation, held landscaping classes for the public, drawing 75 to 100 people for each class.
Water conservation is a theme not just in places of saguaro cacti and mesquite. Water engineering consultant Peter Mayer says utilities have “been terrible” in their forecasts of needed water because they “did not anticipate that demand-management conservation policies would work as well as they have.” National water use per capita peaked in 1990 at about 182 gallons daily and has declined ever since. “It’s now [about 140 gallons per capita daily] the same as it was in 1960,” he says. “This national phenomenon is largely a result of policies.”
In Seattle, said Mayer, the cost of delivering new water supply in 1990 had been estimated at $800 million. On the other hand, policies that nudged consumers to the “soft path” of conservation—reducing water needed for toilets, clothes washers, and other measures—cost $75 million, saving Seattle $725 million. New York established universal metering in 1990 to provide accountability and then pro- vided rebates for more efficient toilets.
Those and other policies have decoupled population growth from increased water use in those and many other cities and states. “That is a significant change,” Mayer says.
Toilets are substantially more efficient than they were 20 years ago, down from 3.75 gallons per flush to 2.6 gallons. Washing machines, which get replaced more frequently than toilets, now use 46 percent less water. Mayer thinks further substantial water savings can be achieved through stanching leaks in residential infrastructure.
Changing behavior is more difficult. The per- capita water use for a shower is 8.3 gallons. “We’re very attached to our showers,” Mayer says.
Even so, he believes only half of potential efficiencies have been realized—which means there is opportunity to further reduce water use as climatic shifts becomes clearer and populations continue to grow.
Water rates can dramatically influence water use, he says. In some places, rates are being used in conjunction with a process called water budgeting. The utility can use GIS mapping and other tools to set a water budget for a house, depending upon the size and the space of the lawn. Then rates can nudge those users to appropriate uses.
Utilities at Irvine, Capistrano, and Ojai in California were the first to adopt this water budget approach in the early 1990s. “It’s a paradigm shift in the way we think about water management,” he says. “You are essentially putting a value on reasonable use. But once you exceed that amount, it gets expensive.”
Motivations for lowering water use vary across the country. On the East Coast, it more often has to do with wastewater discharges. Pumping and treating water also consume large amounts of energy, which is important for communities intent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Drought and population growth motivate others.
“It’s all related,” says Mayer. “It’s getting ourselves more efficient in the urban sector, and that will only help us more in the long run. It has probably helped us today to avoid worse problems. The only downside from the perspective of utilities is the loss of revenue.”
Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S. From 29.5 million in 2020, the state’s popu- lation is projected to grow to 51 million by 2070. Austin is among the cities expecting to grow, from one million today to four million by century’s end. Even during a drought from 2008 to 2015, people kept coming.
Austin averages 33 inches of rainfall a year, a comparative jungle to the four inches in Las Vegas. But Austin’s water work parallels that of Colorado River Basin cities. Drought in Austin drove urgent responses. Per capita use has dived 35 percent over the last decade.
“We’re using less water than we did 250,000 to 300,000 people ago,” says Daryl Slusher, assistant director of environmental affairs and conservation. The city, site of the famed South by Southwest festival, used policies similar to California’s: rebates for replacement of turf with drought-tolerant landscaping. It also adopted an incremental approach for lawn watering: one day a week for automated systems, three days for manual watering, and no restrictions for drip irrigation systems.
A project called Water Forward, partly assisted by the city’s planning department, has formulated a 100-year vision for Austin for consideration by elected officials that anticipates not only population growth and potential return of drought but also the possibility of a marginally drier climate.
Reuse is also a viable strategy. The 2017 state water plan for Texas identified 42 percent of future water needs as being met through demand manage- ment and reuse. Next year, El Paso expects to begin building a plant to provide a portion of its water sup- ply, the first such permanent facility in the U.S. This is different than the more common indirect potable reuse, where wastewater is first released in an environmental buffer before treatment.
Elsewhere in the U.S., 12 cities from Portland to Tampa and San Diego to Philadelphia are collaborating to advance water utility climate-change adap- tation. Their partnership, called the Water Utility Climate Alliance, has the stated vision of “climate- resilient water utilities, thriving communities.”
Laurna Kaatz of Denver Water, WUCA’s current chair, emphasizes the uncertainties of future precipitation but the likelihood of greater extremes, which will require understanding the different tools and mechanisms to address the range of possible futures. Resiliency planning, she says, doesn’t mean just bouncing back, but planning in ways so that you don’t have to.
Amid the ongoing discussions about water in the face of a changing climate, two recurring themes stand out: The first is the need for partnerships and collaborations, often at a regional scale. The second is the continued role of—and even greater capacity for—increased water efficiency. It’s a dishrag that can continue to be wrung.
Allen Best writes about water, energy and other topics from Denver. His website is mountaintownnews.net.
Greeley officials plan to end a program at the beginning of 2019 that offers rebates on toilets and high-efficiency clothes washers as a result of dwindling participation and state regulations, according to a news release.
The program, which started in 2006, offers up to $75 in rebates to customers who use high-efficiency residential toilets and $100 for washers.
“Manufacturers have made products much more efficient in the last ten years,” Ruth Quade, Greeley’s Water Conservation Coordinator, said in a news release. “Also, the State of Colorado set higher efficiency standards for toilets in September of 2016. Fewer people are also participating in our programs.”
Quade said the city is working to develop more effective ways to work with the community on water efficiency. Officials said water conservation audits pair well with the rebate program.
Small programs can go a long way to save water and help farmers survive the coming shortages on the Colorado River. These should be the next focus for policymakers now wrestling with drought contingency plans.
Recently, policymakers in the states that share the Colorado River have made headlines for their progress toward developing a drought contingency plan. This plan is intended to keep water levels in the river’s two major reservoirs, lakes Mead and Powell, from falling too low to keep water flowing to all the people and farms that rely on it. Within Colorado and the other upstream states, the plan also seeks to preserve the ability to produce hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam and fulfill legal obligations to the downstream states.
There is significant concern that water use cuts may be required if ongoing drought makes it difficult to keep honoring those obligations. Regional water leaders have strongly advocated that any use cuts to protect reservoir levels should be voluntary, temporary and paid for.
This matters to farmers such as [Tom] Kay, because they don’t want to be legally required to cut their water use. It also matters to communities like Hotchkiss, because their economies depend on farms using water to grow crops. So a drought contingency plan that prevents a crisis in the big reservoirs and avoids legally required water use cuts would be good for Kay and good for Hotchkiss, as well as for many others in Colorado and the rest of the upstream states.
However, what about when water delivery cuts are mandated by nature rather than laws and policies? When the snow doesn’t come, and you aren’t downstream from a big reservoir, or your reservoir is already tapped out, you sometimes have to make do with less, regardless of how good your water rights are or what the policy documents say. That was the case for many irrigators this past year, and is likely to be the case more often in the future as temperatures continue to warm.
When there is simply less water to go around, infrastructure investments such as the cost-share program that helped Kay buy his sprinklers can make the difference between viability and non-viability for farms and ranches and their rural communities. There are lots of scattered programs that can help with this, some focused on water quality and habitat improvements, and others focused on irrigation efficiency. They’ve brought millions of dollars to rural communities and done a lot of good. But some programs have also suffered from excessive red tape and poor planning.
As policymakers are working to keep Lake Powell and Lake Mead functioning, it would be worth sparing some time to also think about the programs supporting drought resilience in headwaters communities, and how to make them more effective.