Every Drop Counts: What You Can Do to Save Water in the West — @Water4Colorado #conservation

From Water for Colorado (click through to view the videos and learn some tips for lawn care):

Modern conveniences have made it easy to forget how much water we’re using and where that water really comes from. This makes it even more difficult to grasp how your water usage habits can have a long-term impact on the collective water supply.

With a predicted water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet (one acre foot is 326,000 gallons) in Colorado by 2050, water conservation efforts in states that rely on the Colorado River for their water supply have never been more important. Though some states such as Colorado and California have adopted laws that encourage the installation of more water efficient toilets, faucets, and showerheads, these small adjustments are just the first step in preserving the water supply for the long-term.

While water conservation efforts have historically focused primarily on water usage inside the home, the current conversation around water conservation is shifting its focus to water usage outside of the home. Continuously running your sprinklers may be healthy for your lawn, but it’s not so great for the long-term health of our water sources like the Colorado River. Although most of the water used indoors eventually makes its way to a water treatment plant where it is recycled and ultimately repurposed, the same cannot be said for water that is used outdoors. The gallons of water you’re spraying on your lawn and driveway, unlike the gallons going down your drain, don’t make their way to a treatment plant and cannot be recycled. Rather, this water is absorbed into the ground, only to later be evaporated into the air.

To make a lasting, impactful difference everyone must do their part in order to save our water. Luckily, there are a few simple lawn care changes that not only save water but can even help keep lawns healthier.

Opinion: Conservation easements are an investment in soils

Saguache Creek

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Tamera Minnick):

Soils are vital to ecosystem health. In the U.S., we learned this the hard way in the 1930s Dust Bowl. Extreme drought was just one of the drivers of the Dust Bowl. The effects were magnified by economic, policy and land management decisions during the prior decade.

At the end of World War I, European agriculture was in disarray and American agriculture benefited. During a few years, wheat prices were high and borrowing money was easy. The result was 5.2 million acres of marginal agricultural lands plowed to grow wheat. In retrospect, we now appreciate that these lands should have stayed as native grass.

Once that soil was destabilized by plowing and left bare in the drought, it blew. And blew. People died of dust pneumonia — not caused by a bacteria or virus, but from the dust itself.

In 1935, Dr. Hugh Bennett, a soil scientist, prescribed protecting and revegetating these marginal lands with grasses. When government agencies insisted that soil was a resource that could not be exhausted, Bennett replied, “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence.” The main problem with Bennett’s ideas, like today, was that he had to persuade Congress to fund them.

Congress was stubborn, but Bennett rescheduled a hearing for an afternoon in which he knew that a big duster had formed and was headed for Washington, DC.

As the meeting began, success appeared unlikely. It suddenly grew dark. The dust storm blew in and turned day to night. Funding was approved. This was the inception of what would become the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Today, most farmers have easy access to an NRCS office.

NRCS strives to decrease erosion by aiding farmers in adopting techniques such as low- or no-till plowing, contouring with the landscape, using buffer strips around water, and planting shelterbelts.

Building on this success, President Ronald Reagan implemented the Conservation Reserve Program in 1985. The intent was to take marginal land, mostly land at risk for erosion, out of crop production and plant native grass. The federal government pays rent to farmers for providing this public service of stabilizing these marginal lands.

The CRP has decreased erosion, improved wildlife habitat, and enhanced water and air quality, all while keeping the land in private ownership.

One of the deficiencies of the CRP is the short-term nature of the contracts. For 15 or 20 years, erosion is controlled, soil organic matter gradually accumulates, wildlife populations rebound, and sites stabilize. But there can be sudden changes.

For instance, in 2007, crop prices increased dramatically. Many marginal lands were put back into crop production. In one year, many of those public goods, paid for by taxpayers, were eliminated.

In the late 1990s, a new conservation tool was developed — conservation easements. With conservation easements, the right to develop the land is relinquished and, in return, the owner usually is accorded significant tax credits.

One similarity between the CRP and conservation easements is that entering into either one is voluntary. The landowner makes a personal and economic decision that the program is the right thing to do with his or her private land. Additionally, the private land remains private.

There are some major differences between conservation easements and CRP. Under conservation easements, many land uses are allowed, including continued crop production; these are described in a contract. Also, the easement is often held by a non-profit (like our own Mesa Land Trust). The result of an easement is a substantial tax credit (which in Colorado can be transferred to others). Finally, the easement is permanent, not just a 10- or 15-year contract.

That last point is important. At Colorado Mesa University, my colleagues, students, and I have reported that it may take our fragile western soils 50 years or more to recover to a healthy functioning status following damage (and much longer if topsoil is lost to erosion). Permanent conservation easements assure public investments will not be lost with short-term fluctuations in commodity prices.

Another reason that conservation easements are in perpetuity? In order to gain the federal and Colorado tax credits, the easement must be permanent.

Mesa Land Trust is phenomenally successful in our county. There is widespread support, and they have helped landowners protect, in perpetuity, over 66,000 acres. Much of this is important wildlife habitat outside of the valley, while some insures that agriculture thrives in the valley and that we have buffers between our towns to preserve the rural character of our area.

Conservation easements are a modern tool based on our improved understanding of the science of how ecosystems function. Their perpetual nature guarantees the public’s return on this investment.

Tamera Minnick, Ph.D., is a professor of environmental science and technology at Colorado Mesa University where she has taught soil science and sustainability. She recently renewed her membership with Mesa Land Trust. Much of the Dust bowl information came from Timothy Egan’s “Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” Email tminnick.gjsentinel@yahoo.com.

#Colorado needs big commitment to #conservation during implementation of @COWaterPlan

Photo credit Susan Greene.

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Without the conservation ethos embraced by other states, Colorado will run out of water in 2050.

There’s nothing like a drought to turn everyone’s attention to water conservation.

Colorado’s last major drought was from 2001 to 2002. It wasn’t the length of the drought that was striking, but the extreme lack of rain and snowpack – so bad that one writer referred to it as a 300-year event.

That drought triggered discussions on how Coloradans should conserve water, as well as new laws that eventually led to the formation of statewide roundtables – groups representing water providers, cities, towns and counties, as well as environmental, recreational and agricultural users – that focused on Colorado’s water future.

“There was tangible willingness of ordinary people to listen to what we were trying to say about water use,” says Russ George, a former Speaker of the House from Rifle who currently serves as chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency charged with coming up with Colorado’s first statewide water plan.

But that was then – a two-year surge in Coloradans’ water conservation consciousness that waned when snow and rain levels started returning to normal. Though Colorado has proven in the past that it can save water, it has yet to embrace, long-term, many of the tools that have framed a conservation mindset in neighboring states to the southwest. The ethos is born of the kind of thirst that Colorado hasn’t experienced for 15 years. But that thirst is looming over the next three decades, driven both by climate change and population growth. The state’s population is expected to grow from about 5.5 million in 2016 to as many as 10 million people by 2050.

Colorado’s first statewide water plan, released in 2015, was spurred by that looming shortage. Chief among its talking points is conservation, the idea that at least part of the solution to the state’s future water woes lies in encouraging everyone to use less water. When Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered the creation of the water plan in 2013, he famously said that “every conversation about water has to start with conservation.”

Just a few months later, however, he vetoed a bill championed by conservationists to leave more water in the Colorado River. The bill, aimed at requiring agriculture to move to more water-efficient irrigation, drew opposition from the farming and ranching community and from water providers. Conservationists called Hickenlooper’s veto “a failure to lead.” Hickenlooper said that deciding to veto the bill was a “close call,” but added that the lack of consensus that divided the water community would have made implementing the policy too difficult.

The water plan sets a lofty goal for conservation. It calls for cities, towns and businesses statewide to cut annual usage by some 400,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply water to about eight million people per year. But, the plan lacks a clear, measurable path forward to achieve it.

John Stulp, the state’s water czar who was instrumental in helping put the plan together, said the conservation target is a “stretch” goal, meaning it’s aspirational rather than a hard and fast number. He also pointed out that the goal didn’t come from the water plan itself, but rather from water providers. It’s up to those providers, he said, to figure out how to conserve that water. Colorado’s local control laws often block the state from telling local governments what to do. That, Stulp said, applies to water, too.

Becky Mitchell, who leads water supply planning at the CWCB, said the state is taking more of a carrot approach in working with local governments on conservation. Since 2010, a state law has required that water providers develop water efficiency plans. Some 95 percent of water utilities and companies are doing so annually (the other 5 percent, very small water providers, aren’t required to develop those plans). The data collected from these plans will help the state in its water supply planning for the future, according to the CWCB website.

Two years into the process of implementing the water plan, Stulp said it’s still too early to come up with definitive conservation numbers that water providers would have to meet. He’s hoping that the data from the water efficiency plans will help the CWCB come up with those numbers.

Stulp pointed to Greeley as an example of where the planning is headed. The town has been analyzing water use for every property, based on square footage. Every property, be it a home or business, is then assigned a water budget. Enforcement of water use is then done through tiered water rates. “Water hogs will pay considerably more for going outside the boundaries,” Stulp said.

Reaching the statewide conservation goal won’t be easy. “The water providers will have to push hard,” Mitchell said.

But even as the CWCB says that water providers have to take the lead on conservation, some in the water community say they want more leadership on the issue from the governor’s administration as well as from the General Assembly.

“We need some leadership from the state, and strengthening conservation and water efficiency requirements would be one step,” said Jim Lochhead, executive director of Denver Water, the biggest municipal water supplier in the state.

Democratic Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville says the time has come to update the state’s water conservation laws, and he’s most interested in adding statutes that apply to developers and land-use planning.

Colorado’s looming water shortage is projected to be about one million acre-feet of water per year. A family of four, on average, uses about a half-acre foot of water per year, or about 163,000 gallons of water per year. So a million acre-foot shortage would impact virtually every Coloradan and in every way of life: farmers, city dwellers, businesses, oil and gas drillers, environmentalists, birders, anglers, rafters, kayakers and everyone else who values the health and vibrancy of Colorado’s rivers.

Some 86 percent of water in the state is used by agriculture, the state’s number two economic driver. Yet the plan doesn’t include a conservation goal (agriculture prefers to call it “efficiency”) for the farmers and ranchers. The plan notes that setting strict conservation requirements for the agricultural sector would be tricky because it could have consequences on water rights under Colorado water laws. It also notes that water use by agriculture is expected to drop into the low 80th percentile due to agricultural water rights being bought by municipal and industrial users.

James Eklund, who headed the CWCB until this spring, said that setting a goal for agriculture wasn’t necessary because agriculture is already pretty efficient in its water usage; most water either goes to the crop or it goes back into the water source (a stream or ditch) to be used by the next farm in line for that water.

Those tasked with meeting the municipal and industrial conservation goals so far face a losing battle to stop growing water-hungry Kentucky blue-grass lawns in the semi-arid West.

Coloradans’ prickliness about grass was the subject of a recent news report about a hateful postcard sent to a resident of Harvey Park in southwest Denver whose lawn hadn’t been cared for and which drew a nasty response from an anonymous neighbor. While most of the comments expressed sympathy for the family with the unwatered lawn, one comment also showed that fervor to keep lawns green in semi-arid Denver wasn’t isolated to that one postcard. Brad Klafehn of Harvey Park noted that he had let his lawn die in preparation for xeriscaping, which earned him similarly nasty postcards telling him to either water his grass “or get out of the neighborhood.” Even after xeriscaping, neighbors filed complaints with the city of Denver for the next five years over his “unkempt vegetation. The inspector knew what we were doing and never cited us,” Klafehn said.

Denver’s conservation efforts
Denver Water serves 1.4 million customers in Denver and eight other Front Range communities – about one out of every four Coloradans. It reduced its water usage by 22 percent between 2002 and 2016 through conservation efforts. Centered around its Use Only What You Need campaign, average consumption is about 165 gallons per person per day, down from 211 gallons prior to the 2002 drought. The utility is cited as a model for getting water customers to conserve.

Denver Water is shifting its focus from conservation to water efficiency. Lochhead said that many of its customers are doing a pretty good job limiting water use, whether by using more efficient water fixtures or reducing outdoor water use, which is Denver Water’s biggest consumption during the summer. The next step, he said, is a water efficiency plan, currently under a public comment period, that will “target those customers who aren’t being as efficient,” and which will direct Denver Water’s conservation efforts into the next five years.

Lochhead said the idea is not to rip up lawns – a measure pushed in the California’s recent drought – but to show people that “landscaping can be beautiful and highly water-efficient at the same time.”

But there are obstacles that need to be overcome in order to move forward, including a disconnect between land-use planning and water utilities.

As Lochhead sees it, state law is “soft” on rigor for water efficiency.

“County and municipal governments approve development plans that may not be the most water efficient, and then turn to the utility and say, ‘provide water service to this development,’” he said. “We can’t dictate development. We have to try to work with our customers.”

The CWCB’s Mitchell said her agency is working to bridge that disconnect between land use and water utilities. The agency recently held a series of webinars, attended by more than 300 people working on land-use planning, as well as some homebuilders, to encourage that municipalities’ zoning codes and landscape requirements take water conservation into account. As a local control state, Colorado can’t mandate zoning codes for local communities, but Mitchell said state government can serve as an advisor to city and county governments. “Those are the folks who make that successful,” she said.

Lochhead’s wish list includes more use of “graywater” – the mostly-clean water that comes from baths, sinks, washing machines and dishwashers – and “green infrastructure,” which which uses stormwater runoff to irrigate natural vegetation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, stormwater runoff in urban areas “carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants from the urban landscape,” and heavy rains can “cause erosion and flooding in urban streams, damaging habitat, property, and infrastructure.”

Lochhead said that the state Department of Public Health and Environmental could move forward on regulations that would approve new technologies on reuse and recycling of rainwater, graywater, and blackwater, meaning water that comes in contact with human waste. Those technologies are already in use just about everywhere except Colorado. In Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas, for example, graywater can be used without a permit, depending on how much is needed per day.

In the meantime, Denver Water is redeveloping its 6th Avenue and I-25 operations complex to make it the most sustainable water site in the state. The facility, which will have its own wastewater treatment system, will be a model for demonstrating highly efficient irrigation. Eventually, the water district hopes to irrigate the entire administrative complex with rainwater.

Where Colorado lags, Las Vegas and Phoenix lead
Efforts to increase conservation through legislation has had only limited success.

In 2014, Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton pushed for a bill that would require local governments to approve plans for new construction only if the municipality also adopts a resolution limiting the amount of irrigated grass on residential lawns to 15 percent of total acreage. The Colorado Association of Homebuilders strongly objected, and lawmakers backed off. The bill was watered down into a recommendation that the legislature’s water resources committee come up with a list of best practices that could be turned into “reasonable” legislation that could lead to “measurable conservation of municipal water used for outdoor purposes.” Even with that watered-down language, the bill drew opposition from a few water utilities who deemed such efforts unnecessary.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed a bill, signed into law, requiring CWCB, with $50,000 in state funds, to set up training programs for local governments on land-use planning that incorporates water conservation practices.

All one needs to do is look at communities in perpetual drought to see what tools might be lacking.

Phoenix “is built for drought,” according to that city’s water utility. Water conservation is promoted as a lifestyle in the city, and “we encourage customers to think about water every time they use it,” according to the website of a city now in its 15th year of drought.

Phoenix’s Water Use it Wisely program – now a national model for conservation – developed more than 100 ways for people to conserve water. They included tips such as washing fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of under running water, or putting ice cubes dropped on the floor into a plant instead of dumping it down the sink. Another idea, not allowed in Colorado, would allow a plumber to reroute plumbing so that graywater can be used for landscaping. That’s only legal in Colorado for new development, not existing homes. The city is also setting up “savings accounts” for water, Bracken said. That’s a system for reclaiming wastewater by putting it back into underground aquifers, treated, with the hope that, in a decade, it will be reusable, although not for drinking purposes.

Conservation efforts there have reduced per-person water consumption by 25 percent since 1994, down to about 101 gallons of water per day per person and about 158 gallons per day for business and commercial uses (compare that to Denver Water, at 165 gallons per day). And that’s with a population increase of about 340,000 people during that same time period.

In Las Vegas and surrounding communities in Clark County, Nev., residents and businesses used on average about 123 gallons of water per day in 2016, down 38 percent from 2002, during a time when that area’s population increased by about 600,000 residents, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Water conservation has been the rule rather than the exception for Clark County since 1991, with what water officials there call record-breaking results: 1.4 billion gallons of water saved by businesses, another one billion gallons saved by residents, and 181 million square feet of grass removed. The water authority also has mandatory watering restrictions, limited to watering twice a week during the summer, and on car washing. Golf courses that use more than they’re allotted can be hit with heavy surcharges, up to nine times their normal water rates. Golf courses also have to submit water use reduction plans. Even the resorts (think the Bellagio, with its famous fountains) reuse water multiple times before the water heads off to treatment and then to Lake Mead.

The water authority also has in place what Colorado has for years been trying to do through legislation: a partnership with home builders to build “water smart homes” with water-efficient landscaping and plumbing fixtures. Entire neighborhoods can be certified as water-smart under the program. “A Water Smart Home may save as much as 75,000 gallons of water each year compared to homes built in the 1990s,” the agency boasts.

The authority strictly enforces turf restrictions. No new turf is allowed in the front yards of single-family homes. Period. Building codes also limit the amount of grass that can be grown to 50 percent of side and backyards, or 100 feet, whichever is greater. Grass isn’t allowed at all on commercial developments, with exceptions only for schools, parks and cemeteries.
For those willing to give up what they already have, the Southern Nevada Water Authority offers rebates for conversions to water-smart landscaping.

Turf rebates are also offered in southern California where, in the midst of a four-year drought, Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 announced statewide conservation targets to reduce urban water use by 25 percent from 2013 use levels. Water conservation needs to be a way of life in California, according to an executive order Brown issued last year.

During the peak of the drought, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern California’s largest water utility, responded by reducing its water deliveries to its 26 member agencies, including water service to Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The 15 percent reduction required communities that hadn’t enacted water conservation efforts to either crack down on outdoor watering or pay as much as four times more for their water.

“Met,” as the agency is known, also expanded its turf removal rebate program from $20 million to $450 million, “funding the largest single investment in water conservation incentives in the nation’s history.” The program was expected to remove 175 million square feet of lawns, but actually removed only 35 million square feet. An audit later blasted the program for poor planning and oversight and cost overruns.

Brown announced this spring that the state was no longer in drought, although the US Drought Monitor reported this month that more than 10 million people in southern California are still affected by drought conditions.

California, Arizona and Nevada all have experienced population increases over the past few decades, and water agencies there have passed policies requiring growth to pay for growth. That comes mainly in the form of tap fees in which municipalities or water agencies charge developers fees to hook up a new home or business to a water line. Those fees can be reduced for homes that use low-water landscaping.
Denver and Aurora both have adopted this conservation tool, changing their tap fees in the past decade from a flat rate for a new home, no matter how big, to one based on the size of the home and the amount of water its residents are expected to use.

“Tap fees have a lot going for them,” said Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy program at the University of Colorado School of Law. “It imposes the new cost of development on the new arrivals, and if the tap fees are high enough, it would discourage builders from building in communities that are short on water.”

But tap fees also have been lowered in order to encourage development, rather than encourage water conservation. A couple of years ago, a developer cited a decision by the Colorado Springs City Council to lower its tap fees as an incentive to build, not as an incentive to conserve water. Two years later, another builder cited the city’s tap fees, nearing $18,000, as a cost to consider for those wanting to live in the city.

However, at least a couple of Colorado cities are tying their tap fees to both growth and water conservation. In Fountain, the fees are part of an incentive program that allows for lower tap fees when a home is built with a lawn with water conservation in mind. A 2012 report by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, co-authored by the city of Westminster, notes that water conservation efforts have kept tap fees lower for new development, since conservation in that city has produced less wear and tear on wastewater treatment facilities.

Increased water conservation among downstream Colorado River states is important to Colorado, which is bound by multi-state compacts with Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California to keep the river full. The river already is overtapped, required to provide more water than it produces. The southern states have first priority on river water, and a longstanding treaty with Mexico gives that country the right to a significant amount of water, as well. The more that’s done downstream to conserve river water, the lower the risk of what’s called a “call” on Colorado to lower its water use.

Agricultural conservation
Seemingly the most obvious sector that should embrace water conservation is the sector that uses the most water: agriculture.

Like in Colorado, the vast majority of California’s water – 80 percent – goes to agriculture. But, unlike Colorado, agricultural conservation hasn’t been left out of the Golden State’s policy-making.

By the time its drought started around 2012, California already had a water management plan in place for agriculture, dating back to 2009. That initiative requires agricultural water suppliers to submit water efficiency plans based on the number of irrigated acres. In 2015, 53 water providers with 25,000 acres or more were required to submit those plans; water districts of 10,000 to 25,000 acres also submitted plans; and smaller districts had financial assistance from the state to develop their own plans.

For example, a plan submitted by the Browns Valley Irrigation District, one of the state’s oldest agricultural irrigation companies with more than 1,500 agricultural customers, showed that it has been building pipelines to move water rather than using unlined ditches, which lose water through seepage and evaporation. More than 20 miles of ditches have been abandoned thanks to those efforts. California makes available about $30 million per year for grants to agricultural water providers for water conservation efforts. The money comes from a voter-approved initiative, passed in 2014.

The Colorado water plan’s chief attempt to glean agricultural water savings is a goal that agriculture transfer 50,000 acre-feet of water to cities and towns, but as an effort to find water for thirsty cities, not as part of the plan’s overall water conservation goal. The plan notes this is to accommodate population growth, but getting farmers to adopt some of these new methods has been a slow starter.

Colorado’s lack of reliance on conservation from a sector that’s consuming most of the state’s available water stems from a couple of reasons. The first is a legal one based on fears Colorado farmers and ranchers have about losing their water rights. Colorado’s byzantine system of water laws ties the amount of water allotted in part on historical consumption. If a farm or ranch doesn’t use all of its water right, the amount of water they’re entitled to can be cut. That becomes a disincentive to decrease water use through conservation.

A second reason is recognition that Colorado farmers and ranchers are already working to improve water efficiency. George, who formerly headed Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, pointed out that Colorado agriculture has been moving from flood irrigation, where crops are irrigated by flooding fields, to sprinkler systems.

Flood irrigation is the oldest and cheapest but least efficient way to irrigate crops. According to the US Geological Survey, in 2000, about two-thirds of all crop irrigation in Colorado was done with some form of flood irrigation, and the last third with sprinkler systems. Drip irrigation systems, with below-ground piping, applies water slowly and more directly to the plant roots rather than from overhead, and that allows for more precise watering, which sometimes means less of it. Both of these methods (pivot and drip systems) are gaining ground in Colorado agriculture, George said.

“There’s a general recognition that ditch linings, piping and sprinkler systems are efficient. All of that is good for everybody,” he said.

An irrigation ditch lined only with earth or even concrete can lose as much as 50 percent of its water through seepage into the ground, according to the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. Modern linings include synthetic materials that don’t crack, unlike concrete. The CWCB has for at least a decade provided loans through its various funding sources, mostly money that comes from severance taxes, to irrigation companies and reservoirs to swap out less efficient earthen linings for concrete linings or more modern synthetic ones.

Even with these changes, the Colorado Water Agricultural Alliance said in a white paper that “[t]here is a perception that if only farmers would do a better job of conserving water…we would have plenty of water to meet the anticipated gap. The reality is that while there are opportunities for agricultural water conservation, opportunities for producing significant amounts of transferable water for municipal uses are constrained by certain legal, physical, and economic factors.”

Other ways farms and ranches could help meet statewide goals for water savings are being funded by the state Department of Agriculture, which for two years has helped farmers upgrade irrigation systems, using small hydropower, to save water and energy.

Sam Anderson, the program’s director, said there are two different ways to use hydropower on the farm: Hydro-mechanical, which uses a hydraulic pump to run an irrigation system; and hydro-electric, which works in a similar fashion to the way a solar panel system works on a house, through a meter. Anderson explained that the both systems get their energy from the irrigation water as the water flows to the sprinklers. “Water efficiency is the goal of the program,” Anderson told The Colorado Independent.

These programs, Anderson said, can cut water consumption by as much as half and still achieve the same crop yields. He noted that it’s a much more precise delivery of water, and is even good for water quality, since this type of irrigation is also more environmentally friendly, with less chemical and salt runoff. The ACRE3 program currently has four projects in place, another three ready to come online this year, and grants to fund 12 more this year and another 12 in 2018. These efforts are not included in the water plan.

Bart Miller, who leads the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates, pointed out recently that many of the ditches and canals delivering water to Colorado’s farms and ranches are now approaching 80 to 100 years old. By lining them or improving headgates, which control the water flowing through them, “there would be a huge benefit to local streams” and agriculture would use only the water that’s needed, he said.

@ConservationCO: 2017 Colorado Legislative Conservation Scorecard

Click here to go to the Conservation Colorado website to view the list:

The Colorado Legislative Conservation Scorecard highlights the priorities of the conservation community for the 2017 legislative session. Here, you will find factual, nonpartisan information on bills related to our environment and how each member of the state legislature voted on issues that affect Colorado’s air, land, water, and people.

Find out how your elected officials voted, and see how well their votes align with your conservation values. Then call or write to your legislators and let them know you’re paying attention to their environmental scores!

Phoenix approves historic #ColoradoRiver conservation agreement #COriver

Water flows near Phoenix, AZ. Tim McCabe / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., via Wikimedia Commons

From AZ Business Magazine:

Mayor Greg Stanton and the Phoenix City Council unanimously approved an agreement with tribal, state, federal and philanthropic leaders to help protect the Colorado River and preserve water levels in Lake Mead.

The agreement with State of Arizona, the Gila River Indian Community, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Walton Family Foundation will save the equivalent of 35 percent of the Colorado River water used by Phoenix residents each year. Specifically, it will fund a contribution of 13 billion gallons of Colorado River water to system conservation in Lake Mead this year.

The Colorado River – essential to Arizona’s water supply – is over-allocated and regarded as one of the most endangered rivers in the nation, and Lake Mead is at 40 percent capacity. To preserve the state’s long-term water supply, cities like Phoenix must take a more active and leading role, said Stanton. System-wide solutions like this agreement establish a long-term partnership between tribal, federal, state and local leaders and a philanthropic foundation that helps conserve precious water resources in Lake Mead.

“Smart water policy is essential to our economy and to every Arizonan,” Mayor Greg Stanton said. “This historic agreement shows how by thinking creatively and working together we can protect our future Colorado River water supply and safeguard against the continued drought and climate change that are directly impacting Lake Mead.”

“With this action we will continue to plan responsibly for the future of our city, through partnership and collaboration,” said Councilwoman Kate Gallego. “Sustainable solutions to our water supply needs require collaboration. This agreement not only supports the overall health of the Colorado River; it also establishes a long-term partnership that helps conserve precious water resources in Lake Mead.”

“With the largest Colorado River water entitlement delivered through the CAP system, the Community has the ability to meet our needs and still make its supply available elsewhere in times of need,” said Gila River Governor Stephen R. Lewis. “We consider this agreement a continuation of our commitments made to the United States in January that will allow Arizona parties to continue their negotiations and efforts to adopt a comprehensive plan that meets Arizona’s water supply needs and also addresses the severe drought on the Colorado River.”

“This agreement will allow for the creation of tools that will be effective in protecting Lake Mead,” said Thomas Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “Those tools will be enduring and inclusive, allowing for participation by a broad group of Arizona water entitlement holders and other constituencies.”

Under the agreement, the Gila River Indian Community will contribute 40,000 acre-feet of its Colorado River allocation to system conservation. The City will contribute $2 million towards the program. While the financial commitment in this agreement is for one year only, it is anticipated that the State of Arizona, the City of Phoenix, the Walton Family Foundation, and others may continue those contributions into the future to develop a regional system conservation program that will be open to additional water contributors and additional funders.

“Phoenix continues to plan for conditions on the Colorado River to ensure it is well positioned to contend with shortages,” said Councilwoman Thelda Williams who chairs the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association. “We must protect and preserve the rivers and lakes that our city and state rely upon; this agreement is a prime example of working together with regional partners to create a smart approach for system conservation of the Colorado River and Lake Mead.”

“Economic development in the state of Arizona depends on a secure water supply,” said Councilman Jim Waring. “This agreement helps create resiliency on the Colorado River, economic security, and most importantly, certainty for the future of Phoenix.”

“The combined metropolitan areas in Arizona, Southern California, Colorado and Nevada served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, and no matter how well Phoenix has planned to avoid a water shortage, the regional economy may suffer if reliable water supplies are threatened,” said Councilman Daniel Valenzuela. “This agreement shows the City of Phoenix is taking proactive steps to be sure we have enough water under any future circumstances.”

“Phoenix is a leader when it comes to smart, water supply planning, which is vital for our city’s future,” said Councilwoman Debra Stark. “As someone with a planning background, I know the importance of coming up with creative solutions for real issues. This agreement is a great partnership that has led to an innovative water conservation system.”

“I am proud that the City Council unanimously approved this agreement to help preserve the state’s long-term water supply through system conservation on the Colorado River and in Lake Mead,” said Councilman Michael Nowakowski. “With this vote, the City of Phoenix has a taken the lead in ensuring future generations will have a resilient water supply and a catalyst for economic prosperity.”

“I was part of the original water settlements for the City,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, “And it’s critical we continue to move forward with our conservation efforts. I am proud to support this innovative agreement that helps protect Phoenix’s precious Colorado River water supply.”

Funding for Phoenix’s portion will come from the Colorado River Resiliency Fund, which was approved by the Phoenix City Council in 2014. The Colorado River Resiliency Fund supports projects focused on water supply resiliency, including system conservation efforts.

“I particularly want to recognize the visionary leadership of Governor Stephen Roe Lewis and the Gila River Indian Community as we move forward with this partnership,” added Gallego. “The Gila River Indian Community has been an excellent partner for the City of Phoenix in this process, and I look forward to both our communities working together in the future. As a desert city, Phoenix knows the value of water and its importance for our future, and I’m extremely proud to take part in this innovative water resource partnership.”

Gila River watershed.

From The Arizona Republic (Alden Woods):

To stem falling water levels and help prevent a shortage, the Gila River Indian Community will leave 40,000 acre-feet of its river allocation in Lake Mead. In exchange, the city of Phoenix, state of Arizona and Bureau of Reclamation will each pay the tribe $2 million. The Walton Family Foundation will contribute $1 million.

The tribe’s water contribution is equivalent to 13 billion gallons of water, which equals 35 percent of Phoenix’s annual consumer use.

City and Gila River officials say it is the first agreement of its kind, with local, federal and tribal governments joining to conserve the region’s water. Cities have leased tribal water in the past but, under this deal, the water will not be used.

For years, the Colorado River system has been drained faster than it has been refilled. Water levels have dropped about 12 feet a year in Lake Mead, which today sits at 1,081 feet above sea level.

If that level falls below 1,075 feet, the secretary of the Interior will declare a shortage. Larger shortages would be triggered at 1,050 feet and 1,025 feet, severely reducing the city’s water access.

“It is unchartered territory,” Phoenix Water Services Director Kathryn Sorensen told the council. “Our economies can withstand controlled shortages of known quantities. We can plan for that, but it is difficult to plan for the unknown.”

Leaving water stored in Lake Mead will slow the decline in water levels and give water managers in the seven Colorado River states more time to work on long-term conservation plans.

It is the second water agreement between Phoenix and the Gila River community this year. In March, the city agreed to store 3,800 acre-feet of its water in aquifers along the Gila, restoring flow to the tribe’s namesake river. That deal allowed the city to set aside some of its Colorado River water in case of a future shortage. The city also paid the tribe a storage fee.

Already, that water has brought life back to the long-brown banks of the Gila. Birds and coyotes have returned, and plants have grown so quickly the tribe is now looking for volunteers to cut back the greenery.

Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis and Stanton are longtime friends from before their time in office.

“As neighbors, we can accomplish great things together,” Lewis said. “And historic agreements like this one make it easier to work on other matters that may impact our communities from time to time.”

The one-year agreement will be formally signed next month at the Gila River Indian Community, with hope that a long-term Arizona drought contingency plan will be in place by the end of the year.

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Small Steps Add Up to a Secure Water Future for Colorado — @wradv @WaterBart

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Western Resource Advocates (Bart Miller):

Steady progress means that Colorado can achieve the big goals set out in its Water Plan.

One step in front of the other—and milestones to see progress along the way. For a journey of any length, we need waypoints and measurements to understand how far we’ve come. And, just as importantly, we need enough energy to continue making steady progress.

This is equally true about our collective progress toward meeting the objectives of Colorado’s Water Plan. The Plan, a final version of which was released 18 months ago, has now entered its most important phase—implementation—putting the Plan into practice.

Stepping forward to achieve big goals

The Plan has many excellent objectives, including those for stream health, urban conservation, land use planning, and more flexible arrangements for irrigators to get paid to share water to meet a range of other needs. I encourage you to check them out—they’re clearly articulated in the Plan’s Chapter 10—Action Plan. But, because many of these objectives have due dates many decades into the future, we need milestones to make sure we’re moving fast enough down the path.

Take municipal water conservation as a good example. The Plan spells out the goal of saving 400,000 acre-feet annually by 2050. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre (about the size of a football field) with one foot of water, equivalent to one third of a million gallons. In other words, the 400,000 acre-feet goal is saving a football field of water stacked 75 miles high, every year. That’s a lot of water.

Reducing water use by 1% per year is a great step

The good news is we can get there by hitting key milestones along the way. Reaching the goal means reducing water use by roughly 1% each year, something that many customers, encouraged by their water utilities, already have been doing for more than a dozen years. Continuing this active municipal conservation will include replacing indoor fixtures with more efficient ones, encouraging the replacement of some of our outdoor landscaping with more xeric (i.e., drought-tolerant) options, and incentivizing water savings by charging less per gallon when water customers are water-thrifty.

Connecting water conservation to land use and new development

A couple other keys pieces to the puzzle. First, we need to accelerate making the connection between water use and land use. Many communities have figured out that it saves water and money when new residential and commercial growth embed water efficiencies from the outset, being “water-smart from the start.” New growth can have a smaller water footprint, thereby placing less of a burden on our rivers and less pressure on cities to build expensive new water supply projects.

We’re all in this together

Second, and just as important, is to make sure funding is made available for communities all around the state to become able to save water. Smaller and mid-size communities usually have fewer financial and human resources to deploy, and so need more assistance. We really need additional public funding to give all communities the ability to set their conservation goals and implement the programs to meet them. In the end, we all benefit, because we’re all in this together.

@COWaterTrust: RiverBank is two weeks away! (June 14, 2017)

Lulu City with Lake Granby in the distance. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Wednesday, June 14th
5:30-8:30 pm
Denver Botanic Gardens

Get your tickets now!

RiverBank is our annual fundraiser, where our wonderful supporters have a chance to connect with each other, celebrate our partnerships, and spend time with our team.

We have an amazing evening planned, so we just need YOU!

Join us for great food, wonderful beverages from our open bar, a fantastic silent auction, and the opportunity to recognize our David Getches Flowing Waters Award winner, Lurline Underbrink Curran! (Read more about Lurline’s accomplishments here.)

Click here for tickets!