Valuing Water

Your Water Colorado Blog

When we don’t witness water treatment plants in action, infrastructure being maintained and the sale and trade of water rights, it can be easy to forget that the cost of water involves more than our personal usage wrapped up neatly in a monthly bill. In reality, what we pay each month may not appropriately reflect the true cost of water. As Colorado’s population grows, the demand on already limited water resources will rise and the cost of water will likely increase—with higher totals often transferred to your water bill.

colorado-springsColorado Springs  Credit: Jasen Miller

Beginning Jan. 1, water rates will increase in some towns and cities around the state ̶ including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver and Louisville. Depending on where you live, and how your water bill is broken down, utilities may use those monies for standard water treatment and delivery costs, conservation and education programming, infrastructure…

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Two small steps that add up to big water savings

Mile High Water Talk

Third-graders hit the streets in their neighborhood to teach adults how to make their homes more water-efficient.

By Jay Adams

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that can make the biggest difference. Just ask the people who live around Denver Green School.

This fall they opened their doors to third-grade students who taught them two simple and inexpensive ways they could save water.

With a little help from Matt Bond, Denver Water’s Youth Education manager, the students went door-to-door to ask neighbors if they’d be willing to swap out their old sink aerators and showerheads for lower-flow, high-efficiency models.

Matt Bond, youth education manager, explains how faucet aerators and showerheads can save water. Matt Bond, youth education manager, explains how faucet aerators and showerheads can save water.

“The fixtures are easy to install and can make a big difference in the amount of water people use in their homes,” Bond said.

“It’s fun teaching people about water,” said Ahnika Campagna…

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@GreatOutdoorsCO awards $6.6 million for land conservation, protecting 13,000 acres of land

Finishing up the stemming with many classic climbs to the right and left. Photo credit MountainProject.com.
Finishing up the stemming with many classic climbs to the right and left. Photo credit MountainProject.com.

My plan for retirement is to win the Lottery or Powerball. Odds are I’ll be working well into the future but nevertheless I am tickled with how my few bucks a week are being spent.

Here’s the release from Great Outdoors Colorado:

Today the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded $6.6 million in grants as part of its open space grant program, conserving more than 13,000 acres of land on 11 different properties.

GOCO’s open space grant program funds public and private land conservation, with projects that sustain local agriculture and economies, give outdoor recreationists a place to play (or simply enjoy the view), protect wildlife habitat, and safeguard the state’s water supply.

This round of projects will leverage $17.2 million in matching funds, more than $7 million of donated land value from landowners, and create or maintain public access on several projects.

GOCO also offered two new funding opportunities as part of the fall 2016 grant cycle. Grantees were able to request up to $10,000 of their grant budget for communications and storytelling purposes, as well as an additional $5,000 line item for connecting youth to the outdoors on the property being conserved.

Funded projects are as follows:

Baker’s Peak Ranch Conservation Easement Project, $625,000 to Colorado Open Lands in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Just south of the Wyoming border, Baker’s Peak Ranch is a 7,311-acre working cattle ranch that is also home to abundant wildlife. Permanently conserving the property will protect wildlife habitat, encourage further conservation in the area, preserve public hunting access, sustain local agriculture, protect scenic views from adjacent BLM land, and connect to other nearby public lands.

Doig Homestead Open Space, $675,000 grant to Summit County

The Doig Homestead, located just north of Silverthorne, is in the only remaining part of Summit County that is still home to active agricultural production. The project will also preserve scenic views from Highway 9 and protect habitat for deer and elk. The county will continue leasing the land for agricultural use and is considering opening a portion to public access to reach the surrounding United States Forest Service trails.

Farmland Acquisition, $487,690 grant to the City of Brighton (partial award)

In partnership with The Conservation Fund, Brighton will acquire 64 acres within an agricultural and agritourism district planned through a partnership between the city and Adams County.

The property is essential to preserving Brighton’s rich agricultural history and is part of a valuable farming area in the region thanks to fertile soil and significant water rights. The property was at risk of development, but Brighton saw the need to see it instead conserved for local food production, scenic views, and public open space.

Johnson Ranch – Glade Park, $308,500 grant to Mesa Land Trust

GOCO funding will enable Mesa Land Trust to continue a conservation effort 50,000 acres in the making on Glade Park; the 680-acre Johnson Ranch will be the latest property permanently conserved and will serve as an example for nearby landowners to protect critical wildlife habitat while allowing ranching to continue. The cattle ranching family currently leasing the property also plans to continue to allow public access for local Boy Scout troops.

La Garita Creek Ranch Conservation Easement, $376,500 grant to Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT)

La Garita Creek Ranch is a 460-acre guest ranch outside of Del Norte that provides critical water access and habitat for a variety of wildlife and contains early Native American archaeological features that will be permanently protected. The conservation of La Garita will also create new climbing and bouldering access near Penitente Canyon. RiGHT was successful in applying for storytelling funds for this project.

Maverick Ranch, $1,056,000 grant to The Trust for Public Land (TPL)

Maverick Ranch is a 204-acre property outside of Salida with Gold Medal fishing on the Arkansas River. Once conserved, it will open to the public for fishing access, creating the longest span of public access on the river. The ranch also provides important wildlife habitat and connects to surrounding Bureau of Land Management land.

TPL was successful in applying for $10,000 for storytelling efforts and will also partner with Denver’s Environmental Learning for Kids after receiving an additional $5,000 for connecting youth to the outdoors.

North Floyd Hill, $545,000 grant to The Trust for Public Land (TPL), in partnership with Mountain Area Land Trust (MALT)

Acquiring the 109-acre North Floyd Hill property will create a new gateway on I-70 for Coloradans to access 12,000 acres of trails and public open space in Clear Creek and Jefferson counties. The project will ultimately connect to the Peaks to Plains trail, protecting the highly visible property from development and permanently conserving it for public outdoor recreation.

TPL and MALT were also successful in receiving $5,000 for connecting youth to the outdoors through this project.

Poudre Valley Community Farms: A Pilot Project for Community Investment in Local Food, $639,750 grant to Colorado Open Lands (COL)

COL will conserve a 52-acre property between Fort Collins and the Town of LaPorte to add to the popular local Native Hill Farm, which supports a year-round community-sustained agriculture (CSA) program, a farm stand, and several restaurants in Fort Collins with local produce. The Poudre Valley Community Farms Co-op will lease the land to Native Hill for organic vegetable production, pioneering a new model for community investment in local food.

COL was successful in applying for the storytelling funding opportunity.

Sunfire Ranch, $1 million grant to Pitkin County

Pitkin County will permanently conserve 1,240 acres of the Sunfire Ranch, the largest ranch still unprotected in the Crystal Valley. The property has been owned by the Sewell Family since 1880. Conserving Sunfire will fill in extensive landscape of other conserved land on the Thompson Divide in addition to protecting wildlife habitat, sustaining local agricultural and environmental education, preserving scenic views, and protecting one mile of Thompson Creek.

The Nature Center at Butler Corner, $264,560 grant to Montezuma Land Conservancy

Montezuma Land Conservancy will conserve the 263-acre property outside of Dolores known as The Nature Center at Butler Corner. Several hiking trails and a temporary outdoor classroom are already in place and serving school groups and local families. The conservancy foresees using the property as part of its Community Conservation Initiative to increase local awareness of conservation efforts.

Yust Ranch, $697,000 grant to The Conservation Fund

The Yust Family has ranched in Grand County since 1884, and their property provides habitat to some of the largest herds of big game species as well as greater sage grouse. The project will contribute to the statewide conservation efforts for the Colorado River and protect scenic views enjoyed by the outdoor recreationists who fuel the regional economy.

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 4,800 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. [ed. emphasis mine] Visit http://GOCO.org for more information.

Grand Valley farmers participate in drought planning — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent

West Drought Monitor November 29, 2016.
West Drought Monitor November 29, 2016.

From the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University (Hannah Holm) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

It’s been very dry in Colorado’s mountains this fall. It’s still early, and the snowpack could catch up to “normal,” but when I flew over those mountains on Nov. 15, they were brown. Just the barest dusting of white covered the highest ridges and north-facing slopes.

This delayed onset of winter provided a sobering backdrop to ongoing discussions about what to do if the Colorado River Basin slips back into severe drought with Lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs in the basin, already half-empty.

If Lake Mead drops too low, farms and cities in the lower basin that have become accustomed to steady water supplies will have to drastically cut back. If Powell drops too low, Glen Canyon Dam will be unable to keep generating power or maintain sufficient releases to honor the 1922 agreement between the states that share the river.

No one knows exactly how upstream water users would be affected in that scenario, but if it’s a crisis reaction, it’s unlikely to be pretty. The environment could take a hit as well because low lake levels would make it impossible to conduct periodic high releases designed to mimic historical floods in order to benefit habitat conditions in the Grand Canyon.

In the lower Colorado River Basin, discussions among Arizona, California and Nevada have centered on who will cut their water use, by how much, and at what “trigger” levels in Lake Mead. This is necessary even without an intensified drought, because lake levels keep falling even with normal water deliveries from Lake Powell. The degree of drought just ratchets the urgency up or down.

In the upper Colorado River Basin, which straddles Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, there is no single outlet at the top of the system that can be cranked up or down. Instead, there are thousands of drainages feeding into the Colorado River, with widely dispersed ranches, farms and communities taking sips and gulps along the way, including some sizeable straws pulling water across the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.

A recent modeling effort coordinated by the Colorado River District concluded that if we were to experience another drought like the one of the early 2000s, with the reservoirs levels as low as they are now and without any additional conservation, Lake Powell could essentially be drained in just a few years.

Efforts are underway to figure out how to craft a demand management system that can entice upper basin water users to voluntarily dial back their consumption and get paid for it, in order to keep Powell from falling to critically low levels.

That’s complicated. For an agricultural demand management system to work for farmers, it needs to provide adequate compensation, not impede long-term operations, have simple paperwork and not put water rights at risk. For irrigation providers, it needs to pay its own way, be easy to manage, and not put water rights at risk. And for such a system to work for communities, you can’t have large swaths of fields left brown and unkempt, supply dealers left without customers and farmworkers left jobless.

GRAND VALLEY ACTIVITIES

A pilot project in Western Colorado’s Grand Valley is testing an approach to cutting back agricultural water use that seeks to work for everyone.

The location, just east of the Utah state line, is significant. About half of the water that flows into Lake Powell flows through Colorado’s Grand Valley first, some of it flowing through the river, and some detouring through irrigation ditches and farm fields before returning. Much of the water diverted does not return, of course, instead getting transpired through leaves of alfalfa, corn or grass, or plumping up peaches and wine grapes.

The Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA), the biggest irrigation provider in the valley, is managing the pilot project to reduce that water consumption. At an October meeting to explain the pilot program to other regional water managers and irrigators, GVWUA manager Mark Harris said that the potential for future water shortages is driving the organization’s participation in the pilot.

For the 2017 irrigation season, GVWUA will conduct the $1 million pilot with funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Nature Conservancy and the Water Bank Work Group.

In 2017, 10 farm operators dispersed across the valley, each with 120 or more acres under irrigated cultivation, will participate in the GVWUA program.

The total reduction in water consumption achieved by the GVWUA pilot is predicted to be 3,200 acre feet, only a drop, but an important first drop to test the system. So far, the project appears to be on course work well for the participating farmers and the GVWUA. There is adequate compensation, management isn’t too complicated and water rights are protected.

Making the program acceptable for the rest of the community isn’t too complicated at this small scale, although some eyebrows may be raised at the odd brown field in the spring. If brought to sufficient scale to meaningfully benefit Lake Powell, however, this would become a more significant consideration.

In the meeting about the GVWUA program, several people voiced concern that agriculture was being expected to shoulder the burden of bringing supply and demand back into balance in the Colorado River Basin. Some cities are, in fact, also participating in programs to cut diversions to protect the reservoirs, and most have made large strides in conservation in recent decades. However, there is still a feeling that they can do more, particularly in the area of integrating land use and water planning.

If snow piles up in the mountains at reasonable levels over the next few years, it will buy time to fine tune and gradually scale up programs like the one GVWUA is testing, as well as experiments underway in other settings and on other crops, like high mountain hay meadows. Bolstering administrative capacity to coordinate a broad suite of such programs and developing legal mechanisms to ensure that conserved water reaches Lake Powell without being intercepted by other users must occur before such programs can be effective at a large scale.

If a moderate amount of conserved water is sent to Lake Powell each year or retained in upstream reservoirs, it will reduce the chances that more drastic cuts will be needed in any one year – avoiding the deepest impacts to agriculture and communities.

If the mountains keep staying brown late into the fall, however, the upper basin’s demand management efforts will have to accelerate significantly. Under that scenario, it will be harder to keep everyone happy.

Hannah Holm is coordinator at the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

#ColoradoRiver District: The 2017 Grant Program cycle opened December 1, 2016 — @ColoradoWater

Deadline for submission of a grant application is January 31, 2017

Grant applications for projects that protect, enhance or develop water resources in the 15-county area covered by the District are eligible for funding consideration. This includes all watersheds in north- and central- western Colorado, except the San Juan River basin.

Colorado River District land area.
Colorado River District land area.

Eligible projects must achieve one or more of the following:

  • develop a new water supply
  • improve an existing water supply system
  • improve instream water quality
  • improve water use efficiency
  • reduce sediment
  • implement watershed and riparian management actions
  • Past projects have included the construction of new water storage, the enlargement of existing water storage or diversion facilities, rehabilitation of non-functioning or restricted water resource structures, implementation of water efficiency measures and other watershed improvements. Such projects that utilize pre-1922 water rights will be given additional ranking priority over similar projects that do not. Each project will be ranked based upon its own merits in accordance with published ranking criteria.

    Annual Grant Program Standard Guidelines and Criteria

  • 2017 Grant Program Application (PDF fillable)
  • 2017 Grant Program Application (PDF printable)
  • For more information please contact Dave Kanzer or Alesha Frederick at 970-945-8522; Colorado River District, 201 Centennial St., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601 or by e-mail to grantinfo@crwcd.org.

    Please note: The River District is not responsible for lost and/or undelivered applications. The sponsor of the application will receive a confirmation from the River District when an application is received.

    Preserving the prairie — The Greeley Tribune

    Lower South Platte River
    Lower South Platte River

    From The Greeley Tribune (Dan England):

    Bruce Sikich didn’t like it when his boss put the land they cared for in the hands of Colorado Open Lands.

    Sikich went to school with Clyde Abbett’s son. Sikich wasn’t very nice to Abbett’s son — Sikich was a macho punk before the U.S. Navy straightened him out — but they got along. One day, while Clyde Abbett watched Sikich work next door on his stepfather’s property, Abbett asked Sikich if he wanted to farm, too. That was 30 years ago.

    Abbett became Sikich’s best friend. Sikich visited him many days in the home, trimmed his trees at his Greeley house and misses him dearly now that he’s gone.

    Sikich was upset at Abbett’s decision to put the land in a conservation trust. It seemed to go against everything they’d worked for as farmers. Farmers, he said, don’t like to be told what to do, and the organization put restrictions on the land, even beyond the obvious ones that promise to leave the land untouched by development. He can’t ride his race bike out on the farm. Workers came around and sniffed out noxious weeds on the land.

    And yet, because Sikich loved Abbett, he understood. His land abutted the South Platte River, and that drew bald eagles and a heron rookery and places full of pasture where Abbett could rest his arms on his tractor wheel and look out into the flowing water. He buried his dogs on a nearby hill.

    At times people would offer Abbett money. They said they just wanted to build a farmhouse on his land. Sikich himself advised Abbett to take the money. It was good money. Yet Abbett never trusted them. More often than not, the person secretly wanted to mine the land for gravel, and Abbett didn’t want anyone to gouge a hole in his land.

    “This farm isn’t great,” Sikich said. “The soil isn’t that good, and it lays poorly. But it’s a beautiful place.”

    It’s the kind of place Colorado Open Lands hopes to keep protected. The organization, which recently merged with the Colorado Conservation Trust, considers Weld County land — like the tract owned by Abbett’s estate and farmed by Sikich — to be some of the most important land in the state. It also appears to be coveted by developers. And now there’s a race to control it.

    “While we work statewide, I believe that Weld County is under the greatest resource pressure,” said Sarah Parmar, director of conservation of Colorado Open Lands. “We have a unique moment in time to conserve those lands in the country that are most critical to habitat, food production and community character.”

    Weld County faces three distinct development pressures that could further change the way it looks, even breathes, Parmar said, in the next decade. Many counties face one of those pressures. Weld faces all three: Mining, both gravel and oil and gas; an exploding population; and nearby municipalities thirsty for water.

    The new organization hopes to show its renewed commitment to Weld by opening an office in northern Colorado. The organization is even considering Greeley for its location, although Fort Collins also is in the mix.

    WHERE RESOURCES ARE VALUABLE

    Although it will talk to any landowner about conservation, Colorado Open Lands does not hope to conserve every piece of farmland from development. The organization maps out areas where it believes resources are the most valuable. Those resources include wildlife habitat, prime soil on agricultural land and water rights. Many areas of Weld have all those, and those pressures that Parmar mentioned above all threaten them in some way.

    Two of those pressures won’t surprise anyone who’s lived in Weld the last few years. Oil and gas development and population growth both demand a lot from our county.

    The oil and gas boom is no longer, although there are indications that it could pick back up again. But Weld still has double the next highest county’s number of active wells. And though population projections do depend a bit on oil and gas, many still have Weld doubling its residents in the next 25 years.

    The last is a bit more complicated, but it’s still important, and it shows how hot spots such as the South Platte River can be impacted even when developers don’t necessarily want to build subdivisions on its banks.

    The organization’s worked with 15 landowners in Weld County to conserve more than 18,000 acres of land and the associated water rights. Those water rights are just as important as habitat, Parmar said, because municipalities in the Denver area appear to be targeting Weld for its water. Those cities, to feed their growth, will purchase the water rights and leave the land in what many call “buy and dry” deals. Though that can still create habitat for some wildlife, the deals also leave thousands of useless acres surrounding small or mid-sized municipalities.

    Water rights often support both agricultural production and wildlife habitat. Weld has some of the best soils in Colorado, but those soils are considered prime only if they are irrigated, Parmar said. And the habitat in Weld is more valuable than many of its residents may realize.

    “The juxtaposition of native prairie and the riparian and wetland habitats, which are often created by irrigation, harbors an amazing array of species,” Parmar said. “In other words, it is the land and water together that create these stacked economic benefits and habitat values.”

    It’s already happened in Weld, and it happened long ago, in 1986, when the city of Thornton purchased nearly 20,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Weld and Larimer counties. Pierce and Ault still feel the effects of its stagnated growth from that purchase.

    The South Platte Basin is expected to take the biggest hit to irrigated agriculture in order to meet that projected water gap, Parmar said. That’s why Colorado Open Lands hopes to target more land along the South Platte such as the tract Sikich farms as well as other key areas of Weld, such as the protection of private lands surrounding the Pawnee National Grassland.

    “The South Platte is incredibly important, as all waterways are in Colorado, because they create a convergence of resources valued by people and wildlife,” Parmar said. “The development along these waterways can have a disproportionate impact on species and can create greater problems for communities when major flood events happen, as we saw in 2013.”

    Those who hope to protect those water rights — Parmar refers to her organization and others like it as the “conservation community” — do need to show the same kind of flexibility they want from municipalities and landowners, Parmar said. One way to compromise may be to tie water rights to farms but allow some leasing for municipal needs.

    REAL AND LASTING ECONOMIC BENEFITS

    Even as Parmar insists there are real and lasting economic benefits from wildlife habitat and agriculture, there’s no doubt Weld’s also benefited from the recent growth boom and the one that occurred in the early 2000s. Oil and gas filled our coffers: At one point, the county had a $100 million reserve fund. Gravel mining’s also an important part of that.

    There is some concern that conservation easements will attempt to stop oil and gas development and gravel mining. There’s already a lot of mining along the South Platte corridor, said Tom Parko, director of planning services for Weld County.

    Conservation easements naturally place restrictions on use once they’re in place, as the idea is to preserve the land in its most pristine state. Those restrictions usually include subdivisions and residential structures, and they almost always prohibit the sale of water rights.

    If an owner has the mineral rights, the organization may ask the landowner give up the right to sell them or mine them on the surface. Lateral drilling is permitted, Parmar said.

    However, most of the time, a third party owns the mineral rights in Weld County, and in that case, a conservation easement can’t prohibit oil and gas development, and the land trust works with the owner to limit the impact if any mining takes place.

    “We are not against oil and gas development, or residential development,” Parmar said. “Our goal is to work to see it done well and in the most appropriate places.”

    A GOOD FIT

    The organization does make some inquiries, but it doesn’t try to convince landowners to move into conservation easements. Not all of the land is a good fit, and it’s a commitment and a financial sacrifice, even with the tax benefits an easement provides. Landowners need to be sure it’s a good fit for them.

    But just as the old adage that once one house pops up, others follow, that can also be true of conservation easements, Parmar said. Once you get that first conservation easement, it’s easier to get others. That’s true in part because the organization does do some limited outreach to landowners, just like developers might.

    “But it’s the neighbors and others who do most of the marketing for us,” Parmar said. “Word of mouth is our best resource.”

    Still, she looks at those three pressures that Weld faces, the growth and oil and gas and the prospect of our water going to other cities, a situation unique to our county, and sees it as an opportunity for residents.

    “I’m not saying that any of these things are inherently bad, but they are all pressures on resource conversion,” Parmar said, “and for a county whose identity and economic drivers have been largely agricultural, these combined pressures provide an opportunity for the residents of Weld County to think about their vision for its land and water.”

    Sikich’s knees and hips hurt, and he recently watched his grandkids play hockey in Minnesota and enjoyed that. He misses that now. He’s 62. He probably could do another five years, maybe even seven, but he’s not sure he wants to do that. He misses his family, and he misses Abbett as well.

    “He was my purpose,” Sikich said of his close friend and boss, “and now he’s gone. Honestly without him, it’s just no fun anymore.”

    Maybe he’s now reflecting on his career, but he’s happy with Colorado Land Trust and the work it does.

    He doesn’t know how long he’ll be around to work the land. But he’s satisfied knowing Abbett would have liked knowing it will be around after he’s gone.

    Colorado WaterWise 8th Annual Water Conservation Summit, December 2

    Olivia Alirez, a fifth-grade student from Ignacio Elementary School, empties buckets of water in a race known as the bucket brigade during the Children’s Water Festival on the campus of Fort Lewis College Wednesday. The 21st annual event attracted more than 750 fifth-grade students from 15 schools across Southwestern Colorado. The event is sponsored by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and is an effort to educate students about water issues, the importance of the natural resource and how they can help to protect it. Photo by Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald.
    Olivia Alirez, a fifth-grade student from Ignacio Elementary School, empties buckets of water in a race known as the bucket brigade during the Children’s Water Festival on the campus of Fort Lewis College Wednesday. The 21st annual event attracted more than 750 fifth-grade students from 15 schools across Southwestern Colorado. The event is sponsored by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and is an effort to educate students about water issues, the importance of the natural resource and how they can help to protect it. Photo by Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald.

    Click here for all the inside skinny. From the website:

    Come on out and hear the latest on water education on topics such as Children’s Water Festivals; Project Wet; Edible Aquifers; Colorado Water: Live Like You Love It Testimonials; Colorado Collaboratory: A Living Laboratory Campus Experience; Brewery’s Matter and much more at Colorado WaterWise’s 8th Annual Water Conservation Summit! Download the program here.

    Space is limited so register now!

    Sponsorship opportunities are available at the best rates in town.

    Hope you’ll come out and support, participate and network with Colorado WaterWise; the voice of Colorado’s water conservation community!