Water Lines: Increased population doesn’t have to mean increased water use — Grand Junction Free Press #ColoradoRiver

May 18, 2015

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

With Colorado’s population expected to increase by leaps and bounds in coming decades, increased water use surely must follow, right? Maybe not, or at least not by the same amount.

Two reports recently came out that underscore the serious supply/demand imbalance building in the Colorado River Basin and outline measures to address it. Both note that population and water use increases don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.

The first report is a follow-up to the 2012 Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, which corralled reams of data from tree ring studies and climate models to exhaustively demonstrate that the basin’s future water supplies are highly unlikely to come anywhere close to meeting the water needs projected through the middle of the 21st century.

Titled Colorado River Basin Stakeholders Moving Forward to Address Challenges Identified in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, this report chronicles the efforts of many stakeholders and experts charged with “identifying actionable steps to address projected water supply and demand imbalances that have broad-based support and provide a wide range of benefits.” Three work groups identified a wide range of potential actions to promote urban conservation, agricultural efficiency and low-impact agricultural transfers, and managing water in ways that benefit the environment and recreation while meeting other needs.

The second report, “The Case for Conservation,” is a concise position paper by a group of scholars collaborating under the banner of the Colorado River Research Group. This paper bluntly calls for reducing water consumption. It notes that annual water use in the Colorado River Basin already exceeds supplies, leading to dropping reservoir and groundwater levels. The authors call for leaving more water in rivers, reservoirs and aquifers in order to protect against drought and benefit the environment.

Despite the differences in tone, both reports cite data showing that in recent decades, the population has increased much more than water use in the urban areas that use Colorado River Basin water. For example, the Moving Forward report presents data showing that:

On Colorado’s Front Range, the population has increased by about 60 percent (1 million people) since 1980, but water deliveries have only increased by about 26 percent.

The urban areas surrounding Albuquerque and Santa Fe have added more than 320,000 people since 1980, but since 1990, water deliveries have actually dropped by about 12 percent.

In the Southern Nevada urban area, which includes Las Vegas, the population increased by about 2.6 times between 1980 and 2013, while water use increased by only 1.7 times. Water use has actually declined over the past decade, while the population has leveled off a bit.

Between 1991 and 2013, Phoenix saw increased its population by 47 percent, but increased water deliveries by only 4.5 percent.

Southern California urban areas have grown in population by about 50 percent (6 million people) since 1980, while increasing water use by about 20 percent. Since a hitting a high in 2007, use has decreased despite continued moderate population growth.

The biggest divergence between population and water use trends has come since 2000.

The Colorado River Research Group paper describes the alternative to reducing water use as “further draining streams, reservoirs and aquifers to a point of collapse” or “spending billions to import or desalinate new supplies (if available, and only after decades of work).” The authors call “the many inefficient water uses that persist throughout the basin” an opportunity “to embrace.”

Speaking of opportunities, the Moving Forward report cites reducing outdoor water use through technology, behavior change and the adoption of water-thrifty landscapes as one of the biggest opportunities to stretch limited water supplies. Outdoor water use is the largest component of household water use, and can also be reduced by increasing housing density, leading to smaller yards.

If you want to read these reports and make your own judgements about what supply/demand strategies make sense, you can find them here:

Colorado River Basin Stakeholders Moving Forward to Address Challenges Identified in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, released by the US Bureau of Reclamation: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy/MovingForward/Phase1Report.html

“The Case for Conservation,” released by the Colorado River Research Group: http://www.coloradoriverresearchgroup.org/ (click on “What’s new from the Colorado River Research Group.”)

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Colorado’s Growth Brings A Call To Link Water And Land Planning — KUNC

May 18, 2015
Sprawl

Sprawl

From KUNC (Maeve Conran):

“The 2040 forecast for Colorado is about 7.8 million people, increasing from about 5 million in 2010,” said Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer. “How will we deal with it? Where will we put them? How will we provide water resources and other resources, whether it takes 20, 30, 40, 50 years to get there?”

The bulk of Colorado’s growth will happen between Pueblo and Fort Collins, said Garner, putting increased pressure on the state’s already tight water supplies. That population surge is why many groups who are concerned about water resources in Colorado are calling for land planning to play a greater role in the state’s water plan.

“Half of our drinking water on the Front Range is going to outdoor water use,” said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates.

For Beckwith, the state water plan should encourage growing cities to incorporate water conservation in their land planning decisions. Relatively simple measures like requiring increased density in new housing developments will have big water savings.

“If you put houses closer together and they have less lawn, they’re going to use less water,” Beckwith said.

More and more municipalities are already recognizing the need to use less irrigation water. In 2004, the City of Westminster established landscape regulations requiring a maximum of 15 gallons per square foot water use per year. Stu Feinglas, the city’s water resources analyst said the results have been dramatic.

“We found that Westminster single family homes are using about 70 percent of the water we project[ed] they would need for their yards,” Feinglas said.

Since 2001, Westminster has added about 12,000 people, yet the water demand has stayed the same or gone down slightly. Feinglas credits better water efficiency in plumbing fixtures and a reduction in outdoor water use. That’s on an individual household basis; changes are also happening at a larger planning level…

Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates said the state could play a significant role in encouraging more municipalities to conserve water through similar kinds land planning practices. For him, the first place to start is the Colorado Water Plan.

“In Colorado, we have a law that says in everyone’s comprehensive land use plan, you have to consider tourism,” Beckwith said. “In Arizona, for instance, there’s a requirement for you to have a water element of your comprehensive plan. Perhaps something like that would be appropriate in Colorado.”

Currently, developers must show they can provide water for their projects, but master plans aren’t required to include water as a consideration.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board said the upcoming water plan won’t mandate land use policies for local government and planning agencies, but the state legislature is getting a head start on linking land planning and water use. Governor John Hickenlooper has signed into law a measure [.pdf] that allows municipalities free training in water-demand management and water conservation.

More conservation coverage here.


Saving water in your garden

May 17, 2015
Mrs. Gulch's vegetable garden 2012

Mrs. Gulch’s vegetable garden 2012

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Elizabeth Catt):

I believe conserving water in our gardens is the right thing to do for several reasons, and also that there are no good reasons to waste water.

It is not difficult to plan a water-wise garden. There are many books by Southwest authors that will inspire and educate you. There are also local resources like the demonstration gardens at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District near the Pueblo Airport and the Garden at Cattail Crossing in Pueblo West.

My favorite reasons for growing water-wise gardens are straight forward.

One of the rewards of a water-wise garden that incorporates many native plants is that it supports many native pollinators, birds and other wildlife. Native plants are soul food for native insects, and native insects are the primary source of food that almost all birds need to feed their young.

There are approximately 160 kinds of butterflies that can be found in Pueblo County, as well as over 60 kinds of moths and most of the 600-plus native bees found in Colorado.

From The Durango Herald (John Peel):

Of water used inside the home, about 95 percent is treated at a wastewater plant and quickly returned to the river system. Of water used to irrigate lawns, about 30 percent returns, and only after many months, he said.

Harris also has been active politically. In 2014 he helped state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, create Senate Bill 17, which originally would have limited the size of lawns in new suburban developments. That idea tweaked a few people on the Front Range, so Roberts rewrote it to only call for a study of water conservation. It failed.

This year Roberts and other co-sponsors were able to pass Senate Bill 8, which will create training programs to help government planners implement water conservation programs. It passed.

Former state Sen. Bruce Whitehead was among about a dozen who stood in Harris’ and Carrasco’s lawn and dug a shovel into the soil. His personalized shovel was a remnant of his failed run against Roberts in 2010, but it was symbolic. His wife, Becca Conrad-Whitehead, had decorated it for the campaign and hand-painted “Working for Colorado’s future.”

Efficiency measures, such as sprinklers that direct flow more accurately, are helpful, he said. But the key is to reduce consumption.

“As far as savings, until you take away the consumption you really haven’t saved anything,” said Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and a roundtable member.

More conservation coverage here.


Cry me a barrel: Senate drowns rainwater-collection bill — the Colorado Independent #coleg

May 7, 2015
Photo via the Colorado Independent

A rain barrel in far-wetter Louisiana. Image by bluecinderella via the Colorado Independent

From the Colorado Independent (Tessa Cheek):

Collecting rainwater runoff from roofs, to water plants, is illegal, and the Senate just voted to keep it that way.

Talk about some good old fashioned political wrangling.

Word is that Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, had to go over the head of agriculture committee Chair Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, just to get the bill to the floor.

The measure would have allowed Coloradans to collect two barrels of rainwater a year to water gardens.

“It gives urban dwellers a chance to see what it means to have to be cautious with the amount of water they use, to be careful, to save,” said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. “People need to realize we really are a desert state.”

Two barrels of water is two too many, argued the water buffaloes – lawmakers, farmers and just about anyone with a vested interested in the current way water is distributed in Colorado. That included reps for big water companies eager to sell every drop they can grab in this drought-prone state, who argued that the barrel phenomenon could explode in urban areas and impact downstream users.

Advocates from Conservation Colorado said the rain-barrel fight is far from over and that Coloradans should prepare for even more scalding water wars in the future.

“Going forward, Colorado will face tough choices in our water use as our population grows, and we face diminishing available supplies,” said director Peter Maysmith in a release. “Innovative steps like rain barrels can be part of solutions to help Coloradans conserve and use scarce water supplies wisely. For Colorado to continue to thrive, all Coloradans will need to work together on water solutions that provide for our communities, agriculture and our environment.”

Update: For those who are curious, HB 1259 was killed via a procedural movement approved by an unrecorded vote. Senate leadership laid over the bill until after the session ends, when it can’t be passed.

From the Associated Press via the The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado’s only-in-the-nation ban on backyard rain barrels is sticking around for another year.

The state Senate moved Tuesday to reject a bill to allow homeowners to use up to two 55-gallon rain barrels. The maneuver was a late-evening vote to delay the bill, meaning it won’t make it to the governor’s desk before lawmakers conclude work for the year.

The state House previously passed the bill, and it had bipartisan support in the Senate, too. But other Republicans opposed the measure as a dangerous precedent.

Colorado’s rain-barrel ban is little known and widely flouted. But the barrels violate Colorado water law, which says that people can use but not keep water that runs on or through their property.

Meanwhile Conservation Colorado is not going to give up:

Conservation Colorado Executive Director Peter Maysmith released the following statement on the Colorado Senate failing to take action to pass legislation to legalize rain barrels in Colorado.

“Over the past few months this bill has captured the attention of Coloradans. Like many in the legislature, citizens do not understand why they are illegal or how Colorado could be the last state in the United States to allow citizens to use them.

For supporters from Western Slope water districts to Denver urban farmers, legalizing rain barrels is common sense. It is a way to connect Coloradans with the reality of water supply and use in Colorado. While it is disappointing this bill was not considered earlier in the session, the effort to legalize rain barrels and reach out to Coloradans on our water challenges will not end.

Going forward, Colorado will face tough choices in our water use as our population grows and we face diminishing available supplies. Innovative steps like rain barrels can be part of solutions to help Coloradans conserve and use scarce water supplies wisely. For Colorado to continue to thrive, all Coloradans will need to work together on water solutions that provide for our communities, agriculture and our environment.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Federal Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant goal is hydroelectric/crop watering efficiency

May 5, 2015

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture

Crop circles — irrigated agriculture


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The Colorado experiment aims to pressurize flows of agricultural water, producing hydro-power, and then deliver water more precisely to crops using sprinklers. If successful, this is envisioned as a way to help reduce the 85 percent share of water required to sustain agriculture in semi-arid Colorado and other western states.

“This is not only possible. It is going to happen,” Vilsack said in an interview. “It is going to provide for more efficient irrigation, which is important as we deal with increased scarcity. It also is going to deliver hydropower, a renewable energy resource.”

The federal Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants, building on $394 million awarded in January, are designed to encourage local agriculture leaders to work with innovators at private companies, universities, non-profit groups and government agencies to solve environmental challenges. Congress created the program last year and funds it under the Farm Bill.

In Colorado, state agriculture officials are coordinating the Pressurized Small Hydropower project, which will receive $1.8 million in federal funds and assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in addition to $1.6 million from American Rivers, the governor’s energy office, the Colorado Rural Electric Association and others…

Vilsack said more than 600 groups have applied for conservation grants with 115 funded so far. Teaming with the private sector amplifies what the government could do, he said. “We need to figure out ways to use water more creatively and more efficiently.”

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that up to $235 million has been allocated for conservation projects.

“Conservation programs not only allow us to preserve valuable lands for future generations and wildlife habitat,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who sits on the Agriculture Committee and helped craft the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes the RCPP, “they also pay a large part in sustaining our agriculture, recreation and tourism industries. The announcement of this funding is exciting news, and we encourage people to apply for funding to facilitate conservation programs across the state.”

The program encourages groups to work with multiple partners, which may include private companies, local and tribal governments, universities and nonprofits along with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, to design projects that work best for their region. Local partners and the federal government invest funding and manpower to the projects.

People in Archuleta and La Plata counties may have a leg up on obtaining a grant, as the two counties are in the Colorado River Basin, which has been identified as 1 of 8 Critical Conservation Areas in the country. The Colorado River District received $8 million in January, the first round of disbursements in the RCPP, for the Lower Gunnison River Basin. That funding is being used to better manage agricultural and water resources for farming by expanding improvements in conveyance, delivery and on-farm irrigation, Bennet’s office said.

More hydropower/hydroelectric coverage here.


The business case for investments in water efficiency — Will Sarni

April 29, 2015


Westminster’s Answer to a Catch-22 of Water Conservation — National Geographic

April 27, 2015
Westminster

Westminster

From the National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

A few years ago, the town of Westminster, Colorado, just north of Denver, came eye-to-eye with an issue many water-conserving cities face when a resident posed this question at a public meeting, “Why do you ask me to conserve, and then raise my rates?”

With droughts dotting the country and a growing number of areas facing water shortages in the years ahead, conservation is a core strategy for meeting present and future water demands.

Yet water utilities often find themselves in a conundrum: how to encourage households to reduce their water use without (1) losing vital revenue to maintain their water systems or (2) facing a public outcry over the raising of water rates.

Much of the money needed to expand and upgrade water infrastructure – from pipes and pumps to treatment plants – comes from selling water. By some estimates, fixing and expanding the nation’s water infrastructure will require at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years.

It seems like a catch-22. Rivers are running dry and groundwater is being depleted, so conservation is an imperative. But conservation means a drop in the volume of water sold, which can cause a utility’s revenue to drop.

The obvious answer is to lift water rates, the price charged per gallon used. But that’s not always easy. Even though U.S. residents typically pay a lot less for water than they do for their cell phones or cable television, raising water rates by even a small amount can risk a public backlash…

So, to provide a satisfactory answer to the customer’s question at the public meeting, two of Westminster’s analysts, Stuart Feinglas and Christine Gray, along with water conservation consultant Peter Mayer, dug in and undertook some research. They presented their results last fall at the WaterSmart Innovations conference in Las Vegas, as well as in a report published by the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency.

The results were illuminating — and a resounding endorsement of the economic benefits of water conservation.

Between 1980 and 2010, water use person in Westminster had dropped from 180 gallons per person per day to 149 gallons, a decline of 21 percent.

The staff attribute the drop in part to the national plumbing codes passed in 1992, which reduced the water used by new toilets, faucets and showerheads, and effectively built conservation into new homes and offices. The utility’s own conservation efforts also played an important role. Inclining block and seasonal water rate structures, for example, motivated conservation and discouraged high water use at peak times, such as hot summer days.

The research team then asked, what would water rates be today if that 21 percent reduction in per capita water use hadn’t occurred?

The answer: without conservation, water rates would have nearly doubled.

That’s because the city would have had to find and deliver an additional 7,295 acre-feet (2.38 million gallons) of water a day, necessitating a capital investment of nearly $219 million.

It would also have had to satisfy a much higher peak demand. Back in 1980, before the conservation efforts began, peak water use was 3 times higher than average use. Conservation measures, including effective pricing, brought that ratio down to 2 to 1.

Building the additional water treatment and other infrastructure to meet that higher peak demand would have required an additional capital investment of $130 million.

Since water used indoors for showering, flushing toilets, other uses then goes to a wastewater treatment plant, using less indoors means less water to treat. Conservation saved the city an additional $20 million in avoided capital costs for wastewater treatment.

Adding in avoided debt financing expenses, the conservation program saved Westminster a total of $591,850,000 in new infrastructure costs. It also reduced water and wastewater operating costs by more than $1.2 million per year.

Bottom line: single family rates and fees in 2012 would have been 91 percent higher without conservation than they were after all the conservation efforts– $1,251 per household versus $655.

More conservation coverage here.


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