Water Lines: Colorado water leaders set ambitious conservation goals #COWaterPlan

June 26, 2015

Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Discussions and disputes over how to meet the water needs of Colorado’s growing population typically revolve around the proper balance between taking additional water from agriculture, taking additional water from the West Slope to the Front Range, and conservation.

Conservation would seem to be the low-hanging fruit, but the nuts and bolts of how to conserve enough to avoid more transfers from agriculture or the West Slope is not as easy as it may at first appear. That scale of conservation is more than can easily be achieved simply through newer, more efficient appliances and tactics like Denver Water’s highly effective “use only what you need” campaign.

Cutting deeper into household water demands would likely require some kind of mandate, on either personal behavior or land development patterns (smaller lots equal less outdoor watering), and that flies in the face of deeply held values on private property rights and local control. From a planning perspective, it’s also harder to calculate how much water you can save from possible future changes in people’s behavior than how much water you can get from a new pipeline or water rights purchase.

These reasons played into the modest approach to conservation in the part of the first draft of Colorado’s water plan that set out “no and low regrets actions,” which are those actions that should be helpful no matter what the future brings in terms of population growth, climate change and public attitudes. This portion of the plan calls for establishing a “medium” level of conservation that would achieve 340,000 acre feet per year of water savings. An acre foot is enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep, and it is enough to serve two to three households for a year at current use rates. Following a number of public comments and statements calling for higher conservation goals from the West Slope “basin roundtables” of stakeholders and water managers tasked with planning for their own river basins, state leaders are moving towards setting the bar higher.

On June 22, Taylor Hawes of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), which includes representatives from basin roundtables across the state, told the Colorado Basin Roundtable that the IBCC’s subcommittee on conservation was developing a “stretch goal” to achieve an additional 60,000 acre feet per year of savings for a total of 400,000 acre feet per year. Hawes reported that the committee is proposing that this goal be pursued in a way that respects local control and involves additional monitoring to determine what really works and whether the goal needs to be adjusted up or down.

Depending on how this work is received by the full IBCC and the basin roundtables, this is one of the changes that may make its way into the next draft of the Colorado Water Plan, which is due to be released in the middle of July, with a public comment period lasting until Sept. 17.

To learn more about the Colorado Water Plan and find out how to submit your own comments, go to http://coloradowaterplan.com. You can also plan to attend one of the public hearings the legislatures Water Resource Review Committee is holding on the plan. West Slope hearings will be held July 20 in Durango, July 21 in Montrose, July 22 in Craig, and Aug. 12 in Grandby.

For details, visit http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cga-legislativecouncil/2015-water-resources-review-committee.

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 about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More conservation coverage here.

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


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


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