Drip your way to a healthy, water-wise garden — Steamboat Today

Drip irrigation graphic via Sonoma County Nurseries Resource
Drip irrigation graphic via Sonoma County Nurseries Resource

From Steamboat Today (Jackie Buratovich):

Thinking about changing your garden from a traditional sprinkler system to drip? Dazed and confused in the irrigation aisle at the garden center? No budget for an irrigation contractor? Fear not, drip irrigation is easier than it looks.

First, draw a plan of your yard. Use one corner of the lot or the house as your “control point,” measure the distance to all features from this point and transfer the measurements to paper, using 1/4 inch to represent 1 foot in the field.

Locate big things first — the house, other structures, trees, shrubs, driveway and walkways. Then locate the exterior faucets and water supply to any existing irrigation system. Measure and draw existing and planned flower and vegetable beds and turf areas. When complete, make a couple copies of the drawing for planning purposes.

Next, group plants with similar water requirements into single zones and consider how often each plant grouping/zone needs water. Turf should be irrigated with traditional sprinklers on its own zone(s) — avoid mixing drip lines and sprinklers in one zone.

Shrubs and trees need deep watering infrequently. In general, shady areas need water less often than those in full sun. Vegetables have higher water needs than flowers. Tomatoes are finicky so you may want to water those by hand. New plantings, even xeric, will need more water until established.

If you have a traditional sprinkler irrigation system, you can convert whole zones to drip. Most sprinklers are connected to water supply piping with a ½-inch threaded nipple. Simply remove the sprinkler and replace it with an adapter purchased from your local home center. From this adapter, run the larger, usually ½-inch, plastic piping along one side or in the middle of the zone; this line can be mulched over after the installation is complete.

Note: there are several brands of drip irrigation equipment and, in general, their piping and parts are not interchangeable. Select a brand that is available near you and stick with it. “Professional grade” materials seem to last longer.

There are three basic types of “drip” devices: drip emitters, micro-sprinklers and misters. Your plants’ watering needs will determine the type of drip device you install.

Drip emitters include soaker hoses, tubing with emitters embedded every 6 to 12 inches, laser-drilled tubing, adjustable emitters on stakes and single drippers rated at various flows. Micro-sprinklers are usually mounted on stakes with varying areas of coverage and flow rates. Misters are used to humidify an area or to start seeds but are not great for watering mature plants. These devices connect directly to the larger supply line or at the end of ¼-inch plastic tubing, routed to the base of plants.

Many drip systems use micro-sprinklers positioned at regular intervals; however, emitters and soaker lines do not wet the plant leaves and spread disease, or use precious water on areas with no plant roots, thereby encouraging weeds. Simply place an emitter or two at each plant or shrub, or snake a soaker hose throughout your perennial bed.

Remember that drip irrigation is very flexible and adjustable and parts can and should be changed as your landscape matures. You may start greens from seed with a micro-sprinkler, but as they emerge and become little plants, you then switch to an emitter line, reducing the chance of powdery mildew and leaf burn.

Other essential drip irrigation parts include various fittings that connect drip lines to supply lines or drip emitters/sprayers to drip lines. There are good manufacturers’ installation guides at home centers or online, and most centers have knowledgeable staff available to answer questions.

Drip irrigation uses less water at lower pressures than traditional turf sprinkler systems. Key to the success of your drip system is an adjustable pressure-reducing valve and pressure gauge on the system water supply that adjusts the outlet (system) pressure to 25 to 35 psi.

Additionally, plumbing code requires a backflow prevention device be installed. These two devices should be located on the irrigation supply line, downstream from where it connects to the house water system.

#ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan: Making water conservation a reality #COriver

Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District
Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District

From the Middle Colorado Watershed Council (Dan Ben-Horin) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

It may be difficult to think of water conservation now as we look out our windows at rivers and creeks swollen with spring runoff, but we need to remind ourselves of where we live. Here in the Colorado River Basin, we live with a constant threat of a looming drought.

As Eric Kuhn wrote in his May 12 article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, “we cannot be fooled by talk of a continuing drought. Instead, we need to be diligent and prepared for the next drought.” Our current reality includes an increasing population and a decreasing water supply, and it is now time for us to realize how far conservation measures can improve our water use efficiency.

As part of the recently published Colorado Water Plan, one of the Colorado River Basin’s themes is to encourage a high level of conservation. Statewide, we have done a remarkable job of reducing water use, with per-capita use dropping by almost 20 percent over the past decade. Some municipalities have even cut water use by as much as 30 percent during this time period. Incredible work has been done thus far, and we can now build upon what we learned statewide.

Many entities in the state are now required to have a specific water conservation plan approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Locally, the Roaring Fork Conservancy partnered with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Ruedi Water and Power Authority and local municipalities in the Roaring Fork Watershed to develop a water efficiency plan. The plan consists of water efficiency plans for Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, as well as a regional plan that applies the common elements of the five individual plans to the watershed.

Plans such as this outline actions steps for reaching conservation goals by identifying best practices such as landscape efficiencies, water loss management features and variable rate structures. A successful conservation strategy must look beyond past accomplishments and create a specific action plan to meet conservation goals.

The water saving benefits resulting from water efficiency projects are tremendous. Reductions in water demands allow providers to save money on annual operations and maintenance. Further reductions in municipal water use would provide increased longevity on facilities right here in our communities.

In addition to these water supply benefits, we can achieve other benefits, such as an improved environment. Reduced wastewater discharges through indoor water savings can improve water quality and aquatic habitat in our lakes, rivers and streams.

Conservation also acts as a management tool to buffer against drought. Water providers can store water in a drought reserve as a long-term water conservation effort, and use those reserves during periods of shortages. As Mr. Kuhn pointed out in his May 12 article, when we entered the drought period of 2000-04, both Lake Powell and Lake Mead were completely full. Having reserves allowed us to mitigate the potentially devastating consequences of those dry years. With those lakes currently sitting at approximately 40 percent of capacity, what would happen if we were to enter into a period of prolonged drought today?

We cannot allow ourselves to become shortsighted when water is plentiful. It is time to build upon the conservation measures and efficiency savings we have already achieved. By adopting a variety of strong, permanent tools, we can fulfill our ongoing obligation to conserve water resources. The reality of climate change is that hotter, drier weather will become the new normal in the West, so conservation of our precious resource should become the new normal as well. As we learn and adapt to living in this semi-arid climate, we can make conservation become the new water reality.

Dan Ben-Horin is a watershed specialist for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which works to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the Middle Colorado River Watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org.

Meanwhile here’s a report about conservation in the water sector in California from Joshua Emerson Smith writing in The Los Angeles Times:

…a new study finds that reductions in urban water use have saved significant amounts of electricity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis, published by UC Davis, capitalized on the unique circumstances created by California’s drought. It culled statistics that electric utilities and water districts statewide were required to submit because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s unprecedented order for residents and businesses to lower water consumption by an average of 25%.

During Brown’s initial emergency conservation program that stretched from June 2015 through February, energy savings from water conservation totaled 922,543 megawatt-hours — enough to power 135,000 homes for a year, according to the data project…

The electricity saved from less water consumption was substantial enough that during peak summer months last year, savings equaled the effect of all energy efficiency programs offered by major investor-owned utilities in the state combined — and at less than a third of the cost.

“We were quite surprised when we looked at the numbers,” said Frank Loge, director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, which produced the new analysis.

“I think people have known this intuitively for a couple of years, but our analysis highlighted it,” he added.

The findings come as environmental groups and water managers have sometimes differed on how much conservation is needed, especially as new supply sources — including desalination plants, expanded reservoirs and water recycling programs — come online.

2016 #coleg: #Colorado water catchment — The Mountain Ear

Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.
Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.

From The Mountain Ear (Janet Perry):

New legislation passed last month in Colorado will allow homeowners to catch water runoff from their rooftops via gutter downspouts flowing into one or two aboveground barrels with lids. The volume of the barrels must not exceed 110 gallons. That water must be used for outdoor irrigation on the property where it is collected. If not the homeowner, a renter must get approval from the owner. If multiple unit buildings, there can be no more than four units. The legislation, HB 16-05 will become law on August 10th of this year.

One of the bill’s House sponsors, CO Representative Daneya Esgar, told The Mountain-Ear, “This common sense bill, simply allows Coloradoans the ability to catch some rain that falls on their roof, and use it to water their gardens. This year we worked hard with the Colorado Farm Bureau, agricultural organizations and others who were nervous about the similar bill last year, to be sure this law would not infringe on anyone’s water rights.”


The State Engineer must report to the Legislature in 2019 about whether the allowance for this collection of rainwater has “caused any discernible injury to downstream water rights”. It was this language that allayed the concerns of Colorado farmers and helped pave the way for the bill’s passage in April.

Rebecca Martinez, Associate Director of Communications for the Colorado Farm Bureau, told The Mountain-Ear that the “Colorado Farm Bureau is supportive of HB16-1005 because of specific protections that have been added to the bill that haven’t been a part of previously proposed legislation. Last year, HB16-1005’s predecessor bill lacked adequate protection of individuals’ water rights. “Over the course of many discussions, we’ve made it clear that this bill must contain language protecting water right owners and it is imperative that this bill recognize the state’s prior appropriation doctrine,” president of Colorado Farm Bureau, Don Shawcroft, said. “As the language currently stands, the state’s water court system is fully considered and will allow the State Engineer to address injuries to other water rights should they occur in the future.”

Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado told The Mountain-Ear, “This bill would help citizens better connect to their outdoor water use by seeing how much water they are using, how much water lawns or plants consume, and how much rain we receive. It also increases folks understanding of our prior appropriation system of water law in terms of why we have it and that it can be a flexible, adaptive water rights system that works.”

Conley further explained, “Colorado faces water challenges (drought, damaged rivers, water security), and an informed public is a necessity for any solution to those challenges. Allowing residential use of rain barrels will build a conservation ethic in the populace, foster a deeper connection to water in the state, and will not impact other water users.”

Residents of Nederland could especially reap the benefits of the bill’s aim at water conservation, as the incorporation of barrels for outdoor irrigation would offset the extremely high cost of water within the town.

#COWaterPlan: Latinos urge action on water conservation — The Colorado Springs Gazette

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

Here’s a guest column from Nita Gonzales and Al Gurule that is running in The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Colorado’s large Latino population relies on our rivers for drinking water, jobs, outdoor recreation and crop irrigation. Our voices and values are similar to the vast majority of Coloradans. But for Latinos, the river and the land it nurtures is also a very personal matter. For centuries, the river provides our culture with a collective sense of “querencia,” a place in which we know exactly who we are, the place from which we speak our deepest beliefs.

When the Colorado Legislature ended its session there was a flurry of action but, sadly, little progress to protect our rivers. The subject of water was barely covered, and perhaps most remarkably, taking action on Colorado’s first state water plan – the blueprint for how water will be managed in Colorado for the foreseeable future – was limited to a small, generic “projects” appropriation.

The landmark water plan, released last year, addresses many water challenges facing our state including: a looming water supply and demand gap, the effects of persistent drought, protecting Colorado’s interstate water rights, and other challenges that could adversely affect the lives of Coloradans.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan includes an unprecedented emphasis on sound conservation measures and directs attention to keeping the Colorado River healthy and flowing. Latinos in Colorado pay close attention to the protection of the Colorado River system, the primary source of water for Colorado and the southwestern U.S. and a significant part of southwestern Latino culture. For Latinos living in the Southwest, protecting this river is more than just smart water management; it is honoring part of a rich cultural heritage.

The lack of engagement on the water plan by the state assembly is surprising and unfortunate. After all, a great deal of care and thoroughness went into our state plan, including input from 30,000 Coloradans. It’s been rightly hailed as a huge step for Colorado’s future water management.

The final plan includes key priorities directly in line with western Latino values for water management:

– A productive economy that supports agriculture, recreation and tourism;

– An efficient and effective water infrastructure; and

– Healthy watersheds, rivers, streams, and wildlife.

The plan includes strong recommendations for funding to preserve and restore the state’s rivers and streams that play an important role in Latino history and daily life. It contains a directive that Colorado invest in unprecedented stream protection and restoration in the form of “stream management plans” for our rivers.

The only real obstacle, at this point it seems, is lack of leadership and action and letting the plan languish, and that is what appears to be happening.

To ensure that the conservation values included in the plan move forward – protecting healthy river flows, our outdoor recreation industry, agricultural heritage, businesses and thriving cities – we must get started now. Gov. Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board should begin working with local leaders to find innovative ways to meet the plan’s ambitious – but attainable – conservation goals. In the latest Colorado College poll, 77% of Coloradans say that we should use existing water resources more efficiently through conservation and reuse.

Nuestro Rio and other Latinos in Colorado are ready to work with Hickenlooper and state leaders to implement the conservation values laid out in the plan. We want to help ensure the protection of our rivers, outdoor recreation, agriculture, industry and our cities.

We ask the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to take meaningful action to implement the plan without additional delays. The time is now to ensure Colorado’s water, our economy and our culture is sustainable for generations to come. We are depending on it.

Nita Gonzales is the director of Nuestro Rio, an organization representing Latinos living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada working to educate elected officials and Latino youths about the many ways Latinos are connected to the Colorado River. Al Gurule is a former Pueblo District 2 councilman and a well-known Latino activist in Colorado since the late 1960s.

2016 #coleg: Residential rain barrels could capture 1,200 gallons a year — 9News

Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.
Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.
From 9News.com (Ryan Haarer):

Starting August 10, if rain falls on your roof, you can keep it. Each household can keep two rain barrels for a total of 110 gallons of water. A study at Colorado State University estimates that could add up to 1,200 gallons a year.

“At first I get worried about hail that would kill my vegetables, but then I am excited about the rain!” said Jessica Goad with Conservation Colorado…

Jessica works for Conservation Colorado which pushed hard to get this legislation passed. It failed last year because of concerns over how such a law would affect Colorado’s complicated water laws.

“The use of residential rain barrels had no impact on users downstream,” she says.

That’s according to a study by Colorado State University. The 1,200 gallons of water you could be capturing a year will not impact other areas. And the law requires further monitoring to ensure rain barrels never have an impact on other water users.

After years of #drought and overuse, the San Luis Valley aquifer refills — The High Country News

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From The High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

The San Luis Valley in southern Colorado is an 8,000-square-mile expanse of farmland speckled with potato, alfalfa, barley and quinoa fields between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges. Only about 7 inches of rain fall each year in the San Luis Valley. But while farmers and ranchers can’t depend on moisture above ground, they make up the difference beneath it. The valley is underlain by a vast aquifer, which is punctured by more than 6,000 wells that pump water onto the valley’s crops and supports the livelihoods of 46,000 residents.

For generations, the aquifer provided enough water to sustain the arid farming community. But beginning in 2002, a multi-year drought shrunk the nearby streams and water table. Farmers and ranchers began to notice the falling levels of the Rio Grande and the rapidly draining aquifer. Some wells throughout the valley abruptly stopped working.

The aquifer dwindled so much that the Closed Basin Project, a Bureau of Reclamation pumping effort that had long met downstream water diversions and delivered flows to the Rio Grande River to maintain the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, failed to convey enough water to the valley’s farms and ranches. “We operate in a highly over-appropriated system,” says Cleave Simpson, manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the main water management entity in the San Luis Valley. “Agriculture had overgrown and far outstretched water supply.”

Without change, state water regulators could shut off thousands of wells. So the valley’s farmers and ranchers, unlike other agriculture communities in the West, did something nearly unprecedented: They decided not to ignore the problem.

In 2006, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and San Luis Valley water users created the sub-district project, an innovative solution for solving water problems. The plan would charge farmers and ranchers $75 per acre-foot for the groundwater they pumped, and in turn use the funds to pay farmers to fallow portions of their fields, limiting demand on the water supply, as High County News reported in 2013. The experiment began at sub-district 1, the valley’s largest of six sub-districts, which sits at the heart of the San Luis Valley in aptly named Centre, just west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Center-Pivot and Acequia Farms. The green belts along the Río Culebra and tributaries in San Acacio, San Luis, Chama, Los Fuertes and other unmarked villages are the principal acequia farm bottomlands in Costilla County. The  center-pivot circles are concentrated in the Blanca-Ft. Garland vicinity to the N and the Mesita-Jaroso vicinity due W and SW of the acequia bottomlands.  Source: Google Maps (screenshot).
Center-Pivot and Acequia Farms. The green belts along the Río Culebra and tributaries in San Acacio, San Luis, Chama, Los Fuertes and other unmarked villages are the principal acequia farm bottomlands in Costilla County. The center-pivot circles are concentrated in the Blanca-Ft. Garland vicinity to the N and the Mesita-Jaroso vicinity due W and SW of the acequia bottomlands. Source: Google Maps (screenshot).

Today, four years into the operation of the project after it launched in 2012, the aquifer is rebounding. Water users in sub-district 1 have pumped one-third less water, down to about 200,000 acre feet last year compared to more than 320,000 before the project. Area farmers have fallowed 10,000 acres that once hosted thirsty alfalfa or potato crops. Since a low point in 2013, the aquifer has recovered nearly 250,000 acre-feet of water. By 2021, the sub-district project plans to fallow a total of 40,000 acres, unless the ultimate goal of rebounding the aquifer can be reached through other conservation efforts, like improving soil quality and rotating to more efficient crops.

The plan’s proponents say it provides a template for groundwater management in other arid communities whose agricultural economies are imperiled by drought. “The residents of the valley know that they are in this together, and that the valley has overgrown the water available to us,” says Craig Cotten, Almosa-based division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “This is a water user-led solution, which makes it unique. I really think this can be a model.”

Crucially, the plan is state-mandated, which requires everyone to either participate in a district, fallow their fields or work with water engineers to develop their own augmentation plans, which in turn need to be approved by state water courts. Those choices — paying premiums for groundwater or scaling down operations significantly — have been tough for farmers. Nevertheless, Simpson says the valley’s water users have gotten on board. “It’s not comfortable but most everyone has really come forward,” Simpson says. “It’s a bit of a paradigm shift for farmers who are individualistic and don’t typically work together — but by necessity they realize that we will bankrupt ourselves if we continue to stretch our water resource.”

But water users in the San Luis Valley have also gone beyond the call of duty, says Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. While the SLVWCD helps include users in its augmentation plan as an alternative to joining the sub-district project, Dutton says that few water users have gone that route. That’s partly because farmers and ranchers themselves have helped create the sub-district rules, through participating in public meetings and getting involved with the board of managers. “This has been a good exercise in self-governance,” Dutton says. “It’s been a success story in people coming together and trying things that my grandpa’s era would have thought were crazy.”

Although sub-district 1 has proved a success, the broader sub-district project remains in its fledging stages. In March, Colorado District Court in Rio Grande County mandated that sub-district 2, a cluster of a hundred or so wells between Monte Vista and Del Norte, unroll as phase two of the program. The second district is currently forming a board of managers to develop official rules for farmers and ranchers within the territory. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District is still working with valley residents to implement the remaining four sub-districts.

Still, the project’s first phase has been encouraging for residents. Patrick O’Neill grew up in Central California’s San Joaquin Valley and first came to the San Luis Valley in 1998 to work as an intern at Agro Engineering, a consulting company. Though he later returned to his family farm in California, he came to feel that the Central Valley, built on its own wasteful groundwater use, was not sustainable. He returned to the San Luis Valley in 2005, where he now owns Soil Health Services in Alamosa and works with area farmers and ranchers to improve soil health. “I chose this place in a very deliberate way for my home because there’s potential for putting our water system back into balance,” O’Neill says. “People here are much more conscious of how much water they are using.”