Colorado’s #COWaterPlan is making a splash — Environment Colorado

From Conservation Colorado:

When I first heard about a state water plan, I was skeptical as to how useful it would be. I thought about how notoriously difficult it can be to change water policy in Colorado; meetings are long, technical, and only have one person (among as many as 50) representing environmental interests.

However, two things made me optimistic about the plan.

First, the Executive Order required that the plan, and our water policies, reflect our water values. Second, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) stated that we needed a water plan because “our current statewide water trajectory is neither desirable nor sustainable.” So the plan presented an opportunity for change.

Since Coloradans overwhelmingly prefer solving water challenges through conservation and recycling over diverting more water from our Western Slope rivers, we set out with four basic principles that guided our outreach to citizens and decision makers alike. The plan needed to:

  • Keep Colorado’s rivers healthy and flowing
  • Increase water conservation and recycling in our cities and towns (e.g., statewide conservation goal)
  • Modernize agriculture and water sharing practices
  • And avoid a new, large transmountain diversion.
  • We advocated strongly for these principles at water planning hearings, one-on-one meetings with designated planning representatives, and the public. We heard from roundtable members that they needed more information and data on how to best protect their streams. We heard pushback that a statewide conservation goal was impossible because it would be seen as a “mandate” and “one size fits all” requirement. We heard that more Colorado River water needed to be transported to the Front Range. We kept hearing these things but we kept pushing our principles.

    We persevered.

    Paddle Salute via The Weekender -- Avery Johnson
    Paddle Salute via The Weekender — Avery Johnson

    This first iteration of Colorado Water Plan is an important step forward for Colorado because it reflects Coloradans’ values and priorities. The plan:

    Sets the first-ever statewide urban water conservation goal;
    Addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers and streams including proposing annual funding for river assessments and restoration work;
    Makes new, large, and controversial large trans-mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities, a lot less likely.
    We are seeing conservation prioritized as never before, expanded language on reuse and water banking, and incentives and funding toward “alternative transfer methods” which replace water providers buying up agricultural land and then taking the irrigation water for municipal use. There is broad support for and a greater focus on stream health across the state including funding and the importance of preserving and restoring the environmental resiliency of our rivers and streams.

    We’re excited about the plan and are now focusing our attention to getting it implemented.

    The plan must be executed properly to be effective for Colorado. We also need more detailed and thorough water project evaluation criteria that determine which projects get state support (and which do not). We need to ensure that any tweaks to the state’s permitting authority maintains the strong environmental safeguards that protect our rivers and drinking water.

    As the state implements this plan and looks to make changes to it, we will continue to advocate for what is best for Colorado and best for our rivers. Thanks to Governor Hickenlooper for tackling such a contentious issue as water and developing the first ever state plan!

    Not zero, xeric: Greeley officials to present plan to reduce landscape water use — The Greeley Tribune

    Xeriscape landscape
    Xeriscape landscape

    From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

    Patrick McDonald came into a hard job.

    In 2002, he left the lush southeast to become the landscape manager for the University of Northern Colorado right as the state hit a historic drought.

    Water allowances plummeted. The football field was in such bad shape, the Broncos quit training there. And yet McDonald didn’t condemn the campus to crunchy brown shrubs and dead grass. He invested in drought-resistant native plants.

    More than a decade later, almost 10 percent of the campus landscape is covered in these plants. Although there are a few cacti, there are tons of sage plants, prairie grasses and colorful bushes.

    “That stuff’s thriving without extra water,” he said.

    All of these practices fall under a gardening philosophy called xeriscape. Although the term can conjure images of a lawn full of gravel, most xeriscapes instead feature flora appropriate for limited and efficient water use.

    Landscaping soaks up about half of Greeley’s water, and as demand continues to creep up on a stagnant supply, officials hope that sooner than later, more residents, even the bulk of them, can transform their own yards using the same kind of plants that a drought inspired McDonald to use at UNC.

    According to Greeley’s records, per capita water consumption has decreased by 22 percent since 2002. Even so, as more people flock to the Front Range, officials now realize replacing shower heads and toilets won’t cut it.

    Various departments teamed up to write the Landscape Policy Plan, a guidebook to establishing the programs and regulations needed to reduce outdoor water use. The guidebook, among other recommendations, asks residents to think beyond their thirsty bluegrass lawns and plant native, drought-resistant greenery.

    The Greeley City Council hasn’t seen the plan. Department heads will present it later this month, and the council should decide whether to sign off on it by year’s end.

    Although planners want to maintain a lot of what we’re used to seeing — tall shade trees, grassy fields for kids and pets — they’d like to see some change too.

    These changes don’t have to be as drastic as one might think, City Manager Roy Otto said. The term “xeriscape” can dredge up images of a yard full of rocks and cacti. But that’s not what it means for northern Colorado.

    Xeriscape calls for replacing imported plants with native ones, not getting rid of them altogether. The High Plains aren’t in a parched desert, Otto said, but they aren’t in the rain-drenched Midwest either.


    Greeley started as an agricultural community in a semi-arid climate.

    Given that, officials always knew the value of conserving water: They put together the city’s first conservation plan in 1905, said Eric Reckentine, deputy director of Greeley Water and Sewer. The plan limited how often residents could water their lawns.

    In the past 11 decades, ways to conserve have advanced. Greeley still has watering restrictions, but they’re more organized. Companies have developed more efficient toilets, washers, shower heads and irrigation systems, and the city issues rebates for residents who use them. The water and sewer department offers various educational materials and services, from DVDs to water audits.

    Greeley has offered xeriscape services for years, and even has a few demonstration gardens, but as the demand for water continues to grow, it is getting more attention.

    Planners project the Denver region’s population will grow from 3.5 million to almost 6.6 million people by 2050, according to city documents. That will grow water demand by 110,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons, how much an average household uses in a year. Even if all water storage projects are permitted and constructed — which studies show happens only 70 percent of the time — water suppliers can only get access to about 64,000 more acre-feet. Greeley officials, and others, are getting the message: There isn’t any more water.


    Natural brushes and prairie grasses won’t be the only green left in Greeley. Planners want to maintain some high water-use plants.

    No one, for instance, is going to chop down all the trees, said Community Development Director Brad Mueller said.

    “We know that trees perform an important function beyond looking nice,” he said.

    Tree cover is one way to prevent what environmental scientists call heat islands.

    When buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation, the surfaces that once let water soak through and stay moist become impermeable and dry. They soak up the heat and let it fester. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    It’s unreasonable to think there should be no areas with bluegrass, Mueller said. Wood chips and rough lavender gardens don’t make for a fun place to sit or play. People with children or pets should have some grass on their properties. Parks will have it, as well.


    Ruth Quade, the director of water conservation for Greeley, assembled a xeric demonstration garden outside of the city hall annex at 1100 10th St. to show residents they can start small.

    It’s only a few yards long and about a yard wide. There are a few demonstration gardens in town, most of which are almost an acre in size, Quade said.

    “It can be overwhelming,” she said.

    Xeriscape as a practice has seven principles: plan ahead, limit turf areas, improve soil, irrigate efficiently, choose low water use plants, use mulch and maintain the landscape.

    It sounds like a lot of work, but Quade said the downtown garden took about three days to set up.

    Instead of working with a landscape architect on a plan or working to design one herself, she used a Garden in a Box kit from the Center for Resource Conservation. The sustainability-focused nonprofit offers a catalogue of xeric plant packages for about $100 (Greeley residents get a discount). It offers the plants, “plant-by-number” design instructions and a manual on how to care for them.

    They also sell drip irrigation kits, which are a vital part of xeriscape. Instead of spraying the entire space, little hoses leak into a plant’s roots.

    Using this system on a xeric garden instead of a traditional sprinkler on turf can reduce water use by up to 60 percent.

    Another vital component is mulching. Although some xeric gardens use rock and gravel, many planners prefer organic mulches, such as wood chips. The mulch reduces weeds while protecting plants from harsh weather.


    The document going to city council this year doesn’t have any regulatory power. It defines policy goals to get each department and the city council on the same page going forward, Mueller said.

    The plan has three parts: education, incentives and regulation.

    Quade has worked on xeriscape education for years, she said. Her materials started getting more attention in 2002, when a harsh drought started.

    Now she gets to expand her efforts. The demonstration garden was just the first in a line of projects she’s going to tackle.

    One of the undertakings she’s most excited about is a website that would give landscapers and residents a guide to more than 300 drought-resistant, native plants.

    Teaching people how to maintain those gardens is one of the city’s biggest opportunities, he said. After all, if you don’t know how to care for those plants, it won’t matter that you set it up.

    Tearing up and replacing landscape is expensive, and officials hope to ease the burden by offering incentives like they do now for toilets and washing machines.

    Regulations will change slowly.

    Greeley already requires lawns be half covered in plants. That’s not going to change, Mueller said. Covering a lawn entirely in rocks would not only make the area hotter, but it would also look ugly.

    New rules haven’t been pinned down. Officials are tossing a few ideas around, such as a cap on the amount of land the thirstiest plants can cover and a xeriscape certificate requirement for landscapers.

    Many new regulations will only affect businesses at first, Mueller said. City agencies have more control over commercial projects than they do over private ones.


    UNC’s xeric goals were codified years ago in its own landscape master plan. It gave McDonald a directive: At least 25 percent of the new or renovated landscape has to be xeric. Now almost 8 percent of the campus is covered in low-water use plants, including a 5-acre demonstration garden.

    Plants native to the Front Range are pretty easy to come by, he said.

    That might be because xeriscape is becoming more popular.

    The Xeriscape Garden at Denver Water. Xeriscaping is a cost-effective way to save water and beautify your yard.
    Xeriscape demonstration garden at Denver Water

    “We’re seeing a lot of improvement in the area,” said Mark Cassalia, a conservation specialist for Denver Water. “They’re really getting the bigger picture.”

    The organization coined the term “xeriscape” in 1981 while working with Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Now it’s taking off throughout the state and country.

    “We’re actually paying a little money to help people change their landscape,” said Renee Davis, a water conservation specialist at the city of Fort Collins.

    The city started a pilot program this summer to help residents change over to xeriscape. They focused on helping with design and helping buy plants. Next year, Davis said, they’re going to narrow their focus to plant acquisition and maintenance.

    Rebates cover a small part of the plant cost. The goal: get residents who are on the fence to fall to the right side.

    “We try to put in just a little money to get people excited and help them out,” Davis said.

    They also offer guidance on keeping the plants healthy, especially regarding watering them.

    “Replacing a toilet is something you can pay someone to do and it can take less than an hour,” Davis said. “Changing a landscape? Well, that’s more like a bathroom remodel.”

    Conservation easements: The best way to protect Southern Colorado’s land and water from being dried up by urban development — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Saguache Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain editorial staff:

    THE BEST way to protect Southern Colorado’s land and water from being dried up by urban development is the strategic use of conservation easements to preserve both environmental quality and the local economy.

    Conservation groups already are investing wisely in preserving the environment, land and water in the San Luis Valley.

    In the early years of this century, the Nature Conservancy, a national conservation group, supplied the impetus to permanently protect the Baca Ranch from greedy water speculators by jump-starting the $30 million purchase of the ranch. Congress followed by establishing the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, thus preserving the valley’s great natural asset forever.

    Other large ranches in the San Luis Valley are being protected by similar conservation efforts.

    On Nov. 3, the Del Norte-based Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, Colorado Open Lands and the Western Rivers Conservancy announced creation of a $2 million San Luis Valley Conservation Fund. The goal is to take care of the land and water, as well as fish and wildlife habitat along the Rio Grande, through the valley.

    Conservation will have a positive lasting effect on the San Luis Valley.

    Now conservation groups need to cast their eyes east and north to the Lower Arkansas Valley. This agricultural region is living proof that farmers have been the first human contributors to conserving land and water of irreplaceable value to the economy, food production and natural wildlife habitat.

    We appreciate the Palmer Land Trust’s promising plan that, in the trust’s own words, “focuses on a 1.75-million acre landscape in the western Lower Arkansas Valley. Delineated by the Arkansas River and its southern tributaries, the planning area extends from Canon City in the west to Rocky Ford in the east, and from the city of Pueblo in the north to Colorado City in the south.”

    The Lower Arkansas Valley looks to Palmer Land Trust success and also needs others, such as the Nature Conservancy and Colorado Cattlemen’s Trust, to add their considerable weight to more extensive conservation easements.

    Remember, farming and ranching are the most time-tested contributors to conservation of the environment — wildlife habitat, recreation and scenic vistas — that draw people to the beautiful state of Colorado.

    The advantages of conservation easements are numerous, extending to farmers and ranchers, especially. They can receive outside income to commit to staying on the land in irrigated agriculture in perpetuity. It’s a great disincentive to settling for a one-time payoff from selling their permanent water rights to be transferred north to urban areas.

    Conservation easements are a win-win proposition. Now we need the conservation experts to pitch in and help save the future of the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    Rio Grande Basin: Nash Ranch next in line to be conserved — The Valley Courier

    From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Additional vital riverfront property is in the works to be permanently conserved along the Rio Grande.

    Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT), which has already conserved more than 25,000 acres along the Rio Grande and its tributaries , is currently working with Wayne and Sharon Nash on a conservation easement for the 200-acre Nash Ranch near Del Norte in Rio Grande County.

    RiGHT Executive Director Nancy Butler presented an initial proposal to the Rio Grande Roundtable, which will be followed by a formal proposal in January, for funding support for the Nash Ranch conservation easement. RiGHT is seeking $100,000 towards the estimated $560,000 easement total from local and statewide Water Supply Reserve Accounts, funds derived from severance tax funds set aside for water projects throughout the state. Of the $100,000 request, $10,000 would be requested from the Rio Grande Roundtable basin funds and $90,000 from water funds administered statewide through the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB.)

    The remainder of the funds for the easement would come from landowner donation, about $200,000, and $100,000 grants each from the Gates Foundation, which has already been secured, and from Great Outdoors Colorado, which has not yet reviewed or approved funding.

    “We have been really fortunate to bring a good match to our projects,” Butler said.

    CWCB staffer Craig Godbout shared the amounts of funds available in the basin and statewide accounts and estimated how much would be added to those accounts in January. He said the Rio Grande Basin’s fund balance currently is more than $318,000, and this basin roundtable should receive $120,000 additional funding in January, if the severance tax is fully funded. The statewide account currently contains about $1.9 million and will double in January if the severance tax trust fund is fully funded.

    Godbout added that the CWCB will consider the next round of requests from around the state in March and he knows of more than $1.8 million worth of requests that will be coming before that statewide water board at that time.

    Butler reminded the Rio Grande Roundtable group of the multiple benefits generated through conservation easements on properties like the Nash Ranch and others that have been conserved already, such as the Gilmore, 4UR, Rainbow Trout and Garcia ranches.

    These easements protect working farms and ranches, which are permitted and encouraged under the easements to continue with their historic uses. The landowner still owns and manages the property but complies with some stipulations laid out in the conservation easement.

    The easements provide wildlife habitat, preserve scenic landscapes and protect water, one of the primary focuses pertinent to the Rio Grande Roundtable’s mission. The easements also protect the land from development.

    Butler explained that all of the easements completed through RiGHT have been voluntary and incentive based. The Nashes approached RiGHT with a desire to protect their land and water, Butler added.

    Natural arch in lava flow near Del Norte via the USFWS
    Natural arch in lava flow near Del Norte via the USFWS

    Western Slope lawmakers: We’re all in this together when it comes to #COWaterPlan

    When planning suburban neighborhoods, for instance, a developer might buy land to set aside as habitat in exchange for encroaching on existing habitat. Image Credit: Roger Auch, USGS.
    When planning suburban neighborhoods, for instance, a developer might buy land to set aside as habitat in exchange for encroaching on existing habitat. Image Credit: Roger Auch, USGS.

    From The Colorado Statesman (State Sen. Ray Scott and state Rep. Don Coram):

    As state senators and representatives from the Western Slope, we believe three policies must be given priority in the forthcoming Colorado’s Water Plan and this month we (along with Republican state Sens. Ellen Roberts and Randy Baumgardner and Republican state Reps. J. Paul Brown, Bob Rankin, Dan Thurlow, Yeulin Willett) sent a letter outlining these priorities to Gov. Hickenlooper on behalf of our constituents:

    Keep Western Slope rivers healthy and flowing to protect the economic, environmental, and social well being of our communities. The Colorado Water Plan cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. New transmountain diversions of Western Slope water to the Front Range will damage our recreation-based economy, agriculture and the environment. The Front Range must demonstrate a commitment to effective conservation measures and exhausting its own available water supplies.

    Prioritize water efficiency and conservation in Colorado’s cities and towns, including a municipal water conservation goal. Aggressive conservation and efficiency measures are necessary to stretch Colorado’s finite water supply, minimize agricultural buy-and-dry, and reduce the need for any additional transmountain diversions from the Western Slope. Many West Slope communities are already working to set high conservation standards. Setting municipal water conservation goals will reduce urban dependency on rural water rights, improve stream health, and protect water on the Western Slope.

    Continue efforts to build consensus on creating voluntary flexible water-sharing agreements between farmers, ranchers and other water interests, while respecting property rights. The Colorado Water Plan discusses alternative transfer methods in some detail, although it mostly calls for further research and data measurement. We must find low cost solutions to voluntary actions that minimize litigation and water court costs, and facilitate the promotion of water-sharing agreements to minimize permanent water transfers from agricultural use.

    These three water priorities mirror a consensus of many major Western Slope groups and others across our state. Club 20, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality/Quantity Committee, the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, the Grand Valley water users, and the Western Slope Basin Roundtables have recognized agriculture, recreation and tourism as critical attributes to life on the Western Slope, and named conservation a top priority.

    The Colorado Water Plan can be a much-needed blueprint for our water policy in the coming decades. The plan’s release later this month will mark only the beginning of a dialogue among Colorado residents and leaders about how best to implement that plan.

    As we proceed with collective decisions to answer the needs of the Western Slope, our shared environment, and the state of Colorado, may all of us who love being here make our guiding principle an ever-present awareness that “we are in this together.”

    State Sen. Ray Scott and state Rep. Don Coram were joined by state Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Ellen Roberts and state Reps. J. Paul Brown, Bob Rankin, Dan Thurlow, and Yeulin Willett in signing a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper outlining these priorities for the Colorado Water Plan.

    Here’s an interview with James Eklund director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board via Colorado Public Radio (Ryan Warner):

    Eklund on why the plan sets a specific conservation goal for cities but not for agriculture:

    “The reason we don’t set a conservation goal for agriculture is because the [agricultural] user has got to produce a crop. And if you’re asking them to conserve water, that means they are fundamentally diverting less water and growing less crop. That is a private property right in Colorado. So, if you want to ask them to get more efficient on the other hand, they can amortize that out over time, that investment to move from, you know, flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation, they can absorb that cost over time and make a business case as to why they should improve their efficiency.”

    On how the plan tries to protect flows in rivers across the state:

    “We have about 1.5 percent of our rivers under some sort of a management plan… it’s very small… Yet that is where we find ourselves with watershed health and stream flow management. We’ve got to get better at that and we need to do it really rapidly, so that we know where we need to spend our money on environmental projects.”

    On why the plan does not include penalties for falling short of the goals it sets:

    “You look just to the West… California ended their year at 5 percent average snowpack, so we know that if you have to plan in a crisis, you sometimes have a really hard time at making everybody happy… Our plan, we believe, does quite a bit with the carrot approach.”

    On what he hopes will happen after the plan’s release on Thursday:

    “The challenges that we face as a state on water are so large that we have to really be hitting on all cylanders.” Eklund says that includes pushing for new legislation and executive rulemaking, starting with his request for more flexibility in how the Colorado Water Conservation Board can spend the money it gets in appropriations from lawmakers each year.

    Babbitt says conservation starts with conversation at local level — The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Bruce Babbitt is a former governor of Arizona who served as secretary of the Interior from 1993 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. Since, Babbitt has become a vocal proponent of protecting significant landscapes in the West and is a board member of Conservation Lands Foundation. On Tuesday, he sat down with The Durango Herald…

    Q: In 2013, you were critical of President Barack Obama’s conservation work. Has that changed in recent years as he finishes out his final term?

    A: It has changed enormously. The president, to his credit, has awakened to Western land conservation. He is doing an excellent job. The area we’re concerned about, national monuments, protecting (Bureau of Land Management) land, he’s issued a series of remarkable proclamations all across the West.

    Q: From your experience with past presidents, what do you think changed?

    A: He has awakened. When a president is newly elected, they don’t campaign on these issues. They campaign on health care and foreign policy. There is a process of discovering these other issues in the course of a presidential term. Clinton was the same way. In that last term, a lot happened. I think that’s sort of a typical kind of route. Some of it surely is a president thinking about their legacy.

    Q: What are your thoughts on Obama’s new greenhouse gas emission regulations, the Clean Power Plan?

    A: It is the most important step forward. It is a really important step to deal with global warming.

    Q: So you are on the record for believing in global warming? Do I have that correct?

    A: Well, I don’t want to go too far in this interview.

    Q: Do you think the current presidential debates give enough attention to the issue of land conservation?

    A: No. It’s not being talked about enough. President Obama has begun a national discussion about climate change. I think it will show up in the national campaign. It’s such an overwhelming apocalyptic threat to our entire national future. I think it will be the debate.

    Q: You’ve taken a hard stance on public resistance to federal management, such as the Clive Bundy standoff. Where do you think that resentment for the federal government in the West comes from?

    A: There has always been in the West a certain kind of resentment of the federal government. It’s always been there. I come from a five-generation ranching family. When Teddy Roosevelt came to Arizona and said he was going to make a national monument around the Grand Canyon where my family ranched, my grandfather led the opposition.

    And now, a few generations later, my relatives are all saying, “We were out there with Teddy when all these great things happened.” There’s just a kind of independence about Westerns on the land. We don’t want anybody from Washington here.

    But it’s changing. Colorado has changed a great deal. There is real support for conservation. I was part of a couple monument proposals in Colorado, and they all had tremendous support. But Utah is still kind of like my family was in Arizona.

    Q: In trying to preserve lands, how do you bridge that gap?

    A: Start a discussion at the local level. Get everyone in. Talk, communicate, listen and try to isolate what the issues are. You have to get away from ideology and to a discussion out on the ground.

    Q: What, in your opinion, are the major issues facing the West?

    A: One is working with the BLM as an institution for conversation. The BLM is the biggest land agency of them all, and never had a strong conservation program.

    Only in the last generation we have begun to open our eyes to the reality of the arid landscapes of the west, which are mostly BLM. We have finally begun to awaken to the importance of it, and that has to be worked on because government agencies respond to the people. That’s the reason local engagement is so important.

    Browns Canyon via
    Browns Canyon via

    “My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs” — Liesel Hans

    Tap water via Wikimedia
    Tap water via Wikimedia

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Thirteen gallons: It’s the volume of a standard kitchen trash bag, a 6-minute shower or a little more than a full tank of gas for a compact car.

    And it’s the crux of Fort Collins Utilities’ vision for the city’s water use come 2030.

    Average daily water use was 143 gallons per person in 2014. Utilities wants to reduce that to 130 gallons per person, a 9 percent cut, over the next 15 years.

    The water saved would fill 2 1/2 Olympic-size swimming pools in just a year…

    Conservation strategies laid out in a document released this month could affect your water bill, your lawn or even your toilet. And utilities staff hope a wide range of methods will prepare the community for inevitable dry spells in a semi-arid region vulnerable to unpredictable climate patterns.

    “My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs,” said Liesel Hans, water conservation program manager with Fort Collins Utilities. “There’s a lot of ways to fit our goal, and it doesn’t have to be a one size fits all.”

    Utilities is seeking feedback on its water efficiency plan update through Jan. 15. After resident and City Council review, the department will start making changes on a rolling basis in the coming months and years.

    There are some big goals in the plan update, including:

    • Requiring more efficient plumbing and irrigation fixtures for re-developed homes and businesses.
    • Changing water rates to encourage conservation.
    • Increasing use of the online “Monitor My Use” tool, which shows users how much water they’re using on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. This helps customers see what time of day they’re using the most, among other features.
    • Revamping and spreading the Xeriscape Incentive Program, which pays residents to re-do their lawns with plants that conserve water.
    • Offering more rebates to businesses that conserve water.
    • Providing more education to increase community water literacy.

    The strategies and their timelines are purposely vague because the department wants to hear what people think of them before deciding which ones to implement. And the plan targets residential and business use because both make up gluttonous portions of the water-use pie: Businesses account for 39 percent of water use in the district; homes account for 47 percent.

    Utilities will “look at a wide range of options” for changing rates, Hans said, which could include changing the fixed rate, the variable rates or both…

    Graphs of Fort Collins Utilities’ water demand over time tell a gripping story. Demand increased steadily as more people and businesses moved in during the 1990s. By 2000, the city was using more than 200 gallons per person per day to meet an annual demand of more than 10 billion gallons. That level of demand would fill Horsetooth Reservoir in about five years.

    Then came the 2002 drought. Some people, including then-Gov. Bill Owens, called it Colorado’s worst drought in 350 years.

    Fort Collins saw about 9 inches of rain that year, about 6 inches less than normal.

    The historic drought got the city thinking about water conservation, Hans said. It wasn’t long before the utilities department switched to a “conservation-oriented” rate structure, so people who use more water pay a higher rate.

    That change and other conservation efforts have helped the department cut use per person and in total. In 2014, annual demand was about 7 billion gallons, a 30 percent reduction from 2000 demand even as the city’s population swelled by 25 percent.

    But progress has plateaued, Hans said, so her department hopes new methods — and a goal more ambitious than the original 2030 target of 140 gallons per person each day — will help galvanize next-level conservation.

    A lot of the strategies involve building on existing programs that identify water leaks in homes, show residents how to more efficiently water their lawns, set efficiency goals for businesses and teach children and adults why water conservation matters.

    Conservation fans say the 2030 water use goal is made more achievable by what seems to be an ingrained value for many in Fort Collins.

    “We live in a semi-arid desert,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Water Conservancy District — the agency that facilitates close to one-third of Fort Collins Utilities’ water supply.

    “From Day 1, settlers realized you had to supplement what Mother Nature gave you if you wanted to grow crops. We were very conservation-oriented from the get-go.”

    Julie Kallenberger, water education and outreach specialist for Colorado State University’s Water Center, added Colorado’s headwaters state status fosters more of a conservation-oriented mindset.

    “Water becomes more of a topic because people understand how important it is,” she said. “I came here in ’02, and I immediately noticed it.”

    Water efficiency plan

    You can find the Fort Collins Utilities water efficiency plan at