The latest Greeley Water newsletter is hot off the presses

February 27, 2015

Looking for more inspiration? After taking a drive down West Colfax Avenue, check out the xeriscape demonstration gardens at Kendrick Lake in Lakewood.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Xeriscape Made Easy

Garden In A Box offers a simple approach to learn about and plant a water-wise garden. Gardens will go on sale March 1. Be the first to know about the 2015 garden choices by signing up on the pre-sale list.


Planning for population growth and water scarcity in the West — The Colorado Springs Independent #COWaterPlan

February 23, 2015

droughtcornfieldnorthdakotastate
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Taylor Winchell):

‘We are booming,” says Jorge Figueroa, water policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. In population, that is. But there’s a problem: “You can’t have growth if you don’t have water.”[…]

But we’ve survived drought before.

“The West has been experiencing drought on and off for as long as we have information about rainfall,” says Sally Thompson, University of California at Berkeley professor and hydrologist. Through a detailed study of the oldest living trees in California, scientists have analyzed drought records that date back almost 5,000 years. Supplementing this study are thousands of additional precipitation data sets collected with modern meteorology equipment.

“Every data source we have suggests that droughts are a natural part of the climate of the Western USA,” Thompson says.

And some water advocates argue that the gap between the water available and that which growth will demand can be closed with increased preparation efforts, including conservation.

“Drought is also going to compel us to make those changes even if we are not willing to,” Figueroa says.

The timing for implementing change couldn’t be more perfect, with Colorado developing its first statewide water plan, a first draft of which became available Dec. 10 at coloradowaterplan.com. According to the website, it hopes to illuminate “a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.”

It’s a daunting challenge, as California’s case makes clear. According to a 2014 report from the California Department of Water Resources on its current extreme drought, water allocations to State Water Project users have been decreased to zero. This includes cutting off water to approximately 750,000 acres of irrigable farmland. One of the most productive agricultural regions in the world has been left to fend for itself.

Can Colorado avoid making similar harsh decisions? Figueroa remains optimistic.

“If you do smart water infrastructure projects, if you do [agriculture]-urban cooperation,” he says, “you maximize reuse and conservation, you would not only fill the gap for the Front Range but you would have water in excess. Conservation is the fastest, cheapest way that you can help cities deal with drought and with climate change.”

River conservation activists have raised concerns about the consideration of any new infrastructure projects in Colorado, which could include dams, reservoirs, diversions and pipelines. The draft of Colorado’s Water Plan makes mention of several of those, including the Northern Integrated Supply Project, Windy Gap Firming Project and Moffat Project, as well as mention of another possible major trans-mountain diversion…

Extending beyond the household to the regional scale, the West should focus its attention on its thriving agricultural industry. According to a 2010 report by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, 86 percent of Colorado’s water goes to agriculture.

“One part of it is making irrigation more efficient, but then there’s the whole other question, from a systems perspective, of what crops are we growing and what crops should we be growing,” says Joseph Kasprzyk, University of Colorado Boulder professor and water resources specialist.

Small improvements in irrigation efficiency integrated with smart crop management can have substantial impacts on regional conservation.

As cities expand, new opportunities arise to facilitate water cooperation between agricultural and urban sectors. Cooperative agreements encourage sharing unused water instead of wasting it. A 2012 Filling the Gap report released by Western Resource Advocates in collaboration with Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Environmental Coalition states that “voluntary and compensated ag/urban cooperative water sharing arrangements can provide 129,000 acre-feet of new supply for the Front Range annually by 2050 without permanently drying irrigated acreage.”

The same report projects that through maximizing opportunities for water reuse, the “Front Range will have approximately 246,000 acre-feet of reuse water available annually in 2050.”

What’s necessary to make these changes come to fruition?

“A good beginning would be funding,” Figueroa says.

Preparing for growth through adaptive water management will require a commitment from a diverse group of contributors, Kaspryzk adds. “This is an integrated problem that requires a lot of people to collaborate to find solutions.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


@ColoradoWaterWise: We are starting up a Brown Bag Luncheon Learn series. Our 1st event is on March 12 in Aurora

February 21, 2015


Colorado hopes to protect the integrity of conservation easements by cracking down on the monkey business

February 20, 2015
Saguache Creek

Saguache Creek

From the High Country News (Jennie Lay):

Perched at the podium during a Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts gathering, Erin Toll wears a poker face, a smart black pencil skirt and sassy Jimmy Choos. Among the jeans-and-hiking-boot-clad crowd attending, this wry New York transplant seems an unlikely hero. As recently as last fall, Toll, director of the Colorado Division of Real Estate, had no idea what a conservation easement was. But now, she says, protecting the integrity of land conservation is her number-one priority – and she’s cracking down on crooked deals with a vengeance.

Toll’s new enthusiasm for conservation easements, which offer landowners tax breaks in exchange for accepting limits on their right to develop, couldn’t come at a better time for Colorado’s land trusts. The state has seen some of the fastest-paced land conservation in the country, driven by a boom in both land trusts – the nonprofit organizations that hold easements – and in government open-space programs. Coloradans have protected nearly 1.8 million acres with conservation easements, much of it fueled by innovative tools, including a lottery-funded land protection program and a transferable state income tax credit.

Unfortunately, though, tax benefits sometimes breed abuses. And questionable conservation deals are drawing intense scrutiny – including Toll’s investigation into inflated real estate appraisals in Colorado and an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit of hundreds of tax returns nationwide claiming federal tax breaks for donated easements. While state investigation and reform is moving swiftly, the federal audits have dragged on, frustrating landowners and creating confusion about easement appraisals.

The legal and financial complexities of conservation easements have reached a crossroads in Colorado. “What happens in Colorado could bleed out to the rest of the country,” says Lynne Sherrod, Western policy manager for the national Land Trust Alliance.

To help ferret out abusers, Toll has issued 30 subpoenas since November. So far, she’s suspended two appraisers who inflated appraisal values on more than 35 conservation easements. (She’s still wading through 44 boxes of evidence and says, “Every day we find more.”) The jacked-up appraisal values exploit a state program that offers landowners up to $375,000 in transferable tax credits for conservation easement donations. Land-conservation professionals say the program has been critical in protecting more than a million acres (at a cost of about $274 million) across the state since it took effect in 2000.

Although the majority of the state’s conservation easements are rock-solid, Toll rolls her eyes as she reveals some of the more outrageous exceptions. In a sampling of conservation easements from one group, Noah Land Conservation (also known as Colorado Natural Land Conservation), Toll found gross overvaluations of 111 easements on the eastern plains. The scheme involved 6,100 acres valued at $76.5 million (hence eligible for $37 million in state tax credits) by a mere three appraisers, on parcels that were meticulously subdivided so they could slip past county and state laws regarding acreage or subdivision development. In one particularly egregious example, the appraised value of a single 640-acre ranch leaped more than $14 million in a matter of days. Toll’s investigation is ongoing, but she’s narrowed the state’s spoilers down to about eight appraisers (including the two she’s already sanctioned), a couple of attorneys and a promoter or two – and their offenses, including possible securities fraud, could spread into the realm of other government agencies.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.


The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project releases the 2015 Conservation in the West Poll

February 17, 2015

consesrvationinthewestpoll2015stateoftherockies

Click here to go to the State of the Rockies Project website to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

The 2015 Conservation in the West Poll, now in its fifth year, was recently released by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project. The survey of 2,400 registered voters in six western states provides an annual glimpse of voters’ leanings on land use, water supplies, the impact of public lands on the economy, and a variety of other related issues.

Designed by a bipartisan team of Republican and Democratic opinion researchers, the annual poll provides insight into Western attitudes. This year’s results are consistent with those of previous years, although a few new questions probed opinions of public-land management and the perceived relationship between environment and quality of life.

Four hundred residents in each state – Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – were asked about such issues as conservation, environment, energy, the role of government, trade-offs with economies, and citizen priorities.

The poll, conducted Dec. 29, 2014 and Jan. 3-11, 2015, has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

Here’s an excerpt from the Colorado poll:

Colorado15stateoftherockies


“Conservation has been successful and will be an integral part of meeting our future water needs” — Jim Lochhead

February 10, 2015
Cheesman Dam spilling June 2014 via Tim O'Hara

Cheesman Dam spilling June 2014 via Tim O’Hara

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Maybe it is projects such as replacing 10,000 toilets in Denver Public Schools. Maybe it is Denver Water’s ceaseless “Use Only What You Need” campaign. Or maybe residents seeing scarcity are self-motivated. Whatever the reasons, water use in metro Denver has dipped to 40-year lows.

The total amount residents used in December decreased to 3.19 billion gallons, and in January to 3.36 billion gallons — down from previous winter highs topping 4 billion gallons, utility officials said.

The last time December use dropped this low was in 1973 when Denver had 350,000 fewer people.

“Our customers are responding. … Conservation has been successful and will be an integral part of meeting our future water needs — along with reuse and new supply,” Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said.

The low use this winter continues a trend of declining water use despite a growing population. Denver residents use 82 gallons a day per person for all indoor and outdoor purposes, utility data show. That’s down from 104 gallons in 2001 and puts Denver ahead of other Western cities that are counting on conservation to avoid running dry.

Water supply has become more of a challenge around the West, with population growth and droughts projected to be more frequent and severe. The crisis in California, where mountain snowpack lags at 25 percent of normal, prompted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to meet with Gov. Jerry Brown last week to hash out relief.

Farmers use the most water, by far, for food production — an 85 percent share in Colorado. Yet it is city dwellers who are making the greatest strides in water conservation.

Denver Water leaders last week declared a new target for 1.3 million customers: 30 gallons a day for indoor use.

The overall water conservation effort relies on a widening strategy: rebates for those who switch to water-saving appliances, tiered water rates that encourage using less, summer lawn-watering restrictions, and a rule that all new development must include soil “amendments” so that soil retains more water.

Water bills still are relatively low. Denver Water charges about $455 a year for households using less than 115,000 gallons, compared with $1,283 in Arapahoe County and $890 in Colorado Springs.

The recent low use likely resulted partly from citywide conservation projects, utility officials said — including the replacement of toilets in 140 public schools with low-flow models designed in Japan.

Denver Public Schools field supervisor Jeff Lane said current toilets use 3.5 gallons per flush while the Toto toilets use 1.25 gallons. That’s expected to save the city 65.9 million gallons a year.

So far, district crews have replaced 3,200 toilets, Lane said this week at Colfax Elementary. The rest should be done by 2018.

Less water coursing through 4-inch iron and clay sewer lines could complicate the effort, Lane said. “It could get caught up.” But Denver Water officials said they’ve investigated and that, as long as lines are in good condition, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Denver Water pays DPS rebates of $90 per toilet. DPS officials said they’ll also sell old brass parts, $2 a pound, to help finance the switch.

The reduced water use also is attributed to Denver Water “messaging” using billboards, television and utility bills. Last month, bills contained blurbs touting the 30-gallon target. “Each person in an average single-family house should use roughly 30 gallons inside per day, or better yet, shoot for less!”

This is “something to aspire to,” Lochhead said.

Water bill blurbs also exhorted residents to “rethink your fixtures,” consult with neighbors because “understanding how others conserve will help you, too,” and replace portions of lawns with low-water shrubs.

A widening awareness of water supply challenges also appeared to be motivating residents to use less. “Whether it is a drought in Colorado or the West,” Lochhead said, “water availability is becoming a more familiar topic for many people.”

More conservation coverage here.


Connecting the Drops: #COWaterPlan discussion Sunday, January 25

January 23, 2015
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From email from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:

Join radio listeners around Colorado for a statewide conversation on Colorado’s Water Plan during a live call-in discussion this Sunday January 25th from 5-6 pm.

Hear from:

  • James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River Water Conservation District
  • Chris Woodka with the Pueblo Chieftain
  • Listen online or on the radio with KGNU, KRCC, KDNK and other community radio stations across the state. Your calls and questions will be welcome at 800-737-3030, engage online by emailing water@kdnk.org or join the discussion on Twitter using #cowaterplan. Hear about the basics of the water plan, how you can get engaged, what input is still needed and phone in to ask your questions and direct the discussion.

    Sunday’s program is part of Connecting the Drops, a collaboration between the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and Rocky Mountain Community Radio Stations.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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