#COWaterPlan: Conservation easements are being used to protect water

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Conservation easements have figured prominently in the Arkansas River Basin as a way to offer landowners incentives to retain water rights rather than selling them off the land.

They also underpin Colorado’s Water Plan, mainly through statements in several of the basin implementation plans which fed into the final product.

Conservation, as a term in the water plan, is often described as reducing water demand, either for urban or agricultural use, in order to protect stream flows.

But the continued use of water on farms is an important element of the water plan in maintaining the environmental and recreational landscape that makes the state so attractive. Preserving agricultural water requires incentives to prevent it from being sold for uses that, on the surface, appear more lucrative. That’s how conservation easements fit in.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, formed in 2002 to protect water in the Arkansas River basin, considers conservation easements one of its most valuable tools in preventing water from permanently leaving the land.

But it’s taken a while for groups that promote conservation easements to come to the roundtables.

The Pueblo Chieftain asked Ben Lenth, executive director of the San Isabel Land Trust, and Matt Heimerich, conservation director for the Palmer Land Trust’s Lower Arkansas Valley programs, to reflect on how their organizations will connect with Colorado’s Water Plan.

How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?


1. Financially incentivize temporary and intermittent water sharing and leasing agreements for landowners with water rights.
2. Incentivize efficiency improvements for irrigation without penalizing the water rights holder.
3. Prioritize water projects that have multiuse functions to benefit as many water users as possible.
4. Continue to incentivize and/or regulate water conservation measures by municipalities and industry.

It is important to consider that the Colorado Water Plan recognizes the importance of balancing the water needs of municipalities, agricultural and non-consumptive uses, such as recreation, and watershed health.

As a regional organization, Palmer Land Trust is committed to preserving open spaces, outdoor recreation, and working farms and ranches. Our goals as a land trust are well-aligned with the working tenets of the Colorado Water Plan.

Past solutions to solving water supply problems at the expense of working farms and ranches and the environment are no longer acceptable. As the state’s largest basin, it is imperative that the identified water supply gap in the Arkansas not create winners and losers over the equitable distribution of this precious resource.

What projects do you plan to fill the gap?


1. Planning and implementing land and water conservation projects to have maximum flexibility for leasing/ sharing water over time.
2. Water reallocation projects which benefit agriculture, municipalities, recreation and wildlife habitat.


After an in-depth study, Palmer Land Trust made the decision to open an office in Rocky Ford with the purpose of exploring economic-based alternatives to large-scale water transfers from irrigated agricultural to municipalities. Palmer’s conservation easements use language that, in addition to tying the water rights to the land in perpetuity, allow for short-term leasing opportunities when an extended drought threatens the viability of municipal water providers.

Palmer Land Trust is also an active participant in a coalition of farmers, water providers, locally elected officials and research institutions examining strategies on how to ensure the long-term sustainability of farming under the Bessemer Ditch as farmers face increasing competition for land and water in eastern Pueblo County.

How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?


Integrate landuse planning and water planning. Do not allow subdivisions to be permitted without proven sources of water.


Palmer believes that one of the ways to avert conflicts between municipalities and agriculture is to engage the urban/suburban citizen in a dialogue regarding the importance of irrigated farming to the region’s economy and cultural identity. The demand for locally-grown foods is increasing at a rapid pace.

Drying up farms along the Arkansas River is counterproductive on many levels. Our visibility in the greater Pikes Peak Region affords Palmer a unique opportunity to help close this gap between agriculture and municipalities.

2016 #coleg: Rain barrels in #Colorado – what you need to know — The Colorado Independent

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 Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Are you ready for rain barrels?

Next Wednesday, August 10 is the first day that most Colorado residents can legally collect rainwater off their roofs into rain barrels.

Mother Nature doesn’t seem to have taken much note of it – the weather forecast for much of the state calls for hot and sunny weather without a hint of rain.

It’s taken years for this state to get there. Colorado is a “first-in-time, first-in-line” state, which means that the person who claimed the water rights first gets to use what they need, and everyone else gets what’s left. Farmers, ranchers and other water users believe that right extends to even the rain that falls from the skies, because that water drips off roofs, onto the ground and eventually into streams, rivers and underground natural storage, known as aquifers.

After a prolonged debate, water-rights holders agreed to accept the legalization of rain barrels, as long as the law acknowledged senior water rights, and the state committed to rmonitoring rain-barrel usage.

The law says you can have up to two 55-gallon rain barrels. The rain barrel must be sealable to prevent mosquitoes from setting up shop. You can only use rainwater for “outdoor purposes,” such as watering your lawn or garden. The rain barrel must be used for collecting rainwater through a downspout that comes off your roof. Rainwater can be used only on your own property, not your neighbor’s.

You can get rain barrels at Home Depot, or online through a number of stores, such as Lowe’s, Amazon, Ace Hardware or through garden stores. BlueBarrel systems offers a recycled rain barrel option. A group called Tree People demonstrates how to install a rain barrel — something you might want to look at before deciding if a rain barrel is for you.

So, how can you use your collected rainwater?

Washing your car? Sure! Washing your neighbor’s car? Only if your neighbor moves it to your property for washing. Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado points out that you might have some issues with water pressure.

Washing your outdoor windows or siding? Sure!

Putting water in your dog’s outdoor water bowl? Or maybe putting it in your livestock trough? Maybe not. The law says rainwater isn’t to be used for drinking, although that’s generally viewed as a human consumption issue, not animal.

Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, said there were rainwater bills passed in 2009 that allowed rain barrels for homeowners with domestic well permits, for home use only. Those laws were viewed as not applying to livestock. “The only way you could allow your horse to drink rainwater is if the horse could reach through your window to the sink,” he quipped.

Then there’s the “ick” factor. As Waskom sees it, “if you don’t lick your roof, don’t put it in your mouth.” Meaning, rainwater that comes off a roof isn’t treated and isn’t safe for consumption. Think bird or insect droppings and older roofs with deteriorating shingles that are losing gravel, tar or other bits of debris.


One more thing: Rain barrels will be legal for another portion of Colorado residents – but not for everyone. The law applies to people living in single-family residences or a “multi-family residence of four or fewer units.” According to Conley of Conservation Colorado, the law does not allow rain barrels to be used by schools or for homeowners’ associations that have more than four homes connected by a common wall (think townhouses, or townhouse-style condos, which are common throughout the metro area). That said, HOAs can’t ban rain barrels for single-family homes and townhomes with four or fewer units, says Molly Foley-Healy of the Colorado Homeowners Association, which does legal work on behalf of HOAs. An HOA can impose requirements on what the rain barrel looks like and how it’s placed on the downspout, according to Conley, who helped draft the bill.

Top ten ways you can use rainwater

10. Washing your car;
9. Filling your outdoor koi pond;
8. As water for a slip-and-slide, probably okay;
7. Dust suppression – you could use it to water off the dust on your porches and patios;
6. Filling birdbaths;
5. Washing your dog, as long as you do it outdoors;
4. Cleaning outdoor equipment, such as gardening tools;
3. Using it to put out small fires, like in a fire pit. A reminder, though, fire pits are NOT legal in Denver, although they are legal in other counties;
2. Watering your outdoor garden. CSU Extension Service says 110 gallons, the maximum amount that can be collected in two rain barrels, would provide enough water for about 180 square feet, roughly the size of a 15-foot x 15-foot garden. Waskom says you could also water your indoor plants, if you take them outside to do it;
1. Water your lawn or outdoor landscaping. That’s the heart and intent of the new law – to allow Coloradans to water lawns and gardens.

Top ten ways you can’t or shouldn’t use rainwater.

10. Filling your hot tub. Probably not so good for your hot tub’s filtration system, especially if you have an older roof;
9. Filling your kids’ wading pool;
8. Indoor washing – dishes, laundry, yourself or your pets;
7. Cooking;
6. Drinking;
5. Filling the water tanks in your camper or RV, or flushing out the water lines;
4. Bobbing for apples;
3. Filling up your beer buckets for BBQs or other parties;
2. Water balloons for outdoor water fights, squirt guns and other outdoor water toys. Again, kind of an “ick” issue;
1. “Home-Alone”-style stunts, where you could set up a bucket of water on a railing in order for it to fall on somebody. (Yes, someone actually suggested that.)

There will be eyes on Colorado’s new rain barrel law: the state water engineer (yes, we have that) is is required to be involved in the new law. Their biggest job for the August 10 roll-out, according to Deputy Engineer Kevin Rein, was setting up guidelines for rain barrel use, which is now on the Division of Water Resources website.
Under the new law, the state engineer has to determine whether allowing rain barrels has caused injury to those with the first-in-line water claims.

It won’t be easy, according to Rein. The division is currently monitoring a pilot project on rain barrels near Sterling Ranch in Littleton; otherwise, they’re likely to find out about injuries to water users through complaints and other data. “It’s information we’ll pick up,” he told The Colorado Independent Monday. “If someone believes they have been harmed by rain barrel use, we’re counting on them to let us know.”

Even then, Rein said, it will likely be difficult to measure. Rainstorms generate a small amount of runoff from roofs and downspouts, he said, and much will depend on the magnitude of a storm.

If there’s any harm to water users, it’s most likely to come out when the state engineer updates the legislature, but that won’t happen until 2019. The state engineer does have the ability to curtail use of rain barrels if such harm is discovered.

The bottom line on rain barrels: Using two rain barrels to water your garden could save up to 1,200 gallons per year. And Conservation Colorado says it’s a great way to connect to the state’s water supply, because using a rain barrel tunes you into Colorado’s natural rain cycles.

Lower Ark board meeting recap

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Improving irrigation efficiency in the Lower Arkansas Valley could improve water quality and save farmers money.

Those are conclusions reached by Tim Gates, a Colorado State University- Fort Collins engineering professor who has overseen 17 years of a large-scale study of salinity of area farms.

“It’s designed to address the problems facing agriculture and the environment in the valley,” Gates told the Lower Ark board at its monthly meeting this week.

Those problems include shallow groundwater tables, or waterlogging; excessive salt buildup; crop yield reduction; and buildup of selenium, uranium and nutrient concentrations.

Studies began in 1999 to track the rate of increase and develop strategies for dealing with the problem. Those studies have been funded by state and local sponsors, including the Lower Ark district.

A new project, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will address changes in irrigation that can improve conditions.

“This will make recommendations for pilot programs throughout the Arkansas Valley that will be tested,” Gates said.
Board chairman Lynden Gill asked Gates what some examples of pilot projects would be.

Gates responded that several have already been proven, including:

  • The Super Ditch lease-fallowing program. Letting some ground recover periodically can improve its productivity over time.
  • Improving technology, such as adding sprinklers or drip irrigation.
  • Sealing canals with PAM, which can reduce seepage by 30-80 percent.
  • Management of fertilizer to avoid excessive amounts.
  • Improving riparian corridors, which can act to filter out contaminants.
  • The district has a new goal of improving water quality in the Lower Arkansas Valley. This could improve crop production and wildlife habitat. It also might fend off future legal challenges by Kansas over water quality.

    Fort Collins: Xeriscape Garden Party, August 5

    Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.02.58 PM

    Click here for all the inside skinny. From the website:

    The City of Fort Collins Utilities is sponsoring the 15th annual Xeriscape Garden Party on Friday, August 5, 2016. Come celebrate the Art of Landscaping from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden at City Hall (300 Laporte Ave.)

    Visit with local experts to learn about improving your sprinkler system, selecting low-water use plants, composting, recycling and more.

    Event includes:
    • Performance art by Fire Gate Productions, 6:30—8:00 p.m.
    • Food trucks
    • Demonstrations
    • Interactive booths
    • Activities for kids & families

    Fri., August 5, 5:00—9:00 p.m.
    Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
    300 Laporte Ave.
    Fort Collins, CO 80521

    *Please kindly RSVP to help us prepare for the event.

    2016 #coleg: Rain barrels soon legal in #Colorado — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    Photo from the Colorado Independent.
    Photo from the Colorado Independent.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Joan Nusbaum):

    With the approach of legal use of rainwater collection on August 10th, Colorado residents are asking a lot of questions. Before you try reading the actual legislation, we’ll cover some of the basics.

    New laws allow for the collection and storage of rainwater for use on the property from which it is collected. Specifically, this water is to be used for outdoor purposes, including the watering of lawns, plants and/or outdoor gardens. It excludes human consumption, filling hot tubs, and providing water for animals, along with a few other uses.

    Two laws were enacted which establish allowances for the limited collection of rainwater from rooftops of residential dwellings. It’s important to follow the restrictions before you use rain barrels legally in Colorado. These two laws are HB16-1005, which speaks to the city homeowner, and SB09-080, which applies to the rural resident that qualifies for exempt wells. More information about these laws can be found in the publication http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/natural-resources/rainwater-collection-colorado-6-707/.

    #Colorado awards 1st grants for collaborations with Israeli companies — @9News

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM
    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

    From the Denver Business Journal via 9News.com:

    Colorado Economic Development Commission members offered the first three matching grants on Wednesday to companies participating in a new program that helps to fund research-and-development projects if they are working collaboratively with businesses or universities located in Israel.

    Announced in April, the program comes from a close relationship that Gov. John Hickenlooper has developed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through several visits overseas in recent years. It’s meant to foster even deeper work between companies working on advanced-industry projects in areas such as technology and water conservation.

    Rain barrel workshop Aug. 2 — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Rain barrel schematic
    Rain barrel schematic

    From Colorado State University via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Colorado State University Extension will offer the Yard and Garden Series, Rain Barrel Workshop scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 2 at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, 31717 E. United Ave.

    The cost is $15 per person or $25 per couple sharing materials.

    The workshop will include learning about the new rain barrel law, how to use rainwater in your landscape and how to make your own rain barrel.

    Register by mail with check payment, payable to Extension Program Fund, 701 Court St., Suite C, Pueblo, CO 81003 or in person with cash or check payment at the extension office at 701 Court St. Participants also may register online through Eventbrite, http://pueblo.colostate.edu/hor/upcoming-rain.shtml, payable by credit/debit card.

    Preregistration with payment is required by July 26. No walk-ins accepted. Seating is limited.

    For more information, call 583-6566.