Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
2015 Water Year Comes to an End
The 2015 water year (Nov.1 – Oct. 31) started slowly, but precipitation later in the spring more than made up for it. April and May storms brought much needed moisture to the mountains and plains, and set in motion another very good water year for Northeastern Colorado.
Deliveries in 2015 were more than the record low year of 2014, but were still below average. This year the C-BT Project delivered 187,291 acre-feet to East Slope water users. The historical average is 211,000 AF. Deliveries to agricultural users spiked in late summer due to dry conditions. These late-summer deliveries also made space available in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake, which will allow water to be transferred from Lake Granby to the East Slope this winter. This will also create space in Lake Granby for the spring runoff.
In 2015, the total C-BT Project spill was 191,000 AF, with 148,500 AF from Lake Granby and 42,500 AF from Willow Creek Reservoir.
C-BT Project reservoir levels started the 2016 water year in good shape with more than 500,000 AF in storage. The average for Nov. 1 active storage is 442,413 AF.
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.
FEEDING THE NEED
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.
HOW XERISCAPE WORKS
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.
WHAT’S IN THE PLAN
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.
“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.”
Here’s the release from the Subsurface Irrigation Efficiency Project (Brenna Wieker):
On a 165acre plot of land, donated by United Water and Sanitation District President Bob Lembke, and located off of U.S. 34 and Weld County Road 63 a multimillion dollar project is underway that will point the way to improved efficiencies for both agriculture and municipal water users.
The Subsurface Irrigation Efficiency Project (SIEP) partners researchers from CSU with Jewish Colorado, Netafim, 70 Ranch, the Platte Water Development Authority and United Water and Sanitation District on a project inspired by the irrigation techniques used in Israel’s Negev Desert.
SIEP is the brainchild of Bob Lembke who found his inspiration for the project during a 2011 trip to Israel with Jewish Colorado.
“When I saw what they were able to do with far less, I was amazed and thought, ‘Why won’t this work here?’ This area continues to grow at a rapid pace and our current efforts to improve water efficiency and conservation just don’t work. This could be the solution to not only improve water efficiency, but also improve productivity, crop quality and overall profitability.”
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the agricultural sector of the economy reasonably consumes around 90 percent of available surface and ground water in the West. At the same time, Colorado’s Front Range municipalities are growing at a rapid pace and are expected to attract over one million new residents in the next few decades. Subsurface drip irrigation presents the opportunity for rural landowners, farmers and ranchers and municipal users to efficiently conserve and use one of Colorado’s most valuable resources.
SIEP utilizes a system perfected by Netafim where water, fertilizer and pesticides are supplied directly to the plant roots by polyethylene lines that are located 1016 inches below the surface. Subsurface irrigation allows for better control of water resources and fertilizers and is more efficient than center pivots and furrow systems.
Phase one of SIEP consisted of a Netafim designed 82.5acre parcel divided into 19 zones. Sorghumsudangrass was selected as the first year’s crop for the entirety of that parcel and yielded 297 bales at a combined weight of over 215 tons from a single cutting Construction of a new research building will be completed in early spring, this building will be used as an office for the CSU Researchers and will operate as an educational facility for farmers, students and public who wish to learn more about drip irrigation. The SIEP research facility will provide a realtime demonstration of subsurface irrigation and the water savings the technology can bring to residential lawns.
Next year, the Third Annual Poudre River Forum with the theme “Cultivating Connnections” moves to a weekday following up on the recommendations from the 2015 evaluations. We will return to The Ranch in Loveland.
Participants can look forward to an emphasis on water for agriculture with a panel facilitated by Luke Runyon from Harvest Media/KUNC. Also featured will be a panel of ecologists and engineers exploring how river infrastructure can be planned and/or managed to meet both human and ecological goals, with Coloradoan journalist, Kevin Duggan, facilitating. We’ll enjoy lunch together and finish our day with Odell brews, other refreshments, and bluegrass music from Blue Grama.
More program details and registration information coming in early December.
We are actively seeking sponsorships for this self-sustaining community event. If your company or institution is interested in this opportunity to show that they value bringing diverse voices and concerns together to learn about the Poudre River, please review the attached Sponsorship Letter and Form.
We welcome your inquiries at PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com.
Check out the updated CSU website for Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group (PRTI), which facilitates the Poudre River Forum. And “Like” PRTI on Facebook – thanks!
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.”
From the Centennial Citizen (Paul Donahue and Eric Hecox):
Is our water future secure?
It’s a question on the minds of many in Castle Rock and the entire south metro Denver region — and for good reason. After all, water is what makes our outstanding quality of life possible. If we want future generations to enjoy our communities as we do, we must ensure they have access to a secure and sustainable water supply that meets their future needs.
From conversations throughout the region, we know Castle Rock residents and those in the entire south metro area understand the critical role water plays in delivering the quality of life we desire for our children, in addition to supporting property values, job creation and economic growth.
We know residents are aware the region historically has relied too heavily on declining groundwater supplies and must diversify its supply for long-term sustainability. We know they view water as a top priority for the region and support an all-of-the-above approach that includes conservation and reuse, storage and new renewable supplies.
We also know Castle Rock residents as well as residents across the south metro area value partnership among leaders throughout the region to get the job done in the most economically responsible manner. Working together to secure water rights, build infrastructure and efficiently use storage space helps spread the costs and the benefits to customers throughout the region.
The answer to the question on people’s minds is not clear-cut. While our region is on the path to delivering a secure water future for generations to come, this effort is ongoing and will require continued support from our communities to see it through to the end.
The good news is that we have a plan, and we are executing that plan.
Thanks to innovative conservation approaches, the region has seen a 30 percent decrease in per capita water use since 2000. That means the typical south metro household or business, including those in Castle Rock, is using 30 percent less water than just 15 years ago. Declines in the region’s underground aquifers — historically the main water source for the region — have slowed considerably in that same time period, a testament to efforts across the region to diversify water supplies and maximize efficiency through reuse.
At the same time, major new water infrastructure projects are coming online throughout the region that bring new renewable supplies, storage capacity and reuse capabilities. These include the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership with Denver Water, Aurora and several other regional organizations including Castle Rock Water, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Northern Project and Castle Rock’s Plum Creek Purification Facility, to name a few.
The 13 members that make up the South Metro Water Supply Authority provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. Together, they are partnering among each other as well as with local government leadership and water entities across the region and state to execute their plan to secure a sustainable water future for the region.
Since becoming a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Castle Rock Water has helped lead implementation of the WISE project, new water storage reservoir projects and other regional renewable water supply efforts. WISE water will be available to Castle Rock residents by 2017 and even earlier for some of the other South Metro residents. A project like WISE represents as much as 10 percent of the renewable water needed for both current and future residents in Castle Rock.
The members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Castle Rock, each have long-term water plans. Through partnerships, these projects are made possible by sharing in the needed investments and other resources when completing the time-consuming task of acquiring additional renewable water and building the required infrastructure.
This collaboration is supported by the state and is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. This regional support has been critical in providing feasible strategies to ensure water for future generations.
Is our water future secure? No, not yet. But we’re well on our way to getting there.
Paul Donahue is the mayor of Castle Rock and has served on the town council for eight years. Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority made up of 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines.
South Metro Water Supply Authority boundaries
WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority
Chatfield Watershed via the Chatfield Watershed Authority