Increasing consciousness: Arizona’s investment in water education

CFWE's executive director, Nicole Seltzer

CFWE’s executive director, Nicole Seltzer

I spend a fair amount of time in the Phoenix area visiting my sister and her family.  The warm winter days are a great alternative to blocking the cold drafts that sneak through my 100 year old windows in Denver.  I visited last fall and was happy to attend a luncheon panel on the Colorado River presented by Arizona Forward which my sister’s law firm sponsored.  At that event, the Arizona Community Foundation launched its Water Consciousness Challenge, a project within the New Arizona Prize.  The challenge sought to create meaningful

Water flows near Phoenix, AZ. Tim McCabe / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., via Wikimedia Commons

Water flows near Phoenix, AZ. Tim McCabe / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., via Wikimedia Commons

opportunities to raise the public’s consciousness about water scarcity, motivate people to become more educated and compelled by this future threat, and ultimately drive the development of new and innovative solutions to Arizona’s water consumption needs.

The funding partners put up a $100,000 prize to implement a creative and compelling digital content strategy that will drive broad public understanding of water scarcity issues and move these issues to the forefront of Arizonans’ minds.

The winner of the $100,000 prize, Arizona filmmaker Cody Sheehy, was just announced, and I am excited to follow the progress of the team’s project, Beyond the Mirage: Arizona’s Water Reality.

From a recent AZCentral article:

Website visitors will find hundreds of clips on a variety of topics including legal structures that govern water rights, information on monsoon rain and winter snowpacks, how water consumption among lower-basin states is intertwined and steps the state may need to take to avoid a crisis, Sheehy said.

Users will be able to select clips and make their own mini-documentaries using editing tools on the website. The aim is that they share it with their friends, and their friends get inspired to make their own videos.

The idea is that the design matches how young people want to learn and experience the Web: to not passively read or watch content, but to interact with it, search it and create something from it, Sheehy said.

I love the idea of community leaders stepping forward to support the use of creativity and technology to solve societal problems.  I applaud the Arizona Community Foundation and its partners for investing in water awareness tools.  We have a strong track record of public funding for water education in Colorado, but our state’s private foundations and business groups have yet to invest in a meaningful way.  I believe that Arizona’s Water Consciousness Challenge is also a challenge to other states in the Colorado River Basin to examine and prioritize water education.

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Filed under Climate and Drought, Colorado River, Staff, Water Education and Resources, Water Supply

Standing on the Shoulders of Colorado’s Water Leaders

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Cheryl Benedict facilitates the first Water Leaders session for the 2015 class.

It’s all about the interpersonal skills. The more senior you advance in an organization, the more important your emotional intelligence becomes—it’s a big predictor of success, and is especially true in the water profession, says Cheryl Benedict, Water Leaders facilitator.

Through the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Leaders program, mid-level water professionals have the opportunity to explore emotional intelligence and network with a cohort of others who live and work across Colorado. The 2015 class of Water Leaders met for the first time last month.

“Every class I’ve facilitated has been amazing,” Benedict says. “One of the consistent characteristics I’ve noticed about each of the participants is how cause-motivated and passionate they are about the water profession…Frankly, I’m smitten with the whole Water Leader group.”

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The 2015 class of Water Leaders

Last month, the 2015 Water Leader class began its focus on emotional intelligence or EQ. “EQ is made up of four quadrants: self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others, and being able to manage others based on who they are,” Benedict says. “Lightbulbs have been going on for people when they start to realize ‘Wow, I wasn’t taught this in school, but it’s what leadership is all about.’  It’s having the skill to build relationships and create followership.”

The first session focused on ‘Myself as a Leader.’ Participants used personality assessments to identify their strengths and personality types and did a team assessment to diagnose team performance issues. “In the water profession, and with water stake holders, the true question becomes ‘how can we develop more trust, engage in healthy and constructive conflict, build a unified commitment, establish shared accountability and focus on the same overall result? ’” Benedict says.

The 2014 class of Water Leaders

The 2014 class of Water Leaders shared their words of wisdom with the new class.

The 2014 Water Leaders  class found the program so meaningful that they voted to hold an extra session—session five—because they weren’t ready for Water Leaders to end. During session five, among other things, they passed the torch to the Water Leaders 2015 class by sharing what the program meant to them. Benedict shared those words of wisdom with the 2015 class to open their first session:

Water Leaders is woven into us now. Our self-awareness is a lot higher than it was before.

The ability to do self-reflection on personal behavior and to recognize what’s going on around me was the most applicable and valuable from the Water Leaders program. Also, figuring out how to build trust with others in my department has been great.

You’re a group of people that I can seek advice from; it’s been absolutely invaluable for me. I’ve never had this before.

I’m using what I learned in Water Leaders, especially the small talk skills. The network that’s been created is of great value to me.

In dealing with employee issues, I feel like I have more skills. I really enjoyed the networking. I haven’t had a group like this since high school.

I use Water Leaders every day. I appreciate being able to talk candidly with this group about our projects because it’s easy to doubt yourself in water. It’s really helpful to push that doubt aside.

Relationships are important. They are invaluable to move forward and be successful in the water profession.

Water Leaders helped me figure out what’s next for me and how to build trust.

I am more thoughtful as a leader. I’m fairly intense with getting things done but I am paying more attention to others’ non-verbal cues. Thanks to Water Leaders, I’m thinking through the question, ‘What is their perspective?’ I’ve gained strength from the camaraderie of this circle and to know the challenges we’re all going through.

I’ve lost the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome. The check-ins have changed my world. It’s an amazing reality check.

The skills and confidence I’ve gained—finding my voice and learning the value of forming relationships.

What I’ve gained is being more self-reflective, being able to understand the different personality types.

Welcome to this outstanding new 2015 class of Water Leaders, standing on the shoulders of Colorado’s many strong water leaders and the nearly 100 alumni who have gone through the program.

Tammy Allen, CDPHE Water Quality Control Division
Erik Anglund, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation
Laura Belanger, Western Resource Advocates
Matt Bond, Denver Water
Sean Cronin, St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District
Jordan Dimick, Leonard Rice Engineers, Inc.
Heather Dutton, Colorado Rio Grande Restoration Foundation
Angie Fowler, SGM
Hillary Hamann, Univeristy of Denver
Benjamin McConahey, Hydro Advisors, LLC
Kevin Niles, Arkansas Groundwater Users Association
Susan Ryan, Ryley Carlock & Applewhite
Stephanie Scott, Colorado Trout Unlimited
David Skuodas, Urban Drainage & Flood Control District
Kristina Wynne, Bishop-Brogden Associates, Inc.

More assessments, coaching, shadowing and work is soon to come with the 2015 class’ second session scheduled for May 28 and 29 in Estes Park.

Find articles from previous Water Leaders:

Water Leadership, by Dana Strongin
Discovering my Water Leadership Potential, by Kristin Maharg
From Professionals to Water Leaders

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Water Leaders

Storing Water Underground Holds Promise for South Metro

Well ASR

By Eric Hecox

Last week I discussed the South Metro Water Supply Authority’s “all of the above” approach to solving the problems articulated in CFWE’s 2007 Citizen’s Guide to Denver Basin Groundwater. A critical part of our plan in creating a secure water future is storage. As we pursue surface water storage such as the Chatfield Reallocation Project and Reuter-Hess Reservoir, we are also pursuing the implementation of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) throughout the South Metro area.

ASR, as defined in the 2007 Citizen’s Guide, is the storage of water in a suitable aquifer through direct injection in a well when water is available and later recovery of the water from the same well when it is needed.

ASR has been successfully implemented in portions of the Denver Basin for more that 20 years. South Metro Water and several of our members are actively exploring options to broaden this practice to store renewable water during times when it is available for later use in years of drought. Some advantages of ASR compared to traditional surface storage in reservoirs include reduced infrastructure and permitting costs, lower evaporation loss and, typically, greater public acceptance.

Centennial Water and Sanitation District, serving Highlands Ranch, was one of the first providers in the state to pursue ASR, and has been successfully implementing it since 1994. They currently have 25 wells equipped for ASR and have stored more than 14,000 acre-feet, almost a year’s worth of supply for Highlands Ranch. Centennial Water continues to expand and explore ways to optimize its ASR program.

Denver Basin aquifer map

The Denver Basin aquifer system includes the Dawson, Denver, Arapahoe and Laramie Fox-Hills aquifers; the water they contain is considered a nonrenewable resource due to the slow rate of natural replenishment.

Given this success, and the fact that renewable water supplies are becoming available to the South Metro area through the WISE Project partnership, the Chatfield Reallocation and other projects, South Metro entities are in a unique position to execute local and regional ASR. ASR as part of a large-scale conjunctive use plan can help change the use of the Denver Basin aquifer system from an unsustainable base supply to secure and sustainable drought supply.

Building on Centennial Water’s success, several other South Metro entities are pursuing pilot projects within their local areas to test how ASR would work with specific renewable water supplies in specific wells within their service area. East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District (ECCV), the Town of Castle Rock, Rangeview Metropolitan District, and Pinery Water and Wastewater District are studying and pilot-testing and have plans to incrementally expand ASR within their existing well fields.

For its part, the South Metro Water Supply Authority is conducting its own pilot ASR project, using grant money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The pilot, expected to begin in 2016, will evaluate the viability of injecting water from the WISE Project into the Denver Basin Aquifer through an existing well and then pumping it out as needed. This information will help members better identify how ASR with WISE water might fit into long-term plans.

aquifer injectionWhether implemented individually by South Metro entities or as part of a regional ASR program, there is great potential for ASR in the Denver Basin Aquifer system. South Metro Water estimates that existing well fields may have more than 100 million gallons per day (MGD) of capacity available for ASR without dramatically impacting current well field operations.

As renewable water supplies come into the South Metro area, ASR can play a significant role in creating a secure and sustainable water supply for the region.

aquifer recoveryRead more about aquifer storage and recovery,  explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of ASR compared with conventional storage, plus find out about ASR around the globe.

Eric_Hecox_1Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority comprised of 14 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. Eric also serves on the board for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

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Filed under groundwater, Water Supply

Viewpoint: A silver lining on the California drought

By Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd

As a Coloradan, I might be accused of a bit of schadenfreude when I say I am happy that California is experiencing a well-reported drought. People in our state have been known to bemoan the influx of Californians—every year it seems there are more Golden State license plates on our streets as more Angelenos and San Franciscans alike flock to our relatively cost-effective and crowd-free lifestyle. In the interest of full disclosure: While I’m a Denver native, my mobile phone still has a 310 area code, a legacy of having spent many years in Los Angeles.

It does not make me happy to see pictures of California reservoirs with bathtub rings hundreds of feet above the current water levels. And, as any skier would be, I was sad to see grass and rocks where there should have been snow behind California Gov. Jerry Brown announcing mandatory rationing last week from the slopes of a northern California ski area.

It’s as if Hollywood enlisted its best set designers and special-effects people to create a backdrop for the next post-apocalyptic film: “Mad Max” meets “Waterworld.” Alas, it’s less tent-pole summer movie and more soberingly true documentary. But here’s the silver lining: This documentary may be able to capture the country’s attention like none before.

Sure, Al Gore had our attention for a little while with “An Inconvenient Truth.” But the 2006 documentary’s imminent doom was non-specifically “global” (read: “not my problem”). What’s playing out in California now, however, seems much more real to us in Colorado. We see hints of it in our own state (our snowpack is about 65 percent of “normal”, and southeastern ranchers and farmers are struggling with a prolonged drought). Maybe we feel the knock-on effect of paying more for produce grown in California, or notice our Colorado River connection to California. This time, most of us agree we are witnessing a crisis.

The Hydro-Illogical Cycle, from the National Drought Information Center

There’s nothing like a crisis to get people’s attention. But the challenge is keeping their attention. The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska coined the term hydro-illogical cycle. We all learned about the hydrological cycle in elementary school, with a diagram showing ice melting into water, evaporating into a cloud, and then reappearing as rain. The hydro-illogical cycle’s diagram shows the evolution (devolution?) of a population from apathy to concern to panic. The concern and even the panic phases result in action: This is when measures are enacted to combat the drought. BUT THEN IT RAINS, and we see the final stage of the cycle: the resurgence of apathy.

It’s not yet time to panic. But it is time—and has been for a while—to be concerned about how we sustainably manage our water resources, not just in California but across the United States. With population growth and climate change, the frequency of droughts and water shortages will only increase. But when it rains in L.A.—and it will—we all must avoid becoming apathetic (again). Managing water resources is not a time-of-crisis need. It is a constant one.

Now that California has our attention, here are issues that we should focus on:

Infrastructure: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we need to spend at least $650 billion in infrastructure improvements by 2030 to keep our municipal water and wastewater systems safe and reliable. Infrastructure isn’t a laughing matter (unless you hear about it from John Oliver); it is an overlooked one…especially water infrastructure. Our country’s municipal water pipe system is 30 times longer than our highway system, yet it is relatively under-funded (water infrastructure receives 33 percent less funding each year than highway funding, according to the Congressional Budget Office).

Pricing: In the United States, we pay less for water than pretty much any other first-world country pays. Our per-capita use, though, eclipses that of most every country. While water rates are increasing in the U.S., water remains a cheap commodity. Basic principles of supply and demand tell us that we should be paying more.

Behavior change: This time of heightened drought awareness is the ideal time to change behaviors…the way we value water, the way we use water, the way we talk about water. For water utilities, retailers and manufacturers across the country, now is the time to offer rebates on water-efficient products. And for homeowners, now is the time to invest in that low-flush toilet or drip irrigation. The EPA WaterSense program, the less-publicized sister program to Energy Star, has a comprehensive state-by-state listing of rebates. We can also take this opportunity to let our lawmakers know that we care about water and support legislation that funds infrastructure, water-efficient product codes, etc. The Alliance for Water Efficiency, for example, has a legislation tracker.

So Coloradans, don’t remain or become apathetic. Be vigilant in your defense of water, whether in support of Californians or just because it’s the hydro-LOGICAL thing to do.

Find another opinion on ways Colorado can heed California’s water woes in this Denver Post editorial and share your thoughts by commenting below.

IMG_1347Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd teaches “Reporting on Water Policy” at Metro State University in Denver. She is the director of marketing and public relations for Denver Botanic Gardens.

Opinions expressed on this blog and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not reflect the views of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. 

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Filed under Climate and Drought, Water Supply

A Sustainable Water Future for South Metro Denver

Highlands Ranch, home to 93,000 people in south metro Denver, relies on a combination of South Platte River water and groundwater.

Highlands Ranch, home to 93,000 people in south metro Denver, relies on a combination of South Platte River water and groundwater. Photo used with permission from flickr, some rights reserved.

By Eric Hecox

In 2007, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education published its Citizen’s Guide to Denver Basin Groundwater, devoting particular attention to the south Denver metro region. The region had experienced rapid growth and was historically over-reliant on groundwater aquifers.

Water leaders throughout the South Metro area, which includes parts of Douglas and Arapahoe counties, recognized the need to secure a more sustainable water supply.

The South Metro Water Supply Authority had formed several years earlier, in 2004, bringing together water providers from throughout the region, and had begun to execute a plan to do just that. The pillars of the plan are efficiency, partnership and investment.

Fast-forward to 2015, and the water landscape of the South Metro region is vastly improved:

  • In little over a decade, we reduced per capita water demand across the region by 30 percent and are doing even more through regional conservation approaches.
  • Aquifer declines, although still occurring, have slowed significantly, from 30 feet per year to 5 feet per year, as we transition to a more sustainable water supply.
  • Under our current plan, we project the region’s water supply will be 55 percent renewable by 2020, a significant increase from just 10 years ago.

Despite this significant progress, there is more work to be done to put the region on a sustainable path.

Our Plan in Action: Efficiency and Reuse

Since 2004, South Metro Water Supply Authority and its 14 water provider members have followed the “all of the above” approach to maximizing existing supplies. The approach mirrors strategies in Colorado’s draft state water plan and continues to underpin our region’s approach to creating a secure water future.

Outdoor watering accounts for more than 50 percent of municipal water use in Colorado on average. Photo by Eric Sonstroem.

Outdoor watering accounts for 50 percent of single-family residential water use in Colorado on average. Photo by Eric Sonstroem, some rights reserved.

The approach begins with conservation. A few examples of efforts that have led to our 30 percent reduction in per capita water use since 2000 include:

  • Providers serving Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are two of only three in the state to put water customers on a water budget that tracks water use by household.
  • Sterling Ranch is conducting the state’s first rainwater harvesting pilot study.
  • Inverness provides rebates for replacing turf with low water-use landscaping.

Recognizing conservation alone is not enough to meet long-term needs, our plan calls for maximizing efficiency of existing resources.

Rueter Hess Reservoir_Mikal Martinez 3.5.15

Reuter-Hess Reservoir in Parker will store reuse and other renewable water in Douglas County. Photo by Mikal Martinez. 

Most of our members are approaching full use of their reusable supplies thanks to infrastructure investments and collaboration. Two of our members, serving Inverness and Meridian, are among the state’s earliest adopters of water reuse and today reuse 100 percent of collected wastewater. Last year, Meridian was honored as the “Water Institution of the Year” by the national WaterReuse Association.

New state-of-the-art treatment plants have also come online in recent years that significantly increase our region’s ability to reuse water.

We also are investing in studying and implementing Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), which has great potential to convert our existing groundwater resources to a valuable drought supply, much like a savings account.

Collaboration and Investment

wise_SimpleFromDenverWater

The WISE Project is a collaborative project between Aurora Water, Denver Water and 10 members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority to share water supply and infrastructure.

Regional cooperation is another key tenet of the draft Colorado’s Water Plan that is playing out in the south Denver suburbs. Through local and regional partnerships, we are getting more use out of existing infrastructure and supplies.

The WISE Project is a first-of-its-kind partnership with Denver Water and Aurora Water that bolsters water supplies to the south Denver suburbs while maximizing existing water assets in Denver and Aurora. Similarly, Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority and East Cherry Creek Valley partnered to complete a state-of-the-art water treatment plant in 2012 and are working with several other South Metro Water Supply Authority members to share capacity on the East Cherry Creek Valley Northern Pipeline.

These are only a few of the innovative efforts underway in the south Denver metro area.

Learn more about our plan by visiting our newly revamped website, southmetrowater.org, where you can sign up for updates and engage with us on social media. Let us know what you think.

Eric_Hecox_1Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority comprised of 14 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. Eric also serves on the board for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

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Filed under Colorado's Water Plan, groundwater, Water Supply

Reaching Colorado and getting in the game about the state water plan

It has been nearly four months since the draft state water plan was submitted to Gov. Hickenlooper in December, and that only after an extensive education and outreach campaign. A campaign that will continue throughout the year leading up to the finalization of the plan, and beyond.

Since December, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has received more than 2,000 comments, and more continue rolling in.  From the January 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine:

To date, the CWCB alone has met with more than 100 organizations, agencies and partners to solicit input. In its first 12 months, the coloradowaterplan.com website’s page views climbed to 18,500. As of October 2014, when the public comment period closed for the plan’s first draft, more than 13,000 individual comments on the plan had been received by the CWCB, whether delivered via the website, by mail or email, or verbally at a meeting or hearing. Every comment was acknowledged and received a response.

Coloradans voice their input at the joint roundtable meeting held in December 204 in Grand Junction.

The roundtables, too, received hundreds of comments as they developed their Basin Implementation Plans. Using local newspapers, websites, social media, radio, videos, postcards and fliers, and email lists, the roundtables worked to reach a wide audience and encourage attendance at meetings.

Numerous interest groups rallied the members of their organizations and communities to submit input. Business leaders from Protect the Flows, a coalition of 1,000 businesses whose tagline reads “The Business Voice of the Colorado River,” testified at legislative hearings held during summer 2014 and later at CWCB board meetings. “That’s a huge commitment for a businessperson,” says Molly Mugglestone, Protect the Flows co-director. “But we’re seeing that they really do have passion for this and they really do want this water plan draft to reflect their values.”

Those hearings conducted by the state legislative interim Water Resources Review Committee on the water plan during summer 2014 also reached people who might not otherwise have been heard. Senate Bill 115 directed legislators on the committee to travel the state basin by basin soliciting public comment. “The intent was to give concerned citizens not necessarily directly involved a greater voice,” says former state Rep. Randy Fischer. Many of the meetings were well attended and resulted in pages of public comments. But others lacked strong attendance. “Despite our best efforts, my sense is the general public is underrepresented in the process,” Fischer says.

Rep. Fischer is not the only one to see the general public as not fully engaged. In the latest episode of Connecting the Drops,  Sen. Ellen Roberts echoes that thought:

I think that’s the challenge that we saw here at the legislature, the Governor and the executive branch of the Colorado government has done a lot of outreach but it’s a topic that most people…all they really care about is when they get up in the morning does water come out of the shower, can they make their cup of coffee or cup of tea?

And well, if you live in Colorado, then Colorado’s Water Plan applies to you. Don’t worry, it’s not too late to be heard! All public input received by September 17, 2015 will be considered and incorporated in the final water plan. Check out the timeline to the left to see your deadlines. Additional tips:

  • Be specific General comments help your legislators and those writing the plan understand how many people are concerned about a particular issue. However, specific thoughts, particularly those based on the ideas presented in the draft, will more significantly influence the content of the final plan. The CWCB suggests framing your input by reading and reacting to or adding suggestions to the plan. Find the draft at www.coloradowaterplan.com under “resources.”
  • Get involved locally Work directly with your basin roundtable. Roundtables meet regularly, and the public is invited—and encouraged—to attend.
  • Put in some face time CWCB staff will take the plan on the road and continue reaching the unengaged; there is an opportunity for public input at each CWCB board meeting; and the state legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee will convene a public meeting in each basin before November 2015.
  • Sen. Ellen Roberts

    Know your elected officials Do you have a relationship with your state senator and representative? Get to know them and make sure they know what issues are important to you. “We [state legislators] represent our districts but we also represent the entire state of Colorado,” says state Sen. Ellen Roberts. “It’s really helpful if the public, anyone who’s interested in this issue, touches base.” Regardless of your political party, how you cast your vote, and how much prior knowledge you have about the water plan, Roberts suggests contacting your legislators to make sure they know that water, your basin, and Colorado’s Water Plan matter to you, their constituent.

  • Collaborate Whether you have a particular area of expertise or don’t feel that you have time to review Colorado’s Water Plan yourself, consider linking up with an interest group or organization that represents values similar to your own. There are many across the state. Your support will help their employees or volunteers comment in your stead, or your expertise and involvement could help round out their existing efforts to influence the plan’s balance of priorities
  • Communicate with others Register for a free webinar April 28, 2015 to dig into the water plan and hear how you can communicate and interpret the draft plan and prepare for the public comment periods. Perhaps you’ll encourage others to get involved!

 

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Filed under Colorado's Water Plan, Headwaters Magazine, Water Education and Resources

Catching Colorado’s Rainwater

By Jan Tik (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jan Tik (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s one of the most common questions and concerns we hear from Coloradans interested in water “Why can’t we capture rainwater? Aren’t rain barrels illegal in Colorado?” (the barrels themselves are legal, and widely sold, it’s the rainwater storage that isn’t in most cases)… But that could change.

On Monday, Colorado’s House of Representatives voted in favor of H.B. 1259, which, if successfully passed by the Colorado Senate, would allow people to collect and store up to 110 gallons of rainwater from residential rooftops. The bill passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 45-20 and was amended to allow rainwater storage in two 55-gallon rain barrels (upped from a proposed combined storage maximum of 100 gallons).

Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system of water law, the water that falls on your roof already belongs to other downstream users. Because someone else already owns the right to that water, rainwater capture is not legal for most Colorado households. From the Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Law, on adjudicated water rights:

Adjudication of a water right results in a decree that confirms the priority date of the water right, its source of supply, and the amount, point of diversion or storage, type and place of use.

In times of water scarcity, those with older water rights can claim that water before those with more junior rights. As explained in the Washington Post:

During dry times, someone with a senior claim gets to suck down her full allotment. The people down the line might get nothing.

(In Colorado, she’s even entitled to the rain that falls onto her neighbor’s roofs. That rain, by law, must be allowed to flow unimpeded into the river for her to use.)

Although all precipitation belongs to this system of water rights, some studies estimate that only a small fraction of rain makes it all the way from rooftops to rivers, with most of it lost to evaporation. A 2007 Douglas County study by Leonard Rice Engineers found that a maximum of about 15 percent of precipitation returned to the stream system. Bill sponsors said that an estimated 97 percent of water that falls on residential property never ends up in a river or stream.

After that 2007 study, Colorado’s rain barrel ban was loosened, when in 2009 SB-80 allowed some residents with private wells to begin rainwater harvesting. Through HB 09-1129, Colorado created a pilot program for harvesting projects administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, find guidelines for those pilot projects here. But those water catching programs aren’t available to the majority of Coloradans, including municipal residents.

… perhaps small-scale collection and storage of rooftop rainwater runoff wouldn’t have such a large affect on downstream water users. But opponents say that the principle behind rainwater harvesting can lead to much more. From the Durango Herald:

Republican Reps. Don Coram of Montrose and J. Paul Brown of Ignacio both voted against the measure. Coram said the bill serves as a literal slippery slope, suggesting that what starts as roof collection could end in allowing Coloradans to collect rainwater off their entire property.

“We keep nibbling away on the prior appropriation doctrine, and you know you eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Coram said, referring to the system in Colorado in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. “I object more to changing the process.”

Others opposed are expressly worried about agriculture. From the Washington Post:

But the bill also signals that as Colorado’s cities grow, and as the political balance shifts, the legal custom of prior appropriation may be slowly renegotiated in favor of the urbanites. At the committee meeting last week, agriculture industry representatives strongly opposed HB 1259.

“It is a small step. And it’ll get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, until you dry up all of agriculture without buying it,” said Jim Yahn, a commercial water manager and farmer.

“At least the other way that we do it, farmers get compensated for the water that’s used. This is a small step in the wrong direction.”

While those in favor see water conservation and education as the major benefits of rainbarrels. From the Denver Post:

Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, countered: “It still goes into the same ground it would if it came down the gutter and straight into the ground.”

And rather than seeing that water be absorbed or evaporate, residents could replace the gardening water that comes from a spigot — saving water for those with downstream water rights, she said.

“While the amount of water saved is modest, having rain barrels in yards around the state will serve as an important tool to increase Coloradans’ knowledge of our limited rainfall and water supply,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “This common-sense step should help people understand the need for smart water-conservation policies.”

Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates further explained that concept in a letter calling for support:

We think that someone with a rain barrel begins to pay more attention to how much water it takes to water the lawn; they begin to question where their water really comes from beyond the tap; and that this leads to a greater conservation ethic in our residents. The bill places limits on rain barrel use to the extent that published research suggests there will be no discernable impact on downstream water users.

The legislation is now in the hands of the senate. Where do you stand?

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Water Legislation, Water Supply