Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Funding Goals

By Nelson Harvey, excerpts pulled from an originally published piece in the Summer 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine

go time bugColoradans put far too much work into Colorado’s Water Plan for it to simply gather dust on the shelf of some government office. Yet the plan, whose final draft was released in late 2015, remains a non-binding advisory document. That means those who helped shape it must take responsibility for acting on it as well. In a fourth part of our ongoing series on the water plan’s implementation, we examine what we as a state must do to achieve the goals for one of the plan’s nine defined measurable outcomes: funding. Colorado’s water plan sets the goal of sustainably funding its own implementation.

Read the first parts of the series on meeting the water plan’s conservation goals, meeting the plan’s environmental and recreational goals, and meeting the plan’s storage goals.

Funding: Paying the way to a sustainable water future

A man votes his ballot in the U.S. midterm elections at a polling place in Westminster

Credit: REUTERS/Rick Wilking 

Colorado’s economy may depend on water, but water management also relies on an essential ingredient: money. With that in mind, Colorado’s Water Plan sets the straightforward goal of funding itself. This means finding ways to pay for the vast array of priorities that the plan identifies, from new reservoir storage, conveyance, and treatment facilities to recreational projects, watershed plans, and river improvements.

Colorado officials estimate it will cost state and local entities about $20 billion by 2050 to maintain and improve Colorado’s existing water infrastructure while constructing new projects currently on the drawing board. And that’s just to get the projects in place—it doesn’t include the ongoing costs of treatment and distribution.  

Generating that money may require a new public funding source dedicated exclusively to water. Existing water-related loans and grants from the Colorado state government are largely funded through revenue from severance taxes on oil and gas, which oscillate wildly with the price of oil and can be siphoned away to pay for other budget priorities. Because of that, state funding for water projects has varied widely in recent years: In 2009 it was $319 million, but it plummeted to just $36 million in 2010.

A new “water-only” funding source would likely require voter approval and could take many forms: One idea that nearly made the state ballot in 2010 was a volume-based fee on bottled beverages. Legislative economists estimated that charging a penny for every six ounces of liquid and capping the charge at 50 cents per container could raise about $110 million a year. That cash could be divided between priorities like additional investment through Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) loans and grants, more money in the state Water Supply Reserve Account for Colorado’s nine basin roundtables to invest regionally, and a legal fund to protect Colorado’s water rights under interstate compacts.

“We knew that there had to be a new dedicated, independent revenue source that would not be competing with K-12 education, transportation, Medicaid and things like that,” says Dick Brown, a lobbyist for the Pike’s Peak Regional Water Authority who led the container fee campaign in 2010 along with former Arkansas Basin Roundtable chair Gary Barber.

The container fee didn’t make the ballot in 2010 due to opposition from the bottled beverage industry, which convinced the Colorado Supreme Court that it violated the “single-subject test” for ballot initiatives by altering more than one area of state law. Brown says backers need time to educate voters, but a similar measure could reappear in 2017.

Even if voters aren’t willing to raise taxes for water, the water plan proposes a suite of new ways to use existing state revenues. One is a repayment guarantee fund, where the state would put up money to back the repayment of bonds issued to finance multi-partner water supply projects. Currently, participants in projects like the Windy Gap Firming Project, which involves 13 northern Colorado water providers, can’t issue bonds collectively (they still can individually) because the lower credit rating of smaller water providers makes it tough to obtain a favorable interest rate, making borrowing more expensive.

The water plan also suggests a green bond fund to help pay for environmental and recreational projects: The state or an affiliated entity would issue bonds offering slightly below market-rate returns in the hopes of attracting socially minded investors.  

Finally, the water plan notes that the state should use incentives like low-interest loans and extended repayment periods to encourage multi-purpose, multi-partner projects that accomplish more with each scarce dollar—and each drop of water.

A recent collaboration in the Rio Grande Basin illustrates the potential of multi-partner projects. To combat heavy metal contamination from the Summitville Mine and rehabilitate the local fishery, the watershed group Alamosa Riverkeeper acquired water rights to boost streamflows. But the group lacked a place to store the water in order to time its most effective release. In 2013, they partnered with the irrigation company that operates Terrace Reservoir southwest of Alamosa and secured state and federal money to improve the reservoir’s spillway. That permitted the irrigation company to store more water, and in exchange the company granted Alamosa Riverkeeper 2,000 acre-feet of free storage.

Cindy Medina, Alamosa Riverkeeper co-founder, says the project was successful in attracting state funding because it served both environmental and agricultural uses. “I think the state wants to get the biggest bang for their buck these days,” she says, “and projects like this are the ones that will succeed from here on out.”

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Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Storage Goals

By Nelson Harvey, excerpts pulled from an originally published piece in the Summer 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine

go time bugColoradans put far too much work into Colorado’s Water Plan for it to simply gather dust on the shelf of some government office. Yet the plan, whose final draft was released in late 2015, remains a non-binding advisory document. That means those who helped shape it must take responsibility for acting on it as well. In a third part of our ongoing series on the water plan’s implementation, we examine what we as a state must do to achieve the goals for one of the plan’s nine defined measurable outcomes: storage.

Read the first two parts of the series on meeting the water plan’s conservation goals and meeting the plan’s environmental and recreational goals.

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Credit: Julie Kruger

Storage: Adding capacity, flexibility and resiliency to water systems

Whether the water to fill Colorado’s projected mid-century gap of more than 500,000 acre-feet comes from new projects, conservation, or better sharing between farms and cities, we’ll need a place to store it. Aside from giving water providers flexibility in how and when to use their water supplies, adequate storage provides a hedge against droughts, floods and a changing climate. The water plan sets a goal of attaining 400,000 acre-feet of new storage by 2050 by completing at least 80 percent of the projects identified in the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative.

Those projects involve everything from the expansion of existing reservoirs to construction of new ones and increased use of aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), which is the storage of surface water underground. Ensuring adequate storage will also require reforming the arduous water project permitting process. The process includes important environmental protections in compliance with federal laws like the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act, but can take more than a decade and cost millions of dollars to complete.

According to Becky Mitchell, chief of the CWCB water supply planning section, excessive fear of the permitting process could already be discouraging the pursuit of major projects: “There is some post-traumatic stress from past experiences and people are looking to avoid the permitting process, so we are hoping that if we start by reforming permitting, folks won’t be so afraid to get into it.”

A major improvement would be to “front-load” the process through better coordination between government agencies early in a project’s lifespan. “It has been pretty haphazard in the past as far as when different agencies from different levels of government weigh in,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the Water Quality and Quantity Committee for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

To minimize costly last-minute delays, the water plan recommends that each state agency involved in reviewing a water project signs a Memorandum of Understanding early in the permitting process, dictating who will lead the review and how the agencies will work together to gather the data they need.  

The water plan also acknowledges the growing importance of multi-purpose, multi-partner water storage projects. Getting a broad range of stakeholders involved in building new storage can help defray the massive expense, complexity and controversy inherent in the enterprise, according to Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District and chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

“You need lots of money, so you need lots of partners,” says Frank. “Also, the more people you bring on board from the agricultural, environmental and municipal communities, the less opposition you’ll run into down the line.”  

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Learning to practice effective collaboration for better water decisions

Collaboration! view_across_independence_pass_from_north-600x600Everyone seems to be talking about it. Most everyone in Colorado’s water community agrees we are at a juncture where it is critical for us to collaborate. But what does this mean? How is this lofty idea actually put into practice? How is collaboration different from its distant cousin—compromise—in which all parties give up something and no one ever emerges very happy?

True collaboration takes a whole new way of looking at things.

We all worked hard to craft the voluminous Colorado Water Plan. Now it is time for the challenging conversations and decision making among the diverse stakeholders in our state to put it into practice. Maybe we have the motivation to do that, and even the energy. But do we have the know-how and the skills to practice effective collaboration?

For those who want to gain that know-how and those skills, or to practice and fine-tune what they already know in theory or from past experience, Colorado Water Institute at CSU is once again teaming up with CDR Associates to offer a hands-on workshop on ‘Strengthening Collaborative Capacity for Better Water Decisions.’  This fall’s training will take place November 9-11 at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, west of Loveland. It is the second such workshop CSU and CDR have offered, following a similar workshop last fall in Palisade.  One participant from the Palisade training said, “Given the complex water issues we face in Colorado, it’s inspiring to learn skills to help transcend the polarized positions of different geographic and stakeholder sectors.  I can’t wait to apply these new tools to improve collaboration as I approach water challenges in my work.”  Participants came from state and federal agencies, ditch companies and conservancy districts, basin roundtables, and non-governmental organizations.

“That mix of sectors involved in water throughout Colorado is a real strength of the training,” says MaryLou Smith of the Colorado Water Institute. Participants are able to jump right in, bringing with them their real-world challenges and some success stories. “They bring their own set of experiences and issues that provide really good material for us to work with,” Smith says. Smith, along with CDR’s Ryan Golten, and the Colorado River District’s Dan Birch, will staff the training.

The retreat-style workshop is an opportunity for “collaboration in action,” as participants learn right off how to establish trust and relationships critical for collaboration—not by just hearing about it, but by practicing it.  The workshop offers a dynamic blend of discussions, presentations, practice and role playing.  Key topics include understanding the dynamics of conflict; moving from positional bargaining to interest-based thinking; when and under what circumstances collaborative processes are most effective; and the mechanics and skills-building of designing, facilitating and/or participating in collaborating in problem-solving processes. The workshop offers participants a greater toolbox, concrete skills, and confidence in their collaboration practice, whether as conveners, facilitators or stakeholders. “This is very much hands-on training,” Smith says, “which is what makes it so valuable. Attendees practice role-playing in which they’re challenged to come to agreement in a collaborative setting.”

Learn more and register here to attend November 9-11

Colorado’s Water Plan has a subtitle: “Collaborating on Colorado’s Water Future.” The first page of the executive summary says “This is the beginning of the next phase in Colorado water policy, where collaboration and innovation come together with hard work to meet and implement the objectives, goals, and actions set forth in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

Register now to get some down-to-earth instruction and practice in collaboration and innovation critical to Colorado’s water future. For questions, contact MaryLou at MaryLou.Smith@colostate.edu.

hw_winter_16coverRead more about collaboration in the Winter 2016 issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine “The Collaborative Alchemy Around Water Today.”

And join CFWE on Monday 9/12 to learn about collaborative water management on a tour throughout the Roaring Fork’s watershed. Learn more and register here.

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Accurately Estimating Evapotranspiration: The Third Colorado ET Workshop

By Tom Trout, USDA-ARS-Water Management Research

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Tom Trout checking out the CoAgMet weather station instrumentation. Credit: Peggy Greb

Water rights transfers in Colorado are based on consumptive use. A city or company that purchases water from a farmer can only use the amount of water that the farmer has historically consumed—that is, the water that actually evaporated and transpired from the crop and soil. Thus, they must estimate the evapotranspiration, or ET, for the fields that had been irrigated. The method to estimate ET commonly used in Colorado is an old method developed over 50 years ago called the Blaney-Criddle method. The method is based only on temperature and is simple, but not very accurate.

Much more accurate ET calculation methods are now available. ET weather station networks in Colorado—Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network (CoAgMet), and Northern Water’s networkhave been collecting detailed weather data for over 20 years that can be used to calculate reference ET using globally-recognized standardized methods. Satellites have been collecting images of farm crops for over 30 years. These technologies can be combined to improve ET estimates over the past month or season or several years.

Learn about these newer technologies and the advantages and disadvantages compared to current methods at the Third Colorado ET Workshop. The workshop will present ET estimation methods and the information required to use them, including weather and satellite data. Presenters will also describe the latest research in ET estimation for both well-irrigated and deficit-irrigated crops. They will discuss how these methods could be used for more accurate and standardized consumptive use calculations for both permanent water transfers and alternative temporary transfers.

The Third Colorado ET Workshop will be held in Fort Collins on October 13, 2016. Workshop organizers include USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Colorado State University, Colorado Division of Water Resources, and Colorado Water Conservation Board.

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The workshop is part of the Ninth International Conference on Irrigation and Drainage organized by the U.S. Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (USCID) taking place October 11-14 at the Fort Collins Hilton. The theme of the USCID conference is:

Improving Irrigation Water Management—Latest Methods in Evapotranspiration and Supporting Technologies

The conference will include many presentations on the latest ET research. The recently published ASCE Manual “Evaporation, Evapotranspiration, and Irrigation Water Requirements” will be introduced at the conference. Participants can register for the whole conference, or just the Thursday Colorado ET Workshop. Learn more and register here.

Read more about Tom Trout’s cover_webrecent work in “The Ever Evolving Farmer” in the Fall 2012 issue of Headwaters magazine.

 

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Collaborative Watershed Management Highlights in the Roaring Fork Basin

By Chelsea Congdon Brundige, Public Counsel of the Rockies

In Colorado, everyone from irrigators and municipalities, law-makers and water districts, regulators and conservationists are scrambling to find ways to restore and protect the state’s over-tapped rivers. A top priority of the 2015 Colorado water plan is to balance the needs for water in agriculture, cities and industry with the need for water to protect healthy rivers and the iconic wildlife, recreation and alpine landscapes that sustain Colorado’s values, lifestyle and economy.

As director of the Water Program of Public Counsel of the Rockies, I have been working in the Roaring Fork watershed to design and implement projects that improve efficiency, accountability and collaboration in water management. Public Counsel brings strategic leadership to these projects, focusing on opportunities to leverage our local successes in the Roaring Fork watershed so they can serve as templates for efforts in other basins. I am thrilled that we will be able to share this work as part of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Collaborative Water Management Tour on September 12, 2016  so that participants can learn what we are doing and can take some ideas home.

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Installing the gauge in Aspen.

Our projects address several “gaps” in Colorado water policy and management. For example, while the water plan prioritizes finding ways to balance the allocation of water between consumptive and non-consumptive uses, for the most part, stream flow gauges are not in place to record baseline flows or support administration of instream flows. Without accurate measurement, there is no way to know if instream flow rights are being met, how proposed water diversions might affect healthy baseflows, and how changes in flow are correlated to changes in stream health.

In Aspen, we partnered with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) in 2014 to address the need for greater accountability and transparency in water management through better gauging and data collection. To this end, we helped site and install a prototype stream flow monitoring gauge on the Roaring Fork River in the heart of Aspen. The new gauge records and transmits data on flow, and captures pictures of the river corresponding to those flow levels. The data are accessed remotely and published by ACES. Plus, a City of Aspen interpretative sign at the river’s edge in the John Denver Sanctuary describes the issues of river health and benefits of monitoring flows.

This gauge is the first of several that can be installed as part of ACES’ Forest Health Index to collect data to support stewardship of our forests and watershed. Data from the gauge helps us correlate the condition of our rivers with the condition of our forest, and provides a baseline for resource management decisions. As importantly, the gauge is strategically located to allow water rights administration and water accounting for several imminent projects designed to deliver water to this distressed reach of the Roaring Fork to enhance instream flows. We have worked with many partners to bring this stream gauge prototype project to fruition including: ACES, City of Aspen, the Colorado Water Trust, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Colorado River District. Here is a link to the streamflow data.

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A reach of the Crystal River.

Colorado’s Water Plan identifies stream management planning as critical for 80 percent of priority river basins in the state, and identifies the need for greater stakeholder engagement around water management—but there are few examples to draw on. Beginning in 2012, Public Counsel began working with Roaring Fork Conservancy and Lotic Hydrological to plan, fund, and lead a state-of-the-art stream management plan for the Crystal River, from Marble to the confluence with the Roaring Fork. During drought years, the combined demands for water in irrigated agriculture and demands for water in the Town of Carbondale for municipal use and irrigation of parks and open space lead to water shortages for some agricultural producers and impairment of river and riparian health. This plan, completed in December 2015, provides a detailed, science-based assessment of the “health” of the river, meter by meter and reach by reach, based on dozens of metrics. Our team developed an Ecological Decision Support System (EcoDSS) to evaluate countless water management and restoration options (including costs) for restoring this river. Beginning in October 2015, Public Counsel launched and professionally staffed a collaborative process with all irrigators and other stakeholders on the Crystal to prioritize projects that can be implemented to restore the River.

This project is one of the first stream management plans in Colorado. Our approach, modeling and stakeholder process are serving as blueprints for planning efforts just getting off the ground in the San Miguel watershed, the Gunnison, the Upper Roaring Fork through Aspen, and the Upper Colorado River basin. Building on our work on the Crystal River, Public Counsel is poised to leverage our successes and “lessons learned” to advance stream management planning and stakeholder collaboration around water management. Find the Crystal River Management Plan here

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On the Crystal River.

Finally, Public Counsel has been working on behalf of the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus in a multi-decade effort to guarantee the maintenance of healthy stream flows in Snowmass Creek. Snowmass Creek supplies water for agriculture, municipal uses, domestic needs and snowmaking in two basins, the Snowmass Creek basin and the Brush Creek basin (where the Town of Snowmass Village is located). The history here is long, but in recent years, the caucus developed a sophisticated analysis enabling water managers to project future instream flows in the Creek as a function of growth, climate change and other factors.

This analysis has informed the efforts of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District (in the neighboring Brush Creek basin) to operate Ziegler Reservoir and other components of their water infrastructure to help buffer Snowmass Creek from diversions during periods of low flow. The district has aggressively invested in leak detection and other measures to dramatically reduce treated water losses and increase water conservation. The caucus, in turn, has used the same analysis to develop water conservation guidelines for residents in the Snowmass Creek valley and has published a Water Users Guide for Protecting Flows in Snowmass Creek—find a link to the guide here.

On September 12, CFWE is hosting a tour so that participants can see and learn first-hand about these and other exemplary collaborative water management projects throughout the Roaring Fork watershed. I look forward to the opportunity to share these projects in person. Don’t miss it… come ready to learn, ask questions and discuss. Find the agenda and register here.

Learn more about collaborative work in the Roaring Fork watershed in August 2016 blog post, “A rancher, a scientist, an angler and a conservationist walk into a room.”

CCB on AJAX2 Chelsea Congdon Brundige is a water strategist with Public Counsel of the Rockies engaged in developing collaborative and innovative practices to improve the long-term stewardship of western rivers. Since 2012, Chelsea has been working in partnership with local watershed organizations and hydrologists to design highly visible and replicable projects in the Roaring Fork watershed that improve accountability and stakeholder engagement around water management. This work focuses on distressed river reaches in the Roaring through Aspen, on Snowmass Creek, and on the Crystal River. In December 2015, Ms. Brundige — working in partnership with Roaring Fork Conservancy and Lotic Hydrological — completed an 18-month stream management plan and stakeholder process to characterize the health of the Crystal River and prioritize restoration options.

Ms. Brundige’s work with Public Counsel of the Rockies draws on her 2 decades of professional experience as a water resource specialist with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in California and Colorado, and her work in communication as a writer and producer with First Light Films, an independent film and television company based in Snowmass, Colorado.

Chelsea graduated from Yale University in 1982, magna cum laude.  She earned a M.A. from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California in Berkeley in 1989. Chelsea served as a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Future of Irrigation from 1994 to 1996. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Western Resource Advocates, Colorado Rocky Mountain School, and the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus.

 

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A rancher, a scientist, an angler and a conservationist walk into a room…

By Christina Medved, Watershed Education Director and Heather Lewin, Watershed Action Director at Roaring Fork Conservancy in Basalt, CO.

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Spring at Mt Sopris Colorado. The Roaring Fork River is in the foreground and located just outside Carbondale CO. Credit: Steve Wiggins

A rancher, a scientist, an angler and a conservationist walk into a room… “Wait a minute,” you say, “I’ve heard this one before! Something about water being for fighting, right? Remind me the punchline again?” Well, this isn’t the same old story with the same old punchline. Roaring Fork Conservancy (RFC), currently in its 20th year, is working with an empowered group of stakeholders to rewrite the story of water in the Roaring Fork Valley. The privilege of living with ready access to cold mountain streams, abundant trout, vibrant agriculture and spectacular scenery is one we do not take for granted which is why we continue to work to bring together the diverse groups invested in their protection.

If you have not encountered us before, RFC is a local watershed organization, bringing people together to protect our rivers from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork high above Aspen to its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, from the Gold Medal waters of the Fryingpan River, to the banks of the free-flowing Crystal River, we continually assess and work to improve the health of our rivers, and we empower the community and next generation to do the same—reaching over 100,000 individuals since our inception.

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A geomorphology field trip with the Roaring Fork Conservancy. Credit: Christina Medved

Inspiring people to take action requires not only scientific knowledge, but also experiential knowledge and a common ground, or common water in this case! Through our work with the recreational and agricultural communities, our knowledge is enhanced. Learning from the people who are working the land and on the rivers each day (as sometimes we wish we could be!) provides insights that might not be documented anywhere except the mind of the water user. By working with these stakeholders, we are able to craft studies to address real needs with real benefits to the river. In turn, we are able to share our learnings with the greater community through adult and school programs throughout the year.

Through proactive science and watershed planning, RFC helps inform decision-makers at the municipal and county levels and direct on-the-ground improvement and restoration projects. All of RFC’s endeavors—scientific studies, restoration project, policy work and educational campaigns—are rooted in the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan published in 2012, and focus on water quantity and quality and riparian health. The thread through all of our projects is building relationships with each stakeholder. Here are some examples of RFC’s work in action:

Crystal River Management Plan: During the 2012 drought, the Crystal River experienced significantly low flows, to the tune of 1 cubic foot per second (cfs) in the lower reach where the instream flow right is 100cfs. The Crystal Valley, mecca for both ranching and recreation, was feeling the demand gap of the drought. How could it be possible to look out for the interests of all water users involved, including the river? You listen to the concerns from stakeholders and work together to answer the tough questions about how to efficiently and fairly use and share the invaluable water resource. To tackle this complex issue, RFC partnered with Public Counsel of the Rockies and Lotic Hydrological to produce the Crystal River Management Plan, one of the first stream management plans in Colorado.

The Crystal River Management Plan relies on a robust science-based and stakeholder-centered approach to consider complex interactions between the physical components driving watershed structure; the biological components of riverine ecosystems; the social context of competing perspectives, needs, and values; and the existing legal and administrative frameworks governing water use in an effort to identify and evaluate management and structural alternatives that honor local agricultural production, preserve existing water uses, and enhance the ecological integrity of the river.

Stakeholder meetings held throughout the planning process served to clarify outstanding questions, summarize results from previous studies, refine planning goals and objectives, and evaluate the feasibility of various management alternatives.

The Plan combines river science and community values to offer feasible and effective water management alternatives for improving ecological health of the Crystal River recognizing the competing demands for water to sustain agricultural and municipal needs as well as other environmental and recreational values in the community.

 

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The Fryingpan River. Credit: Mark Fuller.

Lower Fryingpan River Comprehensive Study: Citizens and angling guides approached RFC with concerns about low winter flows, formation of anchor ice, and an abundance of algae, we would later come to name Didymosphenia geminata—better known as didymo or “rock snot”—on the Gold Medal waters of the Fryingpan River. Concerned about these potential impacts on the river resource, interested citizens along with RFC voiced these concerns to the Bureau of Reclamation, who manages the flows on the Fryingpan. From these encounters, RFC partnered with the Natural Resource Management Program at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Dr. Bill Miller, Delia Malone, and the Economics Department at Colorado State University to develop a scientific study to evaluate the macroinvertebrate population, water temperature, didymo, American Dipper population, and the economic impact of the Fryingpan Valley.

Here are a few highlights from the study:

  • The macroinvertebrate population indicates a healthy river system.
  • Didymo prefers oxygenated (moving) water and its presence declined after high flows.
  • The Fryingpan Valley is sustaining 28 mating pairs of American Dippers. Their success is dependent on 50m of undisturbed riparian habitat upstream and downstream of nesting sites.
  • The economic impact of fishing the Lower Fryingpan River is $3.8 million annually and contributes to 38.3 jobs to the region!

For details about this study and additional results, please click here.

So, a rancher, a scientist, an angler and a conservationist walk into a room… with a shared love and desire to protect western Colorado’s most precious resource: water. Please join us on the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s tour of the Roaring Fork watershed on September 12 to see these one-of-a-kind areas for yourself and learn about the benefits of RFC’s work and partnerships. Learn more and register here.

For additional details about Roaring Fork Conservancy please visit www.roaringfork.org .

Medved HeadshotChristina Medved, Watershed Education Director
Christina calls Cleveland, OH, her hometown and the infamous Cuyahoga River her home watershed. Having spent a lot of time on lakes as a child, she quickly fell in love with rivers while working as a Field Instructor within Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Akron, OH. She then became the Education Programs Manager and Leaf Pack Network® Administrator at Stroud Water Research Center, near Philadelphia, PA. During that time she coordinated two watershed treks which gave high school students a full-immersion experience in tracing the drinking water supply of New York City and Wilmington, DE, and, had the opportunity to teach stream ecology workshops across the United States as well as in villages of Costa Rica and Peru. Christina has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Ashland University in OH and an M.A. in Communication Studies from West Chester University in PA. When not teaching or on the river, Christina enjoys cooking, biking, snowshoeing and dabbling in photography.

Heather Lewin photoHeather Lewin, Watershed Action Director
Heather has worked with Roaring Fork Conservancy in the areas of land conservation and policy since 2010. She has B.S. in biology from Providence College and a Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy from Johns Hopkins University. She has also completed a residency in environmental education at Teton Science School. With Roaring Fork Conservancy, Heather is working on Colorado 303d water quality listings, land conservation efforts, and policy issues. Heather is also a certified raft guide and ski instructor.

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FLOWS: Conserving Water and Empowering Communities

According to the Citizen’s Guide for Colorado Water Conservation, upgrading your toilets, showerheads, and faucets to WaterSense-labeled models can save a boatload of water and a nice chunk of change on your water bill. However, for people who have trouble affording rent and other necessities, upgrading to more efficient water fixtures can be cost-prohibitive, even if it would save money in the long run. There are many water conservation audit and assistance programs around the state that can help, including the CU Environmental Center’s new FLOWS program. The Foundation for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability or FLOWS seeks to partner with low-income communities in the City of Boulder to conserve water, energy, and money.

“FLOWS is a partnership between community members and students,” says Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish, the program manager. “We’re working together to build capacity in low-income communities around green jobs and engage community members in sustainability. The idea is not to come into the community to provide for them but work with them instead.

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The FLOWS Team. Top row (left to right): Sesha Pochiraju, Kamyria Coney, Roberto DeMata, Magdlena Landa-Posas, Michelle Romersheuser, Henry Torres, Sadie Witt, Leomar Mendez, and Mike White. Bottom row: Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish, Robin Eden, Angela Ortiz, and Pablo Cornejo-Warner. Not pictured: Shino Ferguson

The initial FLOWS pilot project wrapped up earlier this summer and involved two main aspects: an intercultural focus group in addition to water and energy audits. The former sets FLOWS apart from similar initiatives in Colorado. The focus group brought a diverse group of community members together to discuss sustainable traditions from cultures around the world, highlighting tenants’ existing water conservation knowledge. “The goal was to help people see how they’re already sustainability leaders,” says Gabrieloff-Parish. “In these discussions, we looked at native water traditions in Colorado and the Americas; India; Bali; and others. Some ingenious water conservation techniques are already out there; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” In addition to watching the Watershed documentary, the group covered topics like the use of ollas (pronounced oy-yahs) for efficient irrigation in arid landscapes and the recognition of the importance of trees for watershed health in the Chipko movement of India. “I’ve talked about (these topics) in my classes where a lot of students come from various indigenous communities,” says Angela Ortiz, a FLOWS technician and urban agriculture educator in Denver. “They have a lot of knowledge that has just gone dormant because when you migrate, it can be easier to forget.”

What makes FLOWS special is that it’s an initiative that comes from within the community, empowering neighbors to build community around sustainability. “In the classroom training (to be a FLOWS technician), it wasn’t only CU Boulder students but also my neighbors. Talking about global issues and how to come up with local solutions has helped us get to know each other on a deeper level, which builds a stronger community,” says Ortiz. “I hope in the future FLOWS will be able to provide more training and opportunities for us to exchange knowledge within the community.”

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FLOWS Leaders (left to right): Mike White, Pablo Cornejo-Warner, Leomar Mendez, Roberto DeMata, and Sesha Pochiraju

The other part of the pilot program involved water and energy audits that were conducted in a 35-unit housing complex that belongs to Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), an organization that builds, owns, and manages affordable housing for low and moderate income residents in Boulder. BHP is currently FLOWS’ main partner. The team of FLOWS technicians, which included seven community members and seven students, finished training workshops followed by several days of installations within the complex. Interested tenants could sign up for an audit, which involved discussing their sustainability habits with a technician, while another technician checked for toilet leaks; insulated hot water pipes; and checked faucet water temperatures. Technicians installed water efficient showerheads and aerators; CFL and LED light bulbs; and more. Tenants were also provided with a green cleaning product and a Zip It drain cleaning tool, both of which can save tenants valuable time and money while keeping harmful cleaning substances out of the water supply.

While we are still waiting for the numbers from the FLOWS pilot to show how much water and money the upgrades will save tenants, SCORE, the program that FLOWS is modeled after, already has a proven track record. SCORE is a service that offers similar benefits to CU Boulder and Naropa University students in rental properties in the City of Boulder. The installations implemented in the spring 2016 semester through that program will save approximately 506,144 gallons or 1.5 acre feet of water annually and thus significantly reduce tenants’ water bills.

In addition to Boulder Housing Partners, FLOWS has also partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) and Kohler for funding. BEF provided most of the seed funding for the pilot program and Kohler recently donated seventy-five of their WaterSense-labeled High Efficiency Toilets (HET). The toilets will be available to 75 households through FLOWS as the program grows.

Since the program is still in its infancy, FLOWS is only available for residents living in BHP properties in the City of Boulder during the rest of 2016. Starting next year, they hope to offer this resource to other low-income communities within Boulder beyond BHP properties. With more community involvement and more technicians, the program will have more flexibility to offer a wider range of scheduling options. That is, audit appointments will be available throughout the week and not be limited to the span of a few days per month for each housing complex.

WatersenseLabel (1)Although FLOWS is unique, several other organizations in Colorado offer similar programs to help low-income households increase their water efficiency and save money. One example is Colorado Springs Utilities. In 2013, they partnered with several organizations “to help low-income and non-profit housing providers improve efficiency with WaterSense retrofits.” They have continued to help their community lower its water footprint by “supporting apartment owners and managers in property upgrades, helping builders incorporate WaterSense certification, and educating customers through events, classes, and a K-12 education program.” In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named Colorado Springs Utilities one of its WaterSense Partners of the Year in recognition of their water conservation accomplishments. To learn more, check out  Patrice Lehermeier’s blog post on Colorado Springs Utilities.

Another example is the Center for ReSource Conservation’s (CRC) Slow the Flow program. The CRC has partnered with twenty-four Front Range water providers to offer free indoor water and outdoor sprinkler consultations to qualifying customers. You can check which water programs you qualify for here.

A lot of great work is being done in Colorado to help communities understand and lower their water footprints while saving money on their bills. FLOWS brings some new elements to the field by encouraging participants to recognize and use water conservation wisdom that they already have through its neighbors-helping-neighbors model. It will be exciting to see how the program grows in the coming years. “It helps to be reminded that there are more people like me pushing for change and it’s nice to see people from all walks of life working for this unique purpose,” says Ortiz.

CitizensGuideToColoradoWaterConservation2016 (1)Learn more about water conservation and conservation programs in CFWE’s new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation, now available to flip through or order here.

 

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