No Chico Brush: Collaboration for Colorado’s Water Future



Official opening of the Gunnison Tunnel by President Taft at the west portal, Montrose, Colorado, September 23, 1909. Photo by Almeron Newman.

Before irrigated agriculture in the Uncompahgre and North Fork Valleys, there was chico brush. These woody desert plants covered vast swaths of land in southwestern Colorado until the late 1800s and early 1900s, when works like the Gunnison Tunnel diverted water that was used to transform these valleys into the agricultural hubs they are today—leaving chico brush on the dusty sidelines.

As water resources in the region have grown more stretched in recent decades, many stakeholders recognize the need to update operations to improve their odds in the face of future water scarcity. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 dictates that water from the Colorado River must be shared between seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico. Further, this compact “obligates the upper basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) to not not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry, Arizona to be depleted below 75 million acre feet over any period of 10 consecutive years,” according to the Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Interstate Compacts. So far, this obligation has always been met.


Lake Powell in Arizona. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt.

However, delivering this promised water may become much more difficult in the near future. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two of the reservoirs that store water destined for lower basin states (Arizona, California, and Nevada) and Mexico, reached record low levels this year, highlighted by ominous bathtub rings in the lake sediments. This is indicative of how low the Colorado River has been recently due to steadily increasing demand for a variety of municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses. According to the Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation, “the gap between water supply and demand for municipal and industrial uses alone could reach 560,000 acre feet by 2050 absent proactive measures…these future gaps in municipal and industrial water supply will likely be met by voluntary transfers of water out of irrigated agriculture, as lucrative offers are made by urban utilities and industrial operators.” If this economic pull were to slowly dry up agriculture in southwestern Colorado, it would deal a significant blow to the state’s economy and heritage, not to mention the cornucopia of delicious, Colorado-grown produce that we enjoy.  

“If we don’t do something then other people are going to think we aren’t taking this seriously and then the water will be gone,” says Tom Kay, a farmer and co-owner of North Fork Organics. Without irrigation water to cultivate crops and the agricultural lifestyle in the valleys, irrigators fear that nothing will be left but chico brush.

That’s why some of those folks in the Uncompahgre and North Fork Valleys came together in 2010 to form No Chico Brush (NCB), a farmer- and rancher-led group of interested citizens who are working together to look at future water availability and irrigation efficiency. The group consists of an array of interests including county commissioners; water organizations; special interest groups like The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited; citizens; and more , according to Steve Schrock, the coordinator of NCB.

John Harold holding a piece of the drip irrigation tape that gets laid in the field.

John Harold holding a piece of the drip irrigation tape that gets laid in the field. Photo credit: © Mark Skalny for The Nature Conservancy, 2013. (All Internal Rights, Limited External)

With diverse interests come diverse objectives. “I wanted to find ways to educate and encourage farmers to understand that we have to modernize irrigation practices because of the pressures on water,” says John Harold, one of the farmers who brought the group together. NCB aims to keep their lands for agricultural purposes (and thus, free of chico brush) far into the future by implementing more efficient irrigation practices, which will also increase in-stream flows to benefit recreational economies and wildlife habitat. This will ensure that local communities, crops, and ecosystems continue to flourish, even in years when little water is available. It’s a natural partnership between environmental interests like Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy and local farmers and ranchers. However, not all of the farmers and ranchers in NCB agree on the necessity of updating irrigation infrastructure, pointing out that the current system has worked well for over a century. Having a diverse range of opinions within the group has helped to more accurately represent community needs and interests.

We don’t agree on everything but we have a lot of common goals,” says Aaron Derwingson with The Nature Conservancy. Given the sometimes unpleasant history between environmentalists and farmers, tensions were a bit high at first and the path toward partnership wasn’t easy. Despite their differences, these stakeholders do agree that working together is imperative. “(Collaboration) takes more time and more effort but for us it’s the only way we’re going to build a lasting conversation,” Derwingson says. “I think the main benefit is we can speak with a strong voice. People are going to listen to that more than any one of us individually.”

To facilitate greater adoption of water efficiency practices, the group is focusing on research on the Western Slope. Research has been done elsewhere in the state but NCB has emphasized the importance of collecting region-specific data. NCB partnered with Colorado State University and successfully acquired two grants that have helped fund this ongoing research

Sweet corn near Olathe, CO.

Sweet corn near Olathe, CO. Photo credit: © Mark Skalny for The Nature Conservancy, 2013. (All Internal Rights, Limited External)

Further irrigation efficiency financing has been hard to come by recently and current funding may not be enough to meet farmers’ needs in the future, Schrock says. However, some larger programs to incentivize the switch to more efficient irrigation systems are underway. In 2014, a group of municipal water providers throughout the Colorado River Basin, including Denver Water, partnered with the Bureau of Reclamation to address Colorado River water shortages and created the Colorado River System Conservation Program. This program has provided funding for water conservation pilot programs. One of these pilot programs is the Organic Transition Program, designed by Derwingson and Kay, which pays farmers to grow cover crops for three years, thereby using a third of the water they would otherwise. This also helps farmers get that land certified as organic, since one of the requirements is that the land “must not have had prohibited substances applied to it for the past three years.” Thus, farmers will save water and then be able to grow a higher value crop. “I’m looking for ways to help farmers expand their economic horizons and organic is a way to do that,” says Kay.

Fly fishing on the Gunnison River outside of Delta, Colorado.

Fly fishing on the Gunnison River outside of Delta, Colorado. Photo credit: © Mark Skalny for The Nature Conservancy, 2013. (All Internal Rights, Limited External)

All of us have a lot to gain when Colorado farmers and ranchers shift toward more water-efficient systems. By conserving what they can now, they are doing their part to ensure the continuation of agriculture in southwestern Colorado and the overall prosperity of our state. “Agriculture is a huge part of our heritage, economy, and history. We (in NCB) are preserving agriculture. real farms, real farmers, and not having our agricultural economy move toward hobby ranches and farms or subdivisions,” says Schrock.

Check out this Trout Unlimited video for more insight on the work of No Chico Brush.

CitizensGuideToColoradoWaterConservation2016 (1)Learn more about efficient water use in agriculture by reading CFWE’s new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation, now available to flip through or order here.

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Colorado River

Preserving Water for Agriculture with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance


By Greg Peterson

While I was raised in Littleton, I grew up hearing stories from my family about their farm. They were farmers and ranchers along Bear Creek until their land was taken under eminent domain for the Bear Creek Reservoir. I have a hard time picturing an agricultural community in an area that is now suburbs, golf courses, and a park. To create a metropolitan area like Denver, the landscape has changed completely and will continue to change. Today, many other communities are concerned how much longer their way of life can persist in the wake of such change.

By 2050, Colorado’s population will almost double to 10 million, bringing with it a water shortage of more than 500,000 acre feet per year. Municipalities will look to agricultural water as a source of supply. In that same timeframe, the irrigated acreage in the South Platte Basin may decrease by half.

workshop 2

Agricultural producers come together with the Colorado Ag Alliance to discuss the future of irrigated agriculture in the South Platte Basin.

Much of the Colorado Water Plan directly and indirectly discusses agriculture, and the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) is hosting a series of meetings around the state to give agricultural producers the opportunity to take an active role in the implementation of the Water Plan. CAWA is comprised of leaders across the state representing major industries of production agriculture. Their goal is to preserve Colorado’s irrigated agriculture through education and constructive dialogue.

The most recent meeting was hosted in Brush for producers and ditch company representatives to discuss the future of irrigated agriculture in the South Platte Basin. The discussion covered the Colorado Water Plan, alternative transfer methods (ATMs) to “buy and dry,” how farmers can participate in such programs, and other topics.

ATMs include interruptible supply agreements, rotational fallowing, water leasing and banks, reduced crop consumptive use, and the purchase and leaseback of water rights. According to the Colorado Water Plan, ATMs are supposed to supply 50,000 acre feet per year by 2050.  John Schweizer, a farmer in the Arkansas River Basin, described the effect “buy and dry” has had on the region and talked about the success of their rotational fallowing ATM project, the Super Ditch.  A panel of various ATM projects in the South Platte Basin exchanged questions and comments with the audience on the opportunities and obstacles surrounding these projects.

However, future storage will still make up most of the future water supply. Joe Frank, of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, discussed how most of the water gap in the South Platte Basin will be mitigated with already Identified Projects and Processes (IPPs) outlined in the South Platte Basin Implementation Plan. Mike Applegate, of the Northern Water Board, discussed the status of current storage projects.

Other presentations discussed motivations among producers to conserve their water for other uses, the results of a survey on producers’ opinions of ag water leasing, and a presentation of the “use it or lose it” mentality toward water rights by the Colorado State Engineer, Dick Wolfe.

This workshop was only a part of a much larger conversation. These ideas take time and multiple discussions, but agricultural producers provide invaluable knowledge and necessary input if these ideas are to become more widespread.

CitizensGuideToColoradoWaterConservation2016 (1)Learn more about efficient water use in agriculture by reading CFWE’s new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation, now available to flip through or order here.

bio picGreg Peterson has recently been involved in water issues in Colorado after receiving a Masters in Political Economy of Resources from The Colorado School of Mines and working as a teacher before that.  He has worked as a research associate at the Colorado Water Institute and is currently working with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and enjoys learning about economics, agriculture and rural Colorado. 


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Fire’s Role in Watershed Health


Wildfire in an overcrowded forest. Photo by Todd Heitkamp.

Being evacuated due to wildfires was a rather regular part of my childhood in the Colorado Rockies. The sight of the sun burning scarlet in a hazy sky and the thick smell of the smoky air are all too familiar. From the Buffalo Creek Fire (1996) to the Hayman Fire (2002) to the Lower North Fork Fire (2012) and more, my family and community have weathered many fires, some better than others. From my own experiences, I can empathize with the people who have had to evacuate for the Beaver Creek, Cold Springs, and Hayden Pass Fires that are all burning in Colorado right now. 

It wasn’t until I took ecology courses in college that I began to think about how different types of fires mean very different things for ecosystem health. The fact that wildfires have dramatic effects on watershed health may initially seem counterintuitive; it’s not immediately obvious how this relationship works unless you think of it in the context of wider ecosystems.

Lodgepole Pine Seedlings

Lodgepole pine seedlings and cone. Image courtesy of Yellowstone Digital Slide Files archives.

Fire is a natural and important part of ecosystem health. Beneficial fires are usually low-intensity surface fires, which stay close to the ground. They help remove dead vegetation and are a key component in the reproductive cycles of some trees. For example, lodgepole pines have evolved alongside fire and produce serotinous cones, which means they open to release their seeds in response to heat from fires. Thus, low-intensity ground fires help in the regeneration of forests, clearing out the dead and spurring the growth of new vegetation.

However, over a century of fire suppression practices and the subsequent pine beetle epidemic in the West have lead to a buildup of dead trees and other vegetation, which is perfect low-moisture fuel for more severe fires. Due to the lack of gradual fuel clearing by low-intensity fires, fuel density and the amount of ladder fuel in forests has increased. These are the right conditions for crown fires to wreak havoc.

Crown fires, as the name suggests, are high-intensity fires that burn into the upper canopy of forests. They are high-intensity and can spread much faster than ground fires, especially if the wind picks up. These are the fires that we tend to be more familiar with, since they have been increasingly frequent in Colorado and the West in recent decades.

When crown fires sweep through an area, they can destroy the hugely complex root systems of forests. These roots serve the ecological function of filtering water and slowing erosion. Without this filtration net, it becomes much easier for soils to wash away, doubly increasing the risk of water pollution, mudslides, and floods for those who are downstream. This includes wildlife, as polluted waters take a particularly heavy toll on aquatic species. According to Aaron Kimple of the Mountain Studies Institute and San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, the recovery of fish populations following a major fire depends on how much runoff is loading the river and what kind of refuge areas the fish have. Some fish have tributaries where they can maintain populations while runoff occurs and then more rapidly repopulate afterwards. Fish populations without refuges to escape heavy runoff can experience major die-offs, which have severe repercussions for local ecosystems and fishing economies.

These ripple effects often spread as far as urban centers, having major effects on cities’ water supplies. The ash, silt, and debris that washes into waterways due to increased erosion from wildfires increases the costs and slows the process of water treatment far into the future. It also becomes costly to repair and update water infrastructure, as Denver Water experienced in the wake of the Hayman Fire. The water provider had to spend “more than $26 million on fire-related restoration, maintenance, and dredging,” according to this article from National Geographic. Part of this fire mitigation initiative involved a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service on the Forests to Faucets project. This project “uses GIS to model and map the continental United States land areas most important to surface drinking water, the role forests play in protecting these areas, and the extent to which these forests are threatened by development, insects and disease, and wildland fire.” This information can then be incorporated into forest and watershed management plans across the state, in order to better allocate resources to the highest-impact areas.

Other Colorado communities are fostering similar partnerships and working together to manage their forests better and protect their water resources, as in the case of Pagosa Springs when they formed the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership. This group includes a variety of stakeholders that work together to manage forest health. “It’s important for communities to bridge traditional management boundaries for the overall health of the community and those downstream,” Kimple emphasized. Some of the partnership’s main forest management strategies include setting prescribed fires and thinning forests. These strategies used in tandem significantly reduce the risk of large, high-intensity fires. You can learn more about this community initiative from the video below by Christi Bode.

Fresh surface drinking water isn’t something that just comes out of our taps at home. It is a crucial common thread that weaves together all landscapes, from alpine forests to cities. Severe wildfires can be a significant threat to the quality of this precious ecosystem service, even when the destruction seems to be happening far away from major urban centers. Thus, it is crucial to reduce the risk of high-intensity crown fires before they happen, for the sake of entire ecosystems and our collective human well-being. Plenty more work still needs to be done in order to shift ecosystems closer to healthy fire regimes and the above-mentioned strategies implemented by committed, resilient Colorado communities are moving our landscapes closer to that goal.


Filed under Water Quality, Water Supply

“Aha!” moments in water education with Project WET

By Kathy Parker, Central Colorado Water Conservancy District

When was the last time you were excited about water education?


Educators at a Project WET training hosted by Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.

One of the great pleasures in my job is witnessing the “aha!” moment when teachers attending a Project WET workshop finally make the connections between an abstract concept of water with a real world understanding of water’s influence in their lives.

The Project WET curriculum does an outstanding job of setting up fun, interactive lessons that really bring home some heavy topics like water quality, sharing and management, health and water, groundwater and many other subjects. All the material and lessons have been vetted by a team of scientists and educators for both content and academic standards.

A new Generation 2.0 Guide was published in 2011 to incorporate 21st Century skills, new teaching methods and new topics such as “Water and Food Security,” and “Water, Weather, Climate and Change.”


Educators learning about and practicing Project WET activities.

For me the best part is that all activities have been laid out with background, easy instructions, lists of supplies needed, extensions and assessments.

I have been a trained Project WET facilitator and Host Institution since 2011. As the Education Coordinator for a Water Conservancy District, the Project WET training and materials have given me confidence and a quick and easy resource, whether I’m doing a classroom presentation for 3rd graders, running a Water Festival or training teachers. I think especially if you are a non-formal educator that Project WET offers the best training, non-biased lesson plans and resources.

You can also make your life easier by becoming a trained facilitator and offering workshops in your area. If you offer even one training a year attended by 30 teachers, those 30 teachers will be reaching an average 25 students each. Multiply that by five years, and suddenly you have helped reach 3,750 students. Not bad for a day’s work!

Project WET’s mission is for the world to “protect, conserve and better manage water resources by making effective, solutions-oriented water education accessible to educators, students and community members worldwide.” (From the introduction in the Project WET Curriculum and Activity Guide, Generation 2.0.)

Perhaps it’s best said in this quote, written on a teacher workshop evaluation form from a few years ago…“Absolutely amazing. I feel like a kid coming home from camp for the first time.”

This year, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education Water Educator Network has also become a Host Institution and is hosting a facilitator workshop July 19-20 on the Western Slope in Carbondale. You can visit to find a workshop near you, or become a member of the Water Educator Network for other upcoming workshops.

Staff Photos_20150616_0001Kathy began her career in the water world in 2005, after obtaining a Bachelors in Fine Arts from the University of Colorado at Denver and investigating a variety of occupations. She is currently the Public Information/Education Officer for Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and loves teaching about water to kids and adults. She is a Project WET USA facilitator and CCWCD is a host institution for Project WET. She is Secretary for the Board of the Poudre Learning Center, a premier outdoor environmental education center. Kathy recently joined the Ag Committee for the Greeley Chamber of Commerce and is an active member of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education Water Education Network. She is also represents CCWCD on the Colorado Water Congress State Affairs Committee. Her main focus in water education is agriculture and groundwater use, but she also teaches water conservation, water management, water quality and all other topics.

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The Latest and Greatest on Colorado Water Conservation

CitizensGuideToColoradoWaterConservation2016 (1)When the temperature soars up into the 90s, there are many different ways to beat the heat using water. We might shower more often, turn on the sprinklers for the thirsty lawn, or chug ice water, to name a few. However, the increase in water usage during summertime can translate into more water wasted and higher bills. This puts a damper not only on summer fun but on the long-term health of our communities across the state. Thus, it is vital that we increase our water efficiency and conserve as much as possible today, in order to diminish the chances of future shortages. (Don’t stop drinking water though. Stay hydrated!) The new and updated Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation provides balanced and accurate information on water conservation at home, in agriculture, and in industry. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy yet, order it here.

This blog post will review some of the key points from the Efficient Water Use in Homes and Cities portion of the guide. I won’t give too many spoilers though! For the bigger picture, you can check out the guide itself.

Overall, there are many ways to passively and actively conserve water in Colorado homes and landscapes. Passive conservation involves lawmakers, water providers, and others putting larger systems in place, like law-mandated building retrofits that require water-efficient fixtures. These behind-the-scenes water conservation measures result in significant up-front savings of water and money. According to the Conservation Guide, “a 2015 study by Aquacraft estimates that over 40 percent of the water supply gap that municipal and industrial water uses face could be met with the passive replacement of interior retrofits and strict building codes that require use of the most efficient fixtures.” Imagine if that much water could be saved without having to even think about it after construction or retrofits are complete!

Active conservation is more hands-on and requires your participation. It involves activities like getting a water audit for your home and intentionally using less water indoors and outdoors. Some things you can do this summer are:


  • Replace old fixtures including toilets, faucets aerators, and shower heads with WaterSense labeled models. Yes, you can do this without sacrificing your water pressure!
  • Check toilets, faucets, and showers for leaks and repair them right away.
  • Run only full loads of laundry and dishes.

WatersenseLabel (1)

20160626_0489One of the most significant ways to reduce your home’s water footprint is to increase the efficiency of your outdoor irrigation systems. Urban lawn watering and irrigation is the single largest demand on most of Colorado’s municipal water supplies, according to the Conservation Guide. “Outdoor water use accounted for 62 percent of single-family residential use in Denver and 50 percent in Fort Collins, according to a 2016 national study.” Think about it: watering your lawn could be eating up half of the money you put toward your water bill. There are plenty of ways to reduce the water and money you pour into your turf, without sacrificing the beauty of your yard. You can:

  • IrrigationDripper (1)

    Installing drip irrigation reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation and delivers more water directly to your plants.

    Schedule a water audit to help you determine the actual water needs of your yard so you can adjust accordingly. Many people don’t realize that they are over-irrigating their yards.

  • Install a soil moisture sensor so that your sprinklers don’t turn on when it has rained recently.
  • Adjust the range of your sprinklers so that they don’t water the sidewalks.
  • If you are landscaping, try Xeriscaping. Select drought-tolerant plants for your yard, reduce the size of your lawn, and install drip irrigation where possible.

Both passive and active methods of water conservation are necessary if we are going to meet Colorado’s water needs far into the future. This is only a sampling of ways you can do your part to ensure the sustainability of our water supplies. For more resources, tips, and information, check out the Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation.


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Stormwater Education Roadshow

By Donny Roush, Urban Waters Program Director, Earth Force

I contend there’s a sweet spot of overlap between stormwater management and STEM education. How’s that?

Consider these two objectives: “education and outreach” is the first required control measure of a stormwater system and new national education standards contain heightened calls for more hands-on application of science and engineering by students. See that?

kic-net-2Students investigating stormwater, and—with guidance from educators and engineers—devising novel solutions to runoff issues hits both of those targets. The guiding question is “How does water move around our city?”

Stormwater presents a compelling topic for local, relevant and meaningful investigations by students and their teachers. Denver Public Works and Earth Force have spent the last five years reimagining stormwater education. Our revised program rests on these axioms:

  • Stormwater is a resource.
  • Watersheds are infrastructure.
  • Engineering is problem-solving.
  • Youth are stakeholders.

Upon these concepts, we’ve built “Keep It Clean – Neighborhood Environmental Trios,” to facilitate watershed investigations, engage youth in improving urban waterways, and deeply explore root causes of runoff pollution. The program’s acronym is “KIC-NET,” which happens to be a play on words, since a kick-net is a favorite tool of environmental educators, hooking kids by catching critters from creeks (read more about KIC-NET in this blog post).

There’s lots more to share about KIC-NET. Which is why I’m inviting you to participate in one of these workshops.

Thanks to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Educator Network for convening these stops on a statewide roadshow for KIC-NET.

And, if you need a final straw to tilt your IMG_1687decision, we will be bringing a giant one with us to each city, to be placed in a wet and visible location (see photo)….

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Events, Water Education and Resources, Water Quality

Water Quality Control Division Partners Up to Reduce Nutrients Pollution

By Tammy Allen, Restoration and Protection Unit Manager, Water Quality Control Division


Nitrogen being applied to growing corn. Credit: Lynn Betts/Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS

Unlike pollution that comes out of the end of a pipe into a stream or lake, nonpoint source pollution makes its way to Colorado’s waterways as runoff across the land when it rains or snows. As is the case nationally, nonpoint sources of pollution cause the majority of negative impacts seen in Colorado’s streams and lakes. In some cases, these impacts lead to public health risks from pollutants such as pathogens or those that bioaccumulate up the food chain to dangerous levels. Fish and the aquatic communities on which they rely are also impacted which can affect recreation and the state’s tourism economy. Nonpoint source pollution is not regulated in Colorado which makes controlling these sources everyone’s responsibility.

In order to fulfill its mission to protect and restore water quality for public health and the environment, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Water Quality Control Division (WQCD) relies on help from partners to voluntarily address nonpoint sources of pollution that are causing significant water quality impacts. Based on the WQCD’s ongoing evaluation of water quality in the state, the WQCD prioritizes its work with these partners to address nonpoint sources of pollution causing the most statewide impact. To that measure, the WQCD has been working with partners to address pollutants such as metals from legacy mining and selenium from irrigated lands.

There are many nonpoint sources of pollution beyond those tied to metals and selenium, some of which are not addressed in the WQCD’s priorities because water quality standards or other pieces of the regulatory framework upon which the WQCD relies are not yet in place. Nutrients are an example of nonpoint source pollution that have received some attention in Colorado and are now increasing in priority because the WQCD has built a foundation to support the development of statewide nutrient values. This foundation is in Regulation 85, the Nutrients Management Control Regulation.

Nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, are elements that all living organisms need to survive. However, when there is too much phosphorus or nitrogen, negative water quality impacts begin to happen. Excess nutrients can lead to overgrowth of algae, some of which can emit toxins that are harmful to people, pets and aquatic life. These algal blooms also consume large amounts of oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Too much nitrogen in drinking water can be harmful to infants and the chemicals needed to treat nutrient-polluted drinking water can pose risks to public health.

Some of the primary sources of nutrient pollution are fertilizer runoff, animal manure, sewage treatment plant discharges, stormwater runoff, car and power plant emissions, and failing septic tanks. Pollution from agricultural operations is recognized nationwide as a significant source of nutrients that can have a negative impact on the health of watersheds. In Colorado, the current thinking is that agriculture is not as significant a source of nutrient pollution as in other parts of the country. However, in order to address all potential sources of excess nutrients, Regulation 85 encourages the WQCD to proactively collaborate with the agricultural community on voluntary nutrient controls, information and education campaigns about nutrients and monitoring of nutrients to better understand sources and effectiveness of nutrient controls. The WQCD is doing this in partnership with Colorado State University (CSU) through a number of projects.

  1. South Platte Agriculture Nutrients Committee (SPAN): The SPAN, led by CSU, is creating an online library of best management practices for agricultural producers to reduce nutrient pollution to surface waters.
  1. CSU Agriculture Outreach Committee: The WQCD is partnering with CSU to produce outreach materials about Regulation 85 that target agricultural producers. The outreach materials will include brochures, a dedicated website and videos.
  1. CLEAN Center at CSU: The WQCD is participating in CLEAN Center initiatives. The CLEAN Center is a multi-agency collaboration lead by CSU. The mission of the CLEAN Center is to create knowledge, build capacity and forge collaboration to develop and demonstrate sustainable solutions for reduction of nutrient pollution in the nation’s water resources. The Center’s activities are organized around three major themes: understanding the physical system, understanding people and policy and enhancing the capacity for assessment and decision-making.
  1. Soil and Water Analysis Tool (SWAT) Model: The WQCD is working with CSU to produce a statewide nutrient model. The model is based on the SWAT developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Texas A&M University. This nutrient model will help us predict nutrient pollution problems resulting from various different population growth and agricultural production scenarios.

The WQCD’s work with the agricultural community to control nutrients pollution continues to gain momentum and the WQCD is always looking for new partners to help tell the story about the many successes accomplished by working together to address nonpoint sources of pollution.

Tammy Allen is the Restoration and Protection Unit (RPU) Manager in the Water Quality Control Division of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In collaboration with many partners, the RPU team works to control nonpoint source pollution, a significant source of water quality impacts. The team also develops total maximum daily loads which are cleanup plans for waterbodies that are not meeting water quality standards and works on watershed, regional and statewide water quality planning. Tammy has been in the nonpoint source and water quality planning workgroups since joining the division over 7 years ago.  

Learn more of the basics of Colorado water quality through CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection

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