Category Archives: Headwaters Magazine

The Runoff Conundrum

When a summer storm crosses the eastern plains, drowning farmlands in a deluge, more than water ends up flowing into Colorado’s rivers, lakes and streams.

On April 13, 2017, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education was joined by Troy Bauder, with Colorado State University Extension, for a webinar in which part of the discussion centered on nonpoint source pollution. Bauder focuses on working with agricultural producers to reduce nutrient losses on their fields.

Runoff, a nonpoint source, occurs when there is more water than the soil can absorb. Agricultural runoff carries a bit of everything it touches—excess fertilizer, animal waste, soil and more. Water that is not absorbed into the ground moves across the land, picking up whatever it can carry, and drains into surface water and groundwater sources.

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Photo Credit: Lynn Betts

“Ag nutrients—nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)—are absolutely required for productive agriculture,” Bauder says. “Of course, we need good management to prevent the accumulation of too much N and P in our soils and to reduce the potential for movement to surface and ground water.”

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Photo Credit: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

When nitrogen and phosphorus—two nutrients found in agricultural runoff—are deposited in excess in water bodies, it leads to algal blooms, reduced dissolved oxygen content, which is harmful to aquatic plants and animals, and can compromise drinking water supplies.

If rain falls on 30 farms, with 20 of them using fertilizers to supplement nutrients in the soil, and the excess of these nutrients finds its way into the runoff, who is to blame for compromising water quality? Who is responsible for nutrient pollution? Since no one farm can be blamed for the degradation of water quality, agricultural runoff is a challenging nonpoint source pollutant to manage and regulate.

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Photo Credit: USDA

Colorado’s Regulation 85, a nutrient policy passed in 2012, regulates point sources of nitrogen, phosphorous and chlorophyll a in surface water, setting discharge limits and requiring monitoring; however, Regulation 85 currently allows for a voluntary, incentivized, approach for reducing nutrient pollution that originates in nonpoint source pollution.

“We’ve partnered with CDPHE [the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] to produce some resources and an outreach program called Colorado AG Water Quality,” Bauder continues. “The purpose of this outreach effort is to get the word out to growers about how Reg. 85 could potentially affect them.”

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Photo Credit: USDA

Taking ownership of nutrient pollution and implementing best management practices gives agriculture the opportunity to avoid stringent state regulations. In 2022, the current, voluntary, approach will be evaluated to determine if progress has been made with the implementation and adoption of best management practices (BMP) as they relate to nonpoint source pollution, agriculture and water quality. Additional regulations may be considered depending on the results.

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Conservation Tillage Photo Credit: USDA

Reducing nutrient pollution is achieved through the implementation of BMPs, including improvements in fertilizer management, conservation tillage, irrigation, manure handling and soil erosion. The adoption of BMPs by Colorado agricultural producers benefits agriculture, as well as water quality. When implemented successfully, not only will there be a reduction in nutrient pollution, but it will reduce the need for future regulation.

“We want to work with our growers on the agronomic and economic feasibility of these practices to help them understand how they can help their bottom line,” Bauder says.

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Nitrogen Application                              Photo Credit: Bob Nichols

BMP effectiveness depends on what is known as the 4 R’s: Growers need to use the right amount (rate), right placement, right timing and right source. Combined with improved irrigation management, these BMPs improve the efficacy of the nutrients and prevent the potential for movement, which often results in nonpoint source pollution. Irrigation management can include altering the method by which water is delivered with system upgrades, combined with scheduling watering at the right time of day and in the proper amounts to reduce runoff. Ultimately, implementing these BMPs will benefit the grower’s bottom line while simultaneously protecting water sources from being impacted by nutrients.

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Photo Credit: USDA

“It’s definitely important to engage growers early and often in the process,” Bauder concludes. “Not only the growers, but their representatives, commodity groups and the people who advise them.”

While nutrients are certainly necessary for successful and sustainable agriculture, the execution of BMPs will help mitigate nutrient loss and movement, and in turn, reduce nonpoint source pollution due to runoff. Providing incentives, tools and resources to growers is critical to BMP implementation and success, as well as keeping Colorado’s water sources clean and reducing the impact of nutrient pollution.

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Photo Credit: NOAA

Learn more about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water when you listen to the recording of this April 2017 webinar presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Hear about how municipal recreational lakes are monitoring and working to reduce algal blooms, discover how agricultural producers coming together and implementing best practices to minimize nutrient runoff and learn the basics of toxic algal blooms.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverFind further coverage about this topic in the Public Health Issue of Headwaters Magazine.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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A Single Drop

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Photo Credit: Louise Docker

Each year brings warnings of drought and with it, the implementation of water conservation measures. How do climatologists know if a lack of precipitation is a drought indicator or simply part of the earth’s natural cycle?

In a word: Data.

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Pike’s Peak Weather Station      Photo Credit: NOAA

Everything water related, including drought, begins with precipitation. Systematic weather reporting in Colorado began in the 1870s and 1880s, with the first weather reports coming from Pike’s Peak in 1873. In the late 1880s, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation supporting the “Colorado State Weather Service” and in 1890, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took over climate monitoring and reporting. It was also in 1890 that the Cooperative Observers, a group of now more than 8,700 volunteers, began providing observational meteorological data in real time.

Today, precipitation in Colorado is tracked by a statewide network made up of the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Cooperative Observers. Together, they have set the standard for mapping and monitoring precipitation—recording the data that provides a history of precipitation across the state and thus sets a baseline for drought.

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Cooperative Observer Station      Photo Credit: NOAA

Currently, there are 200 to 250 weather stations in Colorado—some have operated continuously since the late 1800s. The longer a station has been compiling data, the better for revealing precipitation patterns and detecting abnormalities, which indicate something more serious. Still, a lack of data points across the state has kept climatologists from having a complete picture of Colorado’s precipitation.

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Photo Credit: Greg Goebel

Early on, data was not representative of mountain precipitation—a large part of Colorado—because gauges were primarily located in valleys, where the majority of people lived. With the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, data gaps were filled in the 1980s when they installed rain gauges in mountain forest clearings. Those mountain gauges improved coverage, but it was another 15 to 20 years before climatologists could establish a record that allowed them to truly understand Colorado’s climate.

With its vast size, it seems nearly impossible for there to be enough technology, information or data points to cover the entire state of Colorado. Tracking precipitation data has always been a time-consuming process. “When I started working here [Colorado Climate Center] in 1977, everything was done by hand,” says Nolan Doesken, Colorado State Climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University (CSU). “Each week, we would receive the precipitation reports from around the state, add up the totals, plot them on a huge map, draw the contour maps and then write up a report.”

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Photo Credit: USDA

Surprisingly, this hands-on approach continued until 2000, when computers were finally used for precipitation mapping. However, the use of technology comes with its own set of issues. “Creating a map by hand was a more intimate process,” Doesken acknowledges. “You were more likely to question outliers in data. With a computer, people are less likely to question the results. They trust the computer.”

Regardless of technological improvements, including the addition of weather satellites, there have always been, and still are, limitations to what technology can achieve. Some areas are difficult to reach for installing rain gauges, others have low populations or populations of people who are not interested in reporting precipitation data—fewer rain gauges means fewer data points from which to gather information.

“Weather satellites only tell part of the story,” says Doesken. “Radar might show that precipitation is falling in a particular area because it is collecting information from 12,000 feet above a field; however, that rain is evaporating before it reaches the ground. We need data from the ground level to see the whole picture.”

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Rain Gauge      Photo Credit: Famartin

The 1997 Fort Collins floods revealed that rain gauges were not showing the variability of rain and snow across the state; the heaviest rainfall leading up to the flood missed all of the official gauges, creating a situation where city officials were unaware of what was coming. This weather event resulted in the creation of The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) in 1998; a way to improve the quality of precipitation data, both locally and internationally.

CoCoRaHS is comprised of a community of volunteers 600px-Community_Collaborative_Rain,_Hail_and_Snow_Network_logo.svgdedicated to monitoring precipitation in their own, literal, backyards. After collecting precipitation data—rain, hail and snow—volunteers send their results to CoCoRaHS. Where there are more volunteers, there are more data points. Increased data points result in comprehensive data. CoCoRaHS volunteers cover gaps where there are no other weather stations and provide ground-level information that cannot be gathered by satellites.

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March 2003 Blizzard, Evergreen        Photo Credit: NOAA

Data collected by CoCoRaHS members during Colorado’s historic March 2003 blizzard proved to be invaluable. “Volunteers did a fantastic job of monitoring precipitation,” Doesken exclaims. “Without their data, we would not have known that there was a hole in the storm, just over Lyons, Colorado. The town was surrounded by areas receiving several feet of snow, while Lyons received only 2 to 3 inches. We never knew what we were missing before!”

As methods for precipitation data collection continued to improve, it became clear that past methods of determining drought were woefully inadequate. In the late 2000s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) came online and a clearer picture of drought emerged.

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Photo Credit: USDA

When the USDA started using NIDIS to determine if certain counties qualified for drought relief, Doesken and his coworkers were forced to acknowledge that their picture of drought was incomplete. “We discovered that our assessments of drought were crude,” Doesken says. “In reality, we probably don’t get drought depiction right. We realized that we needed to be doing a better job of depicting drought on a local level, particularly on the Eastern Plains.”

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Photo Credit: USDA

They discovered that drought is far more locally dependent than they originally thought. For example, in Phillips County—a population of 4,356 and an area of 688 square miles—drought is reliant on something as simple as a farm’s location in the neighborhood. While one farm has plenty of water, the next farm over is experiencing a drought. Without data proving that the farmer is experiencing drought, grants and loans that provide drought relief will not be available to them.

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Photo Credit: Ken Lund

Precipitation across Colorado has been monitored for more than 100 years. The data collected has helped climatologists determine the risk of drought which allows policymakers to plan for the future. While the system is imperfect, weather satellites and radar have improved, and on-the-ground data collection has increased. We are learning where there are breaks in coverage and knowledge, providing the opportunity for further improvements and a better understanding of how precipitation and drought impact our state.

Collecting precipitation data informs the way that we plan for the future. Keep an eye out for the upcoming summer 2017 issue of Headwaters Magazine, which will focus on how water data can impact policy decisions, public safety, water conservation and our own personal behavior.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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A Plan for Our Drinking Water

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Photo Credit: USDA

In 2012, city officials in Flint, Michigan, began to investigate the possibility of saving money by switching water providers. Projecting a savings of $200 million over the course of 25 years, they decided to build their own pipeline to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) instead of continuing to receive water from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). Officials then searched for an additional water source to bridge the gap between the loss of water being provided by DWSD and the completion of their connection to KWA.

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Flint River

They settled on using the Flint River.

On April 25, 2014, Flint—a city where 40 percent of its people live in poverty—began drawing water from the Flint River for public use. Officials did not implement corrosion control treatment at the Flint Water Treatment Plant—a standard practice that prevents supply pipes from leaching lead. Shortly after switching the water supply, residents complained about water quality, but it was not until early 2015 that city tests verified what people had suspected—levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. An independent test done by Virginia Tech found lead levels at 13,000 parts per billion (ppb). The EPA limit for led in drinking water is 15 ppb and water is considered hazardous waste at 5,000 ppb.

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Photo Credit: Ildar Sagdejev

The decisions officials made in Flint brought to light the environmental struggles faced by poor, rural and underserved communities across the nation, forever changing the perception of public drinking water, and prompting people to ask one very pertinent question that they had not previously considered:

How do I know if my drinking water is safe?

550px-environmental_protection_agency_logoOn November 30, 2016, EPA published the results of its six month review of the nation’s drinking water strategy in their report, Drinking Water Action Plan. This plan includes six priority areas, along with recommended actions to improve water quality and health in the United States.

The six priority areas are:

  • Drinking water infrastructure financing and management in low-income, small and environmental justice communities
  • Oversight for the Safe Drinking Water Act
  • Strengthening the protection of water sources
  • Addressing unregulated contaminants
  • Improving overall transparency, public information and risk communication
  • Reducing lead risks
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Photo Credit Steve Johnson

Circle of Blue, an online news source affiliated with the Pacific Institute and founded by journalists and scientists who conduct data analysis and document emerging and recognized crises, states that approximately 27 million Americans are served by public water utilities that are in violation of federal drinking water standards. Millions more draw their drinking water from unregulated, contaminated, household wells. And while 99 percent of Americans have access to an improved water source, underserved communities sometimes receive water from sources that present a health hazard.

These priority areas and actions for improvement would have an impact on Colorado’s rural water supplies, which have seen their own fair share of struggles when it comes to ensuring that the water is safe and free from contaminants. Headwaters magazine article, “The Rural Water Conundrum,” speaks to that exact issue. According to the article, 98 percent of Colorado’s water systems serve communities smaller than 10,000 people. These small communities could benefit from the improved support outlined in EPA’s new action plan.

Implementing change will not only require billions of dollars to be spent in order to update inefficient and outdated infrastructure, but will also call for the cooperation of government officials, water utility services and the public. Currently, the future of the Drinking Water Action Plan is in question, and only as time passes will we know if EPA’s suggestions will take shape in the form of solid action.

Until then, the public will continue to ask: Is my drinking water safe?

hw_fall_2016_final_coverKnowing what is in your water and how policy makers can impact public health is the first step being able to make decisions that will have a positive impact on your personal well-being. Read more about water and its connection to public health in the latest issue of Headwaters magazine, Renewing Trust in the Safety of Public Water.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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What’s in the Water?

 

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Photo Credit: Jonas Bergsten

There is a high likelihood that at some point in your life, you have used a product containing fluoride. Many of us have memories of fluoride treatments at the dentist’s office—either in the form of a goopy gel oozing out of ill-fitting trays or as a liquid rinse. Even as adults, most people brush their teeth twice a day with toothpaste containing fluoride; all in the interest of keeping their teeth in tip-top shape.

But, did you know that there is a good chance that fluoride is also present in your tap water?

Almost all water has naturally-occurring fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral—like Vitamin D or calcium—that is released from rocks into our air, soil and water; however, depending on the source of the water, fluoride is not always present in concentrations that would be optimal for preventing tooth decay. It is also possible for levels of fluoride to be too high, which is why water providers test  fluoride levels in tap water, allowing them to make adjustments based on current levels.

Fluoride research began in 1901, in Colorado Springs. Initial research was conducted by dental school graduate Fredrick McKay, and in 1909, he was joined by dental researcher, Dr. G.V. Black. Upon arriving in Colorado Springs, McKay noticed that Colorado Springs natives had brown-stained teeth. Having never seen this type of tooth stain before, McKay asked Black to join him so that together, they could determine the source of “Colorado Brown Stain.”

What they discovered was a connection between fluoride in water and dental health. In Colorado Springs, the cause of stained teeth in locals turned out to be dental fluorosis, a cosmetic result of excessive fluoride consumption due to high levels of fluoride in the local water.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Ferguson

According to WebMD, dental fluorosis is caused by overexposure to fluoride—sources include water, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc.—during the first eight years of life, when permanent teeth are being formed. Discoloration can range from lacy white markings to yellow or brown stains and may include surface irregularities, including severe pitting. McKay and Black determined that the high levels of fluoride not only caused the staining, but also provided an unusually high resistance to tooth decay.

In 1931, the first fluoride studies were conducted by Dr. H. Trendley Dean. Based on previous research done in the field, he hypothesized that it was possible to have fluoride levels in water that were low enough to be safe for consumption and avoid dental fluorosis, yet high enough to help prevent tooth decay.

In 1945, his hypothesis was put to the test in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the first city in the world to fluoridate its drinking water. Over the course of 15 years, 30,000 school children were monitored for tooth decay. After 11 years, the caries rate (the rate of tooth decay) was down 60 percent. The study results indicated that tooth decay could be preventable.

running-waterDean’s study spurred a national movement to add fluoride to community water systems and more than 70 years later, the majority of the U.S. population is receiving fluoridated water. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, 66.3 percent of the total U.S. population and 74.4 percent of the population receiving water from a community water system were receiving fluoridated water. 74 percent of Colorado residents are receiving fluoridated water, falling in line with the rest of the country.

Many people receive fluoridated water, but wonder if it’s safe to consume. Everyone has the right to know what they are ingesting and how it will impact their health—check on the fluoridation status of the water that you are receiving at My Water’s Fluoride. Learn about  other contaminants that may naturally occur in your water, or additives like fluoride, and how your water provider addresses them by finding your local Consumer Confidence Report on the Colorado Water Quality Control Division’s website here.

Some people are opposed to the addition of fluoride to public drinking water. Opponents of fluoride in drinking water are troubled by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) classification of fluoride as a drug for safety testing purposes. They see the addition of fluoride to water as being for the sole purpose of preventing tooth decay, as opposed to improving water quality, making it a medical treatment that is being imposed on them without consent.Another concern includes the inability of an individual consumer to regulate their fluoride dosage. Opponents worry that someone who drinks more water than someone else may receive a higher dosage of fluoride. In this vein, the dosage in a single glass is the same across the board, regardless of the needs of the person ingesting fluoride.

In 2013, Portland, Oregon voters rejected a ballot proposal to add fluoride to their drinking water, making it the largest U.S. city without fluoride in their water, or plans to add it. Opponents of the measure echo the belief that fluoride as a chemical will ruin the city’s pristine water supply, and that adding fluoride violates an individual’s right to consent to medication. From a USA Today article:

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Photo Credit: The.Rohit

“I don’t want chemicals in my water,” Sarah Lazzaro said after voting Tuesday. “I know that there are really no known health risks with it, but there’s a lot of things we find out later in life really do have health risks.”

During the summer of 2015, both Snowmass, Colorado and Denver Water debated the practice of adding fluoride to their public water systems. Initially, the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District decided to discontinue adding fluoride to their water; however, in October 2015, under public pressure, the board reversed their decision, and will not discontinue the procedure. Denver Water also found themselves at the center of the fluoride debate, and while they have reduced the dosage of fluoride, per the recommendation of the U.S. Public Health Service, they too, continue to add fluoride to the water they provide. Many who disagree with fluoride being added to drinking water stand firm in their position, keeping the conversation flowing between them and those who view it as beneficial.

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends a fluoride concentration of 0.7 mg/L, or 0.7 parts per million (ppm), to maintain the benefits of reducing the risk of tooth decay, while also decreasing the possibility of dental fluorosis. The U.S. Environmental Protection Association regulates fluoride contamination in drinking water with an enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 4 mg/L, or 4 ppm and an unenforceable secondary standard set at 2 mg/L. Other agencies including the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Public Health Association (APHA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other major health organizations in the United States, believe that community water fluoridation, in recommended low quantities, is safe.

Having clean, safe, drinking water is important to the health of individuals and the environment. Knowing what is in your water and how policy maker decisions can affect public health is the first step in making decisions that will have a positive impact on your personal well-being.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverRead more about water and its connection to public health in the latest issue of Headwaters magazine, “Renewing Trust in the Safety of Public Water”.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Sign up here, or visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

 

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2017 New Year’s Resolution: Invest in Water Quality to Invest in Your Health

By Trisha Oeth, Commission Administrator, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Commission
The views represented are those held by the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. 

 

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Credit: Ondrejk, Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again—time for making New Year’s resolutions. Many of our resolutions will involve personal health or investment goals for 2017. But are you tired of setting weight-loss or money-saving goals? This year, consider investing in water quality as an investment in your own and your family’s health.

Safe and readily available water is one of the most vital components of our health. We have already seen our watersheds affected by major floods and wildfires. As climate change occurs and population doubles in Colorado, our waters will come under more pressures. We need to create resilient watersheds that can handle these pressures to avoid catastrophic conditions in our water. Watersheds that support strong ecosystems will produce the ecological diversity integral to our food chain and plants and minerals that someday could be used in medicines.

Water also is fundamental to our mental health. Studies show humans’ mental health improves with time near water. Set a goal this year to stroll on a path along a stream once a week and reflect on the soothing sound of the water. Imagine being connected to the source of our water and where it goes when we flush our toilets, wash our cars and water our lawns. Being connected in this way reminds us about the importance of investing in water, the essence of our existence.

Most of us understand that water is a basic necessity in our lives. We all want clean and safe water in our taps and in our streams. And yet, do any of us know how much we are paying our local utilities to ensure protection of this resource? When was the last time we readily and voluntarily agreed to increase our investment? None of us like increasing costs, but an increase in our water utility bill is not just a rate increase. It’s a proactive step to invest in our health. We know our water and wastewater infrastructure is aging. Reports show if we don’t start investing now, by 2040 we will have a $152 billion funding gap for needed infrastructure. This year, consider changing that trend and instead stand behind your utility when it proposes a rate increase.

The challenges that utilities face are immense. Utilities can use increased funds to protect our water at its source, replace aging pipes that deliver water to our homes, and upgrade treatment processes to keep up with current science and technology. Imagine if we all took the money we might routinely spend on two sugary beverages a month and instead invested it in water quality. Imagine if businesses that provide charitable donations or hold fundraisers directed that money to water quality. Imagine the possible replacement of lead-laden pipes and the removal of arsenic and other metals. Imagine algae-free streams and rivers available for swimming and fishing. Check in with your local utility or watershed group to see what work needs to be done in your area. Maybe it’s aging pipes, stream bank restoration or an upgrade to a water treatment plant. Then ask how you can get involved.

As you are reflecting on the past year and embarking on another, ask yourself how much it is worth to turn on your tap at home and know the water will be good for your health. This New Year, how much are you willing to invest in your and your family’s health?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATrisha Oeth is the Administrator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. In that role she provides policy advice and analysis regarding rules, regulations, and policy priorities on all aspects of water quality programs in Colorado. She began working on water quality issues after graduating from CU Law School, and practiced law in the private and public sector. In her free time Trisha enjoys trail running, cooking with her husband and daughters, and learning piano.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverRead more about water and public health in the new issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine available here.

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Valuing Water

When we don’t witness water treatment plants in action, infrastructure being maintained and the sale and trade of water rights, it can be easy to forget that the cost of water involves more than our personal usage wrapped up neatly in a monthly bill. In reality, what we pay each month may not appropriately reflect the true cost of water. As Colorado’s population grows, the demand on already limited water resources will rise and the cost of water will likely increase—with higher totals often transferred to your water bill.

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Colorado Springs  Credit: Jasen Miller

Beginning Jan. 1, water rates will increase in some towns and cities around the state ̶ including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver and Louisville. Depending on where you live, and how your water bill is broken down, utilities may use those monies for standard water treatment and delivery costs, conservation and education programming, infrastructure construction and maintenance, upgraded treatment systems, or even securing new water supplies. Read more about why Denver Water bills are increasing in this new post on Mile High Water Talk.

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Charles Howe. Credit: Maeve Conran

“As water becomes increasingly scarce, prices are going to go up,” says Charles Howe  professor emeritus in the Department of Economics, Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Howe joined KGNU’s Maeve Conran for an interview to discuss economics and the value of water on Connecting the Drops, our collaborative radio series between CFWE and Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations.

“Any new [water] use is going to face increasing prices,” Howe says. This is seen in the trade of water rights and reflected in users’ water rates. For water providers and town councils setting rates, the need to stretch scarce water supplies among multiple users and valuable uses increases the necessity of efficient water use and higher levels of conservation. Rates can be an effective tool for encouraging water conservation.

“It is very well established that users are sensitive to water prices. We know that as prices go up, users of every class do reduce use,” Howe says. “They gauge their usage of water so that they are not dumping costly water onto low value uses.”

How can rates encourage conservation? Conservation water rates send a price signal to customers to conserve—a variety of rate structures can accomplish this or can be mixed and combined. Many municipalities including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Durango, Fort Collins, Grand Junction, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Walsenburg and Westminster use some form of tiered or increasing rate structure. In a tiered or increasing rate structure system, cost to the user increases in steps and is dependent on the amount of water used. Lower pricing steps exist because low-income customers and small households cannot afford to pay high prices for essential water usage. As use increases, price increases per thousand gallons of water used. Very high volume users—whether households, industry, or businesses—are charged the highest prices because their demand determines the peak capacity of the system.

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Denver Water  Credit: Jeffrey Beall

In Denver, the pricing structure moved from a four tier to a three tier system in which anything beyond “essential” use sees a significant increase in price. This, Howe notes, is a mechanism for encouraging conservation. Although prices are on the rise, Howe is of the mindset that municipalities are not charging enough to urban users. An increase of $25-30 per month would better reflect the value of the raw water that is being treated and distributed to the average urban customer, he says. Howe suggests that attention should also be focused on large-volume users in the commercial sector. They can be motivated to conserve water through increased pricing, therefore placing an appropriate value on the amount of water that they are actually using, he says.

hw_summer_coverwebListen to the full interview here and read more about the economics of water in the Summer 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine “Accounting for Water.” Check out the following articles for more information on the value of our most precious resource: A Price for the Priceless and Paying for What’s Ahead.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Sign up here, or visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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Interested in water conservation and efficiency? Order your copy of CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation for information on efficiency water use in homes and cities, in commerce and industry, and in agriculture.

 

 

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Expanding the Role of Reclaimed Water

One of the main resources needed by any garden, including Denver Urban Gardens‘ (DUG) community gardens, is water. Since 1985, DUG has been working in the Denver Metro area to create sustainable, food-producing community gardens, and today operates more than 155 gardens, with 30 of those located on the grounds of Denver Public Schools (DPS).

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Photo Credit: Denver Urban Gardens

“School community gardens connect students, parents, teachers and the larger neighborhood community,” says Shannon Spurlock, director of public affairs and policy for DUG. “Our goal is to support the farm to school movement that introduces students to fresh, healthy, food choices that will lead them to make good food choices in the future.”

In the interest of sustainability, DPS has a long-term goal of switching all of their outdoor irrigation systems over to reclaimed water; however, an increase in the use of reclaimed water for irrigation could cause the number of school gardens to dwindle.

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Photo Credit: Denver Urban Gardens

Spurlock continues, “When a school’s irrigation system switches to reclaimed water, the school can no longer run a garden.” This limitation is due to Regulation 84, a public health policy that controls the ways that reclaimed water can be used, in order to protect public health and safety in Colorado. One of the ordinances that make up Regulation 84 states that reclaimed water cannot be used on crops meant for human consumption, which includes the school gardens run by DUG.

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Reclaimed Water

In Colorado, nonpotable reuse water—or reclaimed domestic wastewater that has received secondary treatment by wastewater treatment works, as well as additional treatment needed to meet standards for approved uses—is restricted to landscaping irrigation and some commercial and industrial uses. Key issues that concern the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) include the potential for bacterial and viral pathogen growth in storage and distribution systems, the development of antibiotic resistant genes and bacteria (ARG/ARB) that may be found in reclaimed water and having no clear treatment options, and the accumulation of salt due to reuse

DUG, Denver Water and WateReuse Colorado have been active proponents of amending Regulation 84 in favor of crop irrigation, as a way to make further use of a nonrenewable resource and extend the Denver Metro area water supply. DUG views the successful use of reclaimed water in other states, such as California, as an opportunity to safely increase the role of reclaimed water to agricultural irrigation, including community gardens.

“The use of reclaimed water on crops is not new,” Spurlock says. “We are benefiting from the technology and knowledge of others when it comes to food safety and security.”

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Reclaimed Water Greenhouse              Photo Credit: USDA

In California, crops have been irrigated with reclaimed water for 50 years. California Water Recycling Criteria allows for 43 specific uses of reclaimed water and encompasses the irrigation of all types of food crops, including those meant for human consumption. Different water quality requirements are necessary depending on how the final product will be consumed. Having a variety of treatment options supports water safety and reduces the potential for pathogens and ARG/ARB to be found in the water.

The California Ag Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI) addresses the issue of increased salt in reclaimed water, stressing the importance of farmers having access to water quality data that will allow them to adjust fertilization and irrigation practices accordingly for the most effective use of reclaimed water on crops.

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Photo Credit: USDA

California’s success using reclaimed water for irrigation gives DUG cause to be hopeful about the future of expanded reclaimed water use in Colorado. Discussions between CDPHE and proponents of increased reclaimed water usage began in spring 2016 and are slated to continue to determine whether or not the amendment process will continue, and to ensure that public health protection remains a priority if Regulation 84 is amended.

By 2050, Colorado’s population is projected to surge from 5.4 million to 10 million people. This rate of growth places a strain on the state’s already stressed water supply, widening the gap between supply and demand, and leaving water providers searching for ways to stretch a limited resource. One possible way to meet the ever-increasing demand for water is through the use of reclaimed water, and should Regulation 84 be amended in the future, its effect may stretch beyond watering a neighborhood garden.

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Photo Courtesy of Denver Urban Gardens

“Food connects our students to the land, our urban areas to rural farming, and gives everyone an opportunity to experience fresher, healthier, food that they might not experience, otherwise,” Spurlock says. “Families take what they learn in a school garden and start gardens in their own home. I have seen how growing food can have a positive influence on lives, and by amending Regulation 84 and incorporating reclaimed water into our daily lives, we can continue to have an impact.”

Watch for related coverage, including a story about water reuse and public health, in the upcoming issue of Headwaters magazine, focused on public health and water, which will hit mailboxes in early December. Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org in December for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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Filed under Agriculture, Colorado's Water Plan, Headwaters Magazine, Water conservation, Water Quality