Category Archives: Water conservation

World Water Day 2017: Why Waste Water?

Today is World Water Day 2017!wold waterday

In 1993, March 22 was designated as World Water Day by the United Nations (U.N.), thus setting aside a day for the world to focus its attention on finding solutions to the world water crisis.

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Photo Credit: Oxfam

Currently, 1.8 billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water, resulting in nearly 1 million annual deaths. Launched in 2015, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to Transform the World include the goal of all people having access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2030.

 

World Water Day is a great day to concentrate on making that goal a reality!

The emphasis of this year’s campaign is wastewater—the water that runs down the drain after washing your hands or out into the street when you water your lawn. Wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture, most often finds its way back into the ecosystem untreated, contributing to pollution, and without being reused, wasting a limited resource.

Wastewater Treatment Stages

           Wastewater Treatment Stages             Photo Credit: Annabel

There are ways to treat and reuse wastewater responsibly and safely in order to return it to the environment. In doing so, water can be stretched to its maximum potential.

Why waste water when it has so much left to give? To learn more about wastewater and its place in the water cycle, check out the  2017 Fact Sheet.

Water DropWorld Water Day is a day to educate ourselves on what we can do today, and throughout the year, to secure our collective water future—making water work for everyone. You can join the global conversation and share your water story using the hashtag #MyWaterStory.

Together, we can make a difference when we protect our most precious resource—WATER!

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Water Challenges for Young Western Farmers

When you hear the word “farmer,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most people have a preconceived notion of what farming looks like, as well as what is involved in the actual practice of farming. While the average age of an American farmer is 58, and farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by a ratio of six-to-one, the next generation of farmers is emerging across the country. Their work is yielding joys and challenges previously not experienced, as young farmers face a future impacted by drought, climate change and increasing municipal demands on water supplies.

This recent crop of innovative young farmers is featured in the newly released short film Conservation Generation, presented by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), an organization that “represents, mobilizes, and engages young farmers to ensure their success.” The four young farmers featured in Conservation Generation are working hard to run successful farms in the arid West, with two of them farming on Colorado’s Western Slope; Harrison Topp of Topp Fruit in Paonia, and Tyler Hoyt of Green Table Farms in Mancos.

One of the major struggles for farmers in this part of the country is the ever-increasing scarcity of water. This challenge requires that farmers find innovative solutions to the water shortages that they face. In blog posts they’ve written for the National Young Farmers Coalition to accompany the video, Topp and Hoyt each explain that picking the right land to farm was a crucial component for ensuring that their farms will have access to water.

“Water needs to be at the forefront of how we operate because it will (hopefully) help to keep us in business,” Hoyt says in the film. Both farms are located close to the headwaters of the rivers and streams that Hoyt and Topp draw from, ensuring that the water used for irrigating their crops is less likely to be contaminated by pollutants than it might be if they were further downstream.

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Tyler Hoyt         Photo Credit: NYFC

The farmers employ irrigation techniques that allow them to conserve and make the best use of the water that they are able to use. For Topp, this involved improving the method for transferring the water they are allowed to take from the Fire Mountain Canal to the orchard.

“We had a beautiful (but totally inefficient) network of hand-dug ditches that delivered water across the orchard,” says Topp, in one of his blog posts about the original irrigation system on his farm. “Stones, dirt, shovels, tarps and metal fragments were used to get the water to flow where I wanted. It could take hours to get the right amount of water kind of close to where I needed it to go.”

According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 50 percent of water used for irrigation is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems. While Topp notes that their new method of irrigation—use of a gated pipe—is not as efficient as he would like, it works well for the orchard, and is an improvement.

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Photo Credit: NYFC

On Green Table Farms, Hoyt employs a host of methods that allow him to make the most of the water that he has access to. “I grow a lot of indigenous crops; those varieties that have been grown out here under dry land conditions for a very long time,” Hoyt explains in the film. “[The use of] drip tape is definitely a huge way that we manage our water so that in those years when we get very little, we can still irrigate.”

The face of farming in the United States is changing. With those changes come new challenges, some of which are the result of  climate change and increasing water scarcity. Young farmers across the country, like those featured in Conservation Generation are optimistic that by working hard, and applying their own creative ingenuity, they can find ways to overcome the issue of water scarcity and keep agriculture alive and growing in the arid West.

Additional information about the Conservation Generation can be found in NYFC’s report, Conservation Generation: How Young Farmers and Ranchers Are Essential to Tackling Water Scarcity in the Arid West; a survey of 379 young farmers in the arid West and recommendations on how their work can best be supported.

If are interested in learning more about managing agriculture and water in Colorado, check out Managing Agriculture and Water Scarcity in Colorado (and Beyond) , a report released by CFWE, in partnership with CoBank, last year.

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Environment, Water conservation, Water Supply

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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The value of landscaping and efficient landscapes

img_5964As Colorado’s colorful foliage turns gold this fall, it’s easy to relish in the mountain beauty, or—for those of us who live in the state’s urban areas—to appreciate the aesthetics of landscaping. But when important discussions about water conservation arise, urban landscapes get a lot of flack, and for good reason. During Colorado’s summers, lawns, trees and gardens consume the majority of water delivered to residences, with many municipal water suppliers citing urban lawn watering and irrigation as the single largest demand on their supplies.

Water efficient landscaping and irrigation technology is crucial to securing our state’s water future, and at the same time urban landscapes are valuable, as Kristen Fefes, executive director of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) writes:

Trees, grass and plants don’t just look good, they have important jobs—enhancing our environment, increasing property values, and improving our health and quality of life. As Colorado braces for future water shortages, it is important to recognize the value of plants in our communities.

Reducing Air Pollution. The leaves of trees and plants remove dust from the air and absorb other pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. An average tree absorbs 26 lbs. of carbon dioxide from the air each year and in turn produces oxygen. Grass provides the same function. One tree or a 2,500‐square foot lawn each release enough oxygen daily to supply a family of four.

Green spaces cleanse our water. When water is allowed to run through landscapes, it typically exits cleaner than when it entered, reduces stormwater runoff, and keeps pollutants out of groundwater. In contrast, impervious surfaces like asphalt and concrete quickly usher water and pollutants into the stormwater system.

Outdoor Air Conditioning. Trees in cities mitigate rising temperatures by shading hot pavement and cutting energy consumption in buildings. The front lawns of eight houses have the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning. As a comparison, the average home has an air conditioner with just a 3- or 4-ton capacity.

A turf grass lawn will be 15 degrees cooler than bare soil and 30 degrees cooler than pavement or rock.

img_5962Landscapes increase property values. Attractive landscapes boost the curb appeal that draws homebuyers, shoppers, and other customers. Businesses with attractive and well‐maintained landscapes enjoy more retail traffic, higher occupancy rates and reduced crime. Landscaping can add as much as 14 percent to the resale value of a building or home and speed up its sale by as much as six weeks.

Landscapes provide health benefits. Locally, home‐grown produce means healthy food on our tables and saves consumers money. Gardens are a source of refuge for many, helping to reduce stress and improve mental health.

Healthy plants reduce the need for chemical intervention to control pests. There is a direct connection between the health of well‐maintained plants, trees and grasses and the judicious use of pesticides and fertilizers. Healthy landscaping that is properly maintained will typically outcompete most weeds, have fewer insect problems and avoid diseases.

CitizensGuideToColoradoWaterConservation2016 (1)To maintain and benefit from our urban landscaping, while also being cognizant of water’s scarcity, outdoor efficiency improvements are among the most important municipal water conservation efforts Coloradans can make.

Interested in water conservation and efficiency? Check out CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation which just came out over the summer for information on efficiency water use in homes and cities, in commerce and industry, and in agriculture. You can order your copy online or order your copies in person next week at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference.

kfefes_staffphoto_nov2013Kristen Fefes joined ALCC’s staff in 1999 as deputy executive director and was named executive director in 2001. In addition to running the business operations of ALCC, she focuses her time on strategy implementation, industry relations, governance issues, leadership development, and national/state government affairs. Prior to her work at with ALCC, Kristen worked at a Washington, D.C. public relations firm where she served as membership and conference staff for two national trade associations, and also worked with a number of agency clients on public affairs and media projects. She also spent a year as public affairs director for the Operation Respond Institute, another D.C.-based not for profit that assists the railroad and first responder communities. Kristen earned her Bachelor’s degree in History and English from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A Denver native, Kristen and her husband Demetri have two sons, Michael and Peter.

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South Denver Metro Shares Lessons on Path to Sustainable Water Future

By Eric Hecox

This month the South Metro Water Supply Authority, with our technical consultants CH2M, released a comprehensive assessment of the South Denver Metro region’s water future.

The study shows we have come a long way from the days of front-page headlines decrying the region as “running dry.” We can now say with confidence that we are on the path to a secure water future. We know where we’re going, and we know how to get there.

The results are summarized in recent newspaper articles (“The Future Looks Bright for Local Water Sources”) and on our website. In short, we have accomplished three major goals:

  • We have made significant progress in transitioning to a renewable water supply that will continue to become more balanced over time. By 2065, renewable water sources will account for 85 percent of our water supply, up significantly from just 12 years ago.
  • We have determined our future needs and what we need to do to meet them. While there is still work to be done, we are on the right path.
  • We have established an ethic of conservation with a 30 percent reduction of per capita water demand over the last 12 years, and a commitment to do even more.

For regions facing their own water challenges, there are lessons to be drawn from our work in the South Denver Metro region.

First is the importance of partnerships. By working together, the 13 water providers that comprise SMWSA have made a much larger impact than they could working in isolation. Partnerships with other regional water entities – including Aurora Water and Denver Water on the WISE Project and other initiatives – have been instrumental to our success. Similarly important are collaborative working relationships with entities such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board, other basins and their roundtables and many others.

Second, none of this is possible without investment. Our progress is a result of a number of significant projects. In addition to WISE, they include the ACWWA/ECCV Northern Project, the Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, and many more.

Lastly, conservation and efficiency play a critical role in our success. By aggressively pursuing conservation strategies and becoming a leader in the state in water reuse, we have put the South Denver Metro region on a path to a sustainable water future.

If you would like to learn more about our efforts to date and plans moving forward, feel free to get in touch by sending me an email at erichecox@southmetrowater.org. M
ore information is available on our website: SouthMetroWater.org.

You can also read more about the WISE Project and other regional collaborative effHW SUMMER coverorts in “Linking Up: The Case for Regionalization” from the summer issue of Headwaters magazine, published by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:  And explore CFWE’s new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation for a comprehensive overview of the most current and effective strategies to improve water efficiency at an individual and community scale.

 

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Eric Hecox is executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority comprised of 13 water provider members that collectively serve about 80 percent of the population of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. SMWSA was established in 2004 to develop and execute a plan to provide a secure and sustainable water future for the region. Eric is also president of the board of directors for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. 

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Rainbarrels and Rainwater Harvesting for Water Conservation and Stormwater Management

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Credit: Donald Albury [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Last month, Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 16-1005 into law, making rainwater harvesting widely legal in Colorado. Thanks to the legislation, precipitation can now be collected from residential rooftops, provided a maximum of two barrels with a combined storage of 110 gallons or less are used; precipitation is collected from a single-family residence or building that houses no more than four families; collected water is used on the residential property where it is collected; and water is used for outdoor purposes. Rainwater harvesting in Colorado has been subject to a lot of hype and the new legislation heralds much excitement, but how much water will it really conserve?

 

“I think it is somewhat much ado about little,” said Peter Mayer during our Connecting the Drops radio call-in show on water conservation. Mayer co-authored a new study Residential End Uses of Water, Volume 2, that’s lush with data on residential water use and conservation. Rainbarrels could save a user 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of water per year if used regularly, Mayer said. Although it sounds like a lot, 1,000 gallons likely costs only about $5 on your water bill, depending on your provider. Read about Denver Water’s recent changes to its rate structure here.

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Peter Mayer in the KGNU studio, discussing water conservation with host Maeve Conran.

But that’s not to say that rainwater harvesting is a bad investment or an unimportant move for the state. “The symbolic value is very good,” Mayer said. “Anything that gets people thinking about how to use water efficiently and how not to waste it is very much a positive thing.” Rainwater harvesting may increase overall water awareness for residential users, leading to an increased conservation ethic.

At the same time, these systems can have a stormwater impact. “I think that the potential benefits from stormwater management may be at least as significant as the water conservation potential,” Mayer said.

People tend to connect downspouts to their gutter systems and direct those straight into their driveways so water washes off roofs, down driveways and streets and into city gutters, collecting pollutants along the way, said April Long, stormwater manager for the City of Aspen. Rainwater harvesting allows that water to be captured and gradually discharged onto lawns and gardens which naturally filter out pollutants, improving overall water quality.

screen_shot_2016-06-16_at_9-24-13_amA rainwater harvesting system under special permit was constructed and operated at the Denver Green School as a research project that began in 2012. From CFWE’s new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation:

The unique system was constructed with stormwater management in mind. With a real-time connection to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather forecast, any stored water drains prior to a storm so that the system’s full capacity is available for rainwater capture. Data collected at the Denver Green School site between 2012 and 2014 show a reduction in the volume of stormwater runoff of 88 percent on average per event. By reducing the volume of stormwater exiting the site, the system reduces pollutant loading in nearby streams as well as erosion in the stream associated with increased stormwater runoff.

The Denver Green School’s project also showed that rainwater harvesting can provide a real reduction in irrigation demand for sites with a large rooftop-to-irrigated-landscape-area ratio. At the school, 81 percent of irrigation water used was rainwater.

Read more about this project and effective conservation measures, regulations, incentives and more in the new Citizen’s Guide.

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Water conservation, Water Education and Resources, Water Legislation, Water Quality, Water Supply