Tag Archives: conservation

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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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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Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: meeting the plan’s conservation goals

 

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

go time bugWhen Gov. John Hickenlooper triumphantly hoisted the final water plan at a mid-November ceremony in Denver, the hundreds of Coloradans who contributed to its formation paused to take a congratulatory breath. Yet even then, questions were swirling about how the voluntary plan would work—how the state’s utilities, businesses, advocacy groups and individual water users would internalize its recommendations and take responsibility for its goals—and whether they would, by the plan’s own measurement of success, be able to close the municipal water supply and demand gap without compromising other values.

Here, we turn those questions on one of the plan’s nine defined measureable outcomes: water conservation.

iStock_000079530373_SmallWater conservation: Stretch now to avoid strain later

The water plan sets an ambitious “stretch” goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water annually by 2050. That level of conservation would go a long way toward closing Colorado’s projected gap between water supply and demand—about 560,000 acre-feet per year in 2050 under a business-as-usual paradigm—and sharply reduce the need for new water supplies procured through controversial measures like new transbasin diversions or the dryup of irrigated agriculture.

Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates, says achieving the goal will mean reducing per-capita water demand by about 1 percent per year between 2010 and 2050, so that each Coloradan’s demand 35 years from now will be 35 percent lower than it is today. “We’ve been achieving that rate of conservation over the last 15 years in Colorado, and water providers have told the state that they plan to continue doing it in the future, so there is lots of evidence that it’s possible,” Beckwith says.

Getting there will require long-term collaboration between state agencies and water utilities and their customers, whether those customers are motivated by their environmental ethos or a hefty water bill. To reach the goal, utilities will have to implement measures outlined in the “high conservation” scenario laid out in the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative report by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the agency that oversaw the water plan’s creation.

That scenario, which CWCB water conservation specialist Kevin Reidy calls “difficult but not impossible” to achieve, involves things like at least half of all utilities introducing individual water budgets for their customers, where water use targets are set and financial penalties imposed for above-average use. Other possibilities: Between 70 and 100 percent of municipalities might adopt conservation-oriented plumbing and building codes, and at least half of the water-hungry turf in the state might be replaced with low water-use plantings.

Much of the responsibility will rest on the shoulders of water providers and customers, but the water plan pledges that the state will also take steps to encourage conservation. One is to make comprehensive water resource planning by utilities a pre-condition of any state support of—or funding for—new water projects, thus requiring utilities to show they’re on track with conservation before receiving state funds. (Although utilities delivering at least 2,000 acre-feet of water per year are already required to submit conservation plans to the CWCB, the new mandate would require they integrate those plans with other aspects of their operations.)

“We believe that we can use incentives to push people in the right direction,” says Jacob Bornstein, CWCB program manager for the basin roundtables and Interbasin Compact Committee.

The water plan also recommends exploring a new state law that would require all outdoor irrigation equipment sold in Colorado to meet federal WaterSense efficiency standards.

Compared to the challenge of achieving the conservation goal, keeping tabs on progress will be relatively easy, thanks to a 2010 state law—House Bill 1051—requiring water providers (those that sell 2,000 acre-feet of water annually) to report their annual water use and conservation data to the CWCB to aid in water supply planning.

“Going forward we’ll have data that we can use to monitor our progress,” says Beckwith. “Also, if individual utilities are doing well with conservation we would expect them to publicize that. Maybe through a combination of record keeping and self-promotion, we will get there.”

 

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Filed under Colorado's Water Plan, Headwaters Magazine, Water Supply

Learning about water and planning for Colorado’s looming water crisis

CFWE's urban waters bike tours help Coloradans understand the connections between urban rivers, water supply and the environment.

CFWE’s urban waters bike tours help Coloradans understand the connections between urban rivers, water supply and the environment.

When an earthquake hits or a wildfire blazes, there’s little doubt that a natural disaster is under way. But a water crisis can creep up slowly over years. Most people won’t even notice the problem until their taps runs dry and water rates skyrocket.

That’s why it’s important to get people involved in Colorado water planning before there’s a big emergency, according to Tom Cech, director of the One World Water Center at Metropolitan State University at Denver.

Last week, Bob Berwyn published this story in the Colorado Independent, with a significant tip of the hat to water education. Read the full piece here. He goes on to write:

Water literacy is crucial to spur involvement in Colorado’s statewide water planning, according to outreach experts with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

To help cut through the haze of jargon and connect people to water issues, the nonprofit is sponsoring summer events including water tours and two free cycling treks along the South Platte River in early June.

The bike tours include short talks about how to make sure there’s enough water in the future for growing cities, thirsty farms and healthy rivers.

“People don’t think about water until it’s not coming out their faucet, but by then, it might be too late in terms of a water plan,” said CU Boulder’s Elizabeth Koebele, a PhD student researching Colorado River water-planning efforts.

Photo courtesy of Havey Productions. Participants of CFWE's Water Efficiency Tour will visit various water reuse and recycling facilities along Colorado's Front Range in June.

Photo courtesy of Havey Productions. Participants of CFWE’s Water Efficiency Tour will visit various water reuse and recycling facilities along Colorado’s Front Range in June.

CFWE is also offering a two-day water efficiency tour (June 11-12), with a detailed look at what Front Range cities and utilities are doing to make sure the taps don’t run dry.

There’s not much appetite (nor extra water) for building giant dams and pipelines to take water from Western Colorado to the Front Range, so the first draft of the water plan focuses on conserving and reusing water.

Such incremental steps, along with increased cooperation among Front Range cities, can go a long way toward averting a Colorado water crisis, according to Cech.

“In the big picture, it’s not all that complicated, but there’s no substitute for seeing something with your own eyes,” said Cech, who will host the first stop of the tour by talking about conservation at the Auraria Campus.

A visit to Denver Water’s recycled-water plant will illustrate some of the challenges of using recycled water, both in terms of cost and public perception. Not everybody is keen on drinking recycled water, said Cech.

“If the pipe goes right from the recycling plant to people’s taps, there’s not a comfort level. But for some reason, if it goes back into nature first and runs down a stream for awhile, people are OK with it,” he said.

Other stops on the tour include a dinner event with a presentation by Ellen Hanak, of the Public Policy Institute of California, on what Colorado can learn from California’s current epic drought.

To get involved in the water planning process, go to the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

For more information about the tours, go to the CFWE website.

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First-Ever Campus Water Conservation Plan at MSU Denver

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

MSU Denver students, along with advice from Denver Water and the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship (OWOW), created the first-ever comprehensive campus water management plan. The plan was the result from the ENV 290B Water Conservation Planning summer course. The students spent 8 hours a day, for two weeks, researching and creating the plan for the new applied-learning course. The final plan was unveiled to Mark Cassalia from Denver Water’s Conservation department, Nona Shipman and Tom Cech from OWOW, and Jon Bortles, the campus Sustainably Director. The plan received rave reviews and will be used to make much needed water conserving changes to the current campus water management plan.

The plan included data and mapping for outdoor water usage, indoor water usage, a drought response plan, a communication strategy, and further ideas on how to reduce potable water usage. The students enjoyed the course and are now Colorado water stewards.

The following two maps and descriptions were included in the students’ plan:

This map, created for the MSU Denver class' final report,.hows the landscape type of all irrigated land on Auraria Campus.

This map shows the landscape type of all irrigated land on Auraria Campus.

The above map shows the landscape type of all irrigated land on Auraria Campus. Each polygon is classified as one of the following: an area under construction, a garden, hardscaped, mixed, no irrigation, shrub, athletic field, turf, tree/ lawn, tree/ shrub or Xeriscape. To fully understand the classification scheme in the above the map, a few landscape types require further clarification. Mixed is defined as one land area that contains a combination of land covers, such as Xeriscape and tree/ lawn. It was defined due to a limitation within ArcGIS in that, each specific polygon could not be given partial or multiple classifications. Tree/ lawn is defined as a generally narrow strip of land, containing both trees and lawns; it is commonly found alongside public roads as it is a required by zoning regulations (which may be subject to change). Similarly, tree/ shrub is a type of land cover that generally exists in a narrow strip. However, rather than lawns, the base of the trees are surrounded by shrubs. Lastly, the term Xeriscape encompasses areas requiring substantially less water: native grass, native/ Xeric plants, mulch and/ or rocks.

This Future Potential Landscape Classification map was created to recommend areas where implementing a more sustainable landscape could benefit the Auraria Campus.

This Future Potential Landscape Classification map was created to recommend areas where implementing a more sustainable landscape could benefit the Auraria Campus.

The purpose of the Future Potential Landscape Classification map is to recommend areas where implementing a more sustainable landscape would be of benefit. Much of the irrigated land should ideally be converted using Xeriscape techniques in order to reduce water use while maintaining a naturally beautiful landscape. In this map, native grass has been listed as a separate category from Xeriscape, to clarify areas that should undergo turf removal, to be specifically replaced with a grass variety that require substantially less water. Two turf areas have been left intact: the turf in front of the Student Success building due to the intricate storm system located underneath it, as well as the turf surrounding the 9th Street Historic District.

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