Tag Archives: drought

A Single Drop


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.

Pike's Peak Weather Station

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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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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Filed under Climate and Drought, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Data, Environment, Headwaters Magazine

Call it a compact: Why examining the limits of Colorado River sharing is key to a successful state water plan


The declining water level of Lake Powell, shown in April 2014, is evidenced by the white bathtub ring on rock walls that were once underwater. Photo by Mike Jones

By Greg Trainor

As Colorado’s Water Plan moves forward through a year of revisions, there remains in the background a larger, most-worrisome issue of diminishing supply across the wider Colorado River Basin. This is evident from the dropping water levels of lakes Powell and Mead during the last 13 years. In 2014, these two major water storage reservoirs for the arid West reached all-time lows.

Colorado’s Water Plan is partially made up of eight individual river basin plans that hope to settle water supply allocations among themselves for various uses. However, like the interstate compacts that govern the use of Colorado’s rivers crossing state lines (there are nine such compacts between Colorado and adjacent states), the Colorado River Compact, on a larger, river-basin scale, already divided the waters of the Colorado River in 1922 among seven states that share the Colorado River Basin, and, in doing so, set the limits of water usage that those states have to live with in times of drought and short supply.

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 is an agreement among the states whose boundaries lie within the Colorado River Basin in the western United States. The idea for the compact was to insure water would be available for states experiencing slow economic growth even as other states were experiencing strong economic development. The water of the Colorado River, less a portion of water for Mexico, was divided in half—half going to the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and parts of Arizona, and half to the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divides the flows of the Colorado River Basin between the four upper and three lower basin states.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divides the flows of the Colorado River Basin between the four upper and three lower basin states. The upper basin can not cause the annual flow measured at Lee Ferry, Ariz., to fall below 7.5 million acre-feet or 75 million acre-feet over a 10-year running average. 

Failure of the upper basin states to maintain the required volume of water to the lower basin could result in the lower basin states “calling” for their half of the water, with the upper basin being required to temporarily forego diversions. The volume required to reach the midpoint between the upper and lower basins at Lee Ferry, Arizona, is 7,500,000 acre-feet per year or 75,000,000 acre-feet over a 10-year rolling average.

To be more specific about the magnitude of the threat of little water, Colorado depletes about 2.5 million acre-feet annually from the Colorado River system, which equates to just under half the water used across the entire state. Of this amount, 1.1 million acre-feet is pre-1922 Compact water, while 1.4 million acre-feet, or 56 percent, is post-1922 Compact water. Post-1922 water would be the portion of Colorado’s water usage that would be most vulnerable in the event of a “call.” Ceasing those diversions would amount to a large reduction in use, not only on Colorado’s West Slope, but also along its Front Range, as water for transmountain diversions moving from west to east of the Continental Divide make up 43 percent of those post-1922 depletions.

It is certain that suspension of use would be mitigated or avoided if at all possible. However, long-term avoidance would have to be predicated on a rising supply and measurable reduction in demand across the entire upper Colorado River Basin, providing evidence that shortages would not be permanent.

In years of drought, the Compact minimum flow obligation poses a problem. A diminishing supply would have to be shared among not only upper basin users but also the lower basin users making the “call.” To thwart the contingency of the upper basin states having to cease or seriously curtail their water use, Lake Powell was constructed to store water in years of abundance and, then, in times of want, to supplement the 75,000,000 acre-foot requirement.

In the late 1990s, Colorado Basin water planners discussed the issue of how water surpluses could be shared and allocated. Then came the drought of 2002, and discussions changed focus to shortages. In 2005, the Secretary of the Interior directed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to develop additional strategies for improving coordinated management of the reservoirs of the Colorado River system. In response, Reclamation initiated a process to develop operational guidelines that can be used to address the operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead during drought and low reservoir conditions.

Signed by the Secretary of the Interior and representatives of the seven basin states, the agreements were designated as “Interim Operational Guidelines” and included water level targets in lakes Mead and Powell to insure that various activities could continue unabated, such as the production of hydroelectric power. The parties recognized that as time marched on, the guidelines and their underlying hydrologic assumptions would have to be re-examined to account for changing climate, supply and demand conditions, and shortages.


Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam, is a major storage supply on the Colorado River for the lower basin states. Shown in Feb. 2014, it was on its way toward reaching a historically low water level.

Simple observation of water levels in lakes Powell and Mead show us that lake levels are not “filling or spilling” but continue to drop. A conclusion? Current supply to the lower basin, and therefore the upper basin, is at risk. To date, the winter of 2014-2015 has produced snowpack at below-average levels. Additionally, as one attempts to look into the future by using past evidentiary data (paleohydrology), the conclusion is that future water supplies could be at risk as well. The evidence shows that it was common for drought to extend for decades.

Further complications arise. Colorado’s Water Plan is being developed today, in 2015. Review and modification of the Interim Operational Guidelines for Powell and Mead, affecting the Compact, are targeted for 2026-2030, 11 years hence. So how does one plan the wedding when the guest list isn’t drawn up until right before the ceremony? Or said another way, the review of the guidelines will include discussion of how to handle shortages of water, water that Colorado’s Water Plan may have already divided up. Envision the state policy makers and the guideline negotiators with their fingers in the same pie, each at their own party.

Ironically, the lower Colorado River Basin is the most vexing part of Colorado’s state water plan. Discussion of Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and its conceptual criteria for the development of additional transmountain diversions from the state’s wetter West Slope to its urbanized East Slope addresses the Colorado River Compact in this way: “continued conversations and negotiations among the Basin States…are sensitive “ and “Colorado does not want to pre-judge the outcome of these discussions.” The developers of Colorado’s Water Plan know there could be sensitive interbasin outcomes in 2026 that are at cross purposes to the state water plan of 2015. The solution for now, it seems, is to kick the can down the road and hope that things “work out”—more water, less demand.

At least one basin roundtable has recognized the problem and is wrestling with the numbers, many numbers. This is a good sign that others are working on the problem. The 1922 Compact is not the only constraint on the Colorado River System. There are others that could restrict Colorado’s water usage. For example, how does Colorado measure up against the state’s percentage allocated in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948, which divides the upper basin’s share between the four upper basin states? How does Colorado reconcile the Bureau of Reclamation’s determination of a 6-million acre-foot limit for the upper basin (compared with what was once assumed to be 7.5 million acre-feet)? What about depletion caps for recovery of endangered fish?

If we believe the data that reveals a future gap in Colorado’s municipal water supply of up to 538,000 acre-feet, should we not be including in Colorado’s Water Plan the most aggressive solutions to closing the gap? These could include the talked-about “insurance policy” to avoid the risk of Lake Powell dropping below minimum levels that would trigger a “call,” moving up re-negotiations of the Interim Operational Guidelines to gain more clarity of future requirements, serious discussion of importation of Mississippi River Basin water from beyond the state, desalination for fulfilling the U.S. Colorado River water obligation to Mexico, and land use mandates to decrease domestic water consumption to a certain maximum gallons per capita per day. Even legislative integration of a water component in local land use planning and development codes ought not to be dismissed as we look for solutions.

Until we see Powell and Mead water levels increase, the success of Colorado’s Water Plan rests on reduced demand. Decisive action is needed to solidify this policy. Increasing supply only works when climate favors us and water is available. Decreasing demand works both ways. In times of increased supply, decreased demand is a dividend and maintains water in storage. The rest of the time, decreased demand is the only way of staying within our ever-decreasing water supply.

City ID Photos

Greg Trainor retired as the public works/utility director for the City of Grand Junction in March 2014. He was actively engaged in many water issues relative to his work: utility construction, endangered species, parks and trail development, storm water and sanitary sewage discharges, use of compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel for public works vehicles, water rights development, kayak park development, and active engagement in Colorado’s State Water Plan (2015). Greg has also been a member of the River Management Society for 15 years. He is the vice-president of the SW Chapter and has edited and authored submissions for the RMS Journal, organized and participated in the RMS Ranger Rendezvous, planned Chapter floats, and volunteered for the BLM in Desolation Canyon during the 2013 and 2014 river seasons. Greg served as town manager of the Town of Rangely in the late 1970s, worked on the development plans for the Battlement Mesa New Town with ARCO Coal Company’s community development group, and was project manager with the Colorado River Water Conservation District for the Taylor Draw Dam and Hydroelectric Plant, located on the White River in western Rio Blanco County.

waterplancoverwebCheck out the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s newest issue of Headwaters magazine, covering the development of Colorado’s Water Plan, a roadmap for managing the state’s limited water resources in the face of drought, climate change and rapid population growth. And read up on the Colorado River Compact and the state’s other water-sharing agreements in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Interstate Compacts.

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

Colorado’s vulnerability and preparation for climate change

U.S. drought monitor from February 10, 2015 shows an increasingly dry Colorado.

Colorado’s record-breaking warm temperatures along with massive snow dumps on the East Coast, drought in California and the Pacific Northwest’s Pineapple Express rains have people across the country focusing on climate.  Globally, negotiators are working on a draft deal at the U.N. climate talks in Geneva to address climate change right now.

And here in Colorado a new report “The Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study” was just published, analyzing the challenges that state residents and leaders face as climate change continues to expose Colorado to various vulnerabilities.

The report looks at many state sectors individually and among other findings, a press release on the report points to the following:

  • Water: The state’s reservoirs can provide some buffering against some expected increases in water demand and decreases in flow, but entities with junior rights or little storage are especially vulnerable to future low flows.

  • Agriculture: Rising temperatures, heat waves and droughts can reduce crop yield and slow cattle weight gain. Colorado farmers and ranchers are already accustomed to large natural swings in weather and climate, but may find it especially challenging to deal with expected changes in water resources.

  • Recreation: Climate projections show that Colorado’s springtime mountain snowpack will likely decline by 2050, with potential impacts on late-season skiing. Spring runoff season may also be earlier and shorter, which could affect rafting. But the recreation industry and some Colorado communities are already making changes that could help them adapt to a warmer future. For example, Telluride ski area now markets itself as Telluride Ski & Golf.


Find the draft water plan at http://coloradowaterplan.com/ to read through and submit your input

Although Colorado is vulnerable to a changing climate in more ways than those listed, the state has been preparing for an uncertain future through various long-term planning undertakings. That planning includes the development of Colorado’s Water Plan, currently in draft form, to be completed in December 2015.  The water plan prepares the state for varying degrees of probable climate change, citing water supply availability as one of the primary drivers that decide how much water Colorado will need for the future. From the plan:

Water Supply Availability may similarly trend “lower” or “higher” depending on climate change, watershed hydrology, legal constraints associated with Colorado’s interstate compacts, water law, and environmental regulations. Water Supply Availability will also be assessed as trending lower or higher over time as compared to earlier versions of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative.

Learn more about climate at CFWE’s Climate and Colorado’s Water Future workshop March 13, 2015

On March 13, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s annual Climate and Colorado’s Water Future Workshop will take a look at climate in Colorado, global climate data tracked through ice core samples, future risks to Colorado’s watersheds, and water supply planning in the face of climate change. Participants will also hear about and receive access to tools to better teach and communicate about climate. Register for the workshop to learn more about climate in Colorado.

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Talking about drought: drought management and policy webinars with the Western Governors’ Association

Western drought is in the news and Coloradans are well versed after 2002 and 2012. But it isn’t behind us, the state is always readying itself for future water shortage. The Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan prepares us for drought while the Water Availability Task Force monitors conditions on a monthly basis. Regionally, many Coloradans have shared their perspectives on how to respond to drought during a series of Drought Forum workshops coordinated by the Western Governors’ Association over the past six months, including emphasis on ways that drought response differed in 2012 compared to 2002.  From the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Denver Water, and from Badger Creek Dairy in Northern Colorado and Xcel Energy, Coloradans have played a significant role in the Drought Forum discussion. Now, through educational public webinars, there’s a new opportunity to get involved in regional drought preparedness.

By Carlee Brown, Policy Advisor, WGA

With drought conditions plaguing California, Nevada and other states – and with the widespread drought of 2012 that dramatically affected Colorado and 16 other western states still in mind – drought management and response is taking center stage across the West.

California Governor Sandoval created the WGA Drought Forum

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval created the WGA Drought Forum for regional best practice sharing on drought.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, chairman of the Western Governors’ Association, created the Western Governors’ Drought Forum as a framework for states, communities and industry to share best practices on drought policy, preparedness and management.

Now, WGA is opening the discussion to a broad audience through the Western Governors’ Drought Forum Webinar Series, which will offer five in-depth discussions on drought management and policy topics. Each of the webinars will include a 40-minute panel discussion by three expert panelists followed by a 20-minute opportunity for questions and discussion for all attendees. Webinars will be recorded and made available online.

The webinar series is free, but pre-registration is required so sign up now!

WGA will issue a final report in June of 2015 summarizing the key findings of the Western Governors’ Drought Forum.  By attending the webinar series, participants will get a preview of the central policy issues identified through the Drought Forum.

Read more through the following CFWE resources:

508-JHO_6092Carlee Brown is a policy advisor for the Western Governors’ Association.  Carlee’s work focuses on drought and water regulatory issues that uniquely impact the West. She graduated from Stanford University with a BA in American Studies and a MS in Earth Systems, both with a concentration on agricultural policy.


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NOW ON FILM: National Young Farmers Coalition focuses on building resilience, one farm at a time

Crucial to the success of Colorado’s Water Plan—released in draft form in December—will be our ability to use limited water resources more efficiently. Recently the Your Water Colorado Blog looked at municipal water conservation achievements, and now we turn to agriculture—the state’s largest water user—to explore how ag producers are shoring up to face scarcity now and into the future. Kate Greenberg of National Young Farmers Coalition guest blogs on their new film “RESILIENT,” and the water efficiency benefits gained when farms and ranchers focus on soil health.


By Kate Greenberg

No one needs telling that water in the West is scarce: We breathe it everyday, the dry air so thin it cracks under the hot alpine sun. But as new pressures come down on our water—from population growth to climate variability and extended drought—what we need are more stories that share solutions. What are real people doing to turn scarcity into abundance?

The "RESILIENT" film premiered Oct. 27, 2014, at Powerhouse Science Center in Durango, Colo.

The “RESILIENT” film premiered Oct. 27, 2014, at Powerhouse Science Center in Durango, Colo.

A new short film recently released by the National Young Farmers Coalition sets out to tell such stories. The film, “RESILIENT: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West,” uses animation to illustrate the context of the Colorado River Basin. It then zooms in on farmers and ranchers across western Colorado who are saving water while enhancing productivity by refocusing on soil health and investing in stewardship practices. This requires a slight shift in mindset, from, as farmer Brendon Rockey puts it, focusing solely on yield (quantity) to focusing on the health of the land that grows the food (quality)—which usually brings the quantity along with it.

Among those interviewed in the film: Brendon Rockey, a third-generation potato grower in the San Luis Valley who saves water by rotating cover crops through his crop circles; Cynthia Houseweart, owner of Princess Beef in Hotchkiss who hasn’t tilled her fields in 20 years, keeping intact the microbes, nutrients, water and carbon that thrive in healthy soil; and Randy Meaker, a wheat and corn grower in Montrose who is integrating smart technology with soil health management and efficient irrigation. These farmers and ranchers integrate practices that uphold multiple values on their operations. They do it not only for the health and resilience of their farms today, but for the decades to come.

Farmers inspect dairy pasture at James Ranch in Durango, Colo.

Farmers inspect dairy pasture at James Ranch in Durango, Colo.

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) was founded in 2010 to ensure the success of the next generation of farmers. Since then, NYFC has grown to a network of more than 50,000 farmers, ranchers and supportive consumers and over 24 farmer-led chapters nationwide. NYFC has successfully advocated for Farm Bill funding for beginning farmers; collaborated with the USDA Farm Service Agency to start a microloan program; trained land trusts nationwide to protect working farmland; and recently launched a new campaign to add farmers to the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program. In addition, in the West we are elevating water stewardship that ensures young farmers will have the resources they need—and the incentives to be good stewards of those resources—well into the future. The film “RESILIENT” is one more means toward that end.

As more and more people move to western cities, the gap between our water supply and demand multiplies. Many cities and states are taking action to bridge that gap: Colorado is writing a state water plan; Las Vegas finished drilling a new intake pipe under Lake Mead; and Arizona farmers are voluntarily forgoing portions of their irrigation rights to help boost Colorado River storage upstream.

Most troubling is that many cities are looking to farmers to fill the gap. While agriculture is the largest water consumer in the West—and in the Colorado River system in particular—it is also an industry comprising some of our best land and water stewards. The more we drain the land of its water, the more people we lose who are most closely connected to it. And the fewer opportunities young western farmers will have to grow food and make a living off the land.

Young farmers visit Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch in Towaoc, Colo.

Young farmers visit Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch in Towaoc, Colo.

Young people across the country are striving to enter careers in farming. But the challenges they face are immense. According to the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census, the average age of the American farmer is now 58. With less than 6 percent of farmers under the age of 35, young people are not getting into agriculture fast enough to fill the gap older farmers will leave when they retire. Nearly 400 million acres of working lands are expected to change hands in the next couple of decades. Who will take on stewardship of that land if we are at risk of losing a generation of farmers? Who will produce our food? And if we continue pumping water off the land, with what water will we grow it?

We need farmers, ranchers and supportive consumers to band together and demand better ways to grow our food and manage our land and water, ways that support young people entering the field. Consumers have a huge role to play, first and foremost through conservation. Conserving water not only supports the environment, it helps keep farmers and ranchers on the land and Colorado mainstays like Palisade peaches rolling through our groceries and markets. Water connects us all, and we must all step up to steward it wisely.

Our farms and farmers, our conscious consumers, our ability to turn scarcity into abundance—and to do so together—this is our resilience.

“RESILIENT” runs at 10 minutes, 14 seconds. It was produced in partnership with the Lexicon of Sustainability and is a tool to spark discussion. The National Young Farmers Coalition encourages anyone to host a screening, either as its own event or paired with an existing event. If interested, please fill out this webform or email kate@youngfarmers.org. To find out more about NYFC or to get involved email kate@youngfarmers.org or visit youngfarmers.org.

Greenberg Farm2-2

Kate Greenberg travels the West organizing networks of young farmers and ranchers as Western Organizer for the National Young Farmers Coalition. She also advocates for supportive policy and promotes land and water stewardship at the local and landscape scales. Her writing can be found in such works as Edible Santa Fe, and she recently helped publish the short film on water conservation titled “RESILIENT: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West.” Kate sits on the board of directors of the Quivira Coalition and lives in Durango, Colorado.

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7 Reasons Water-Lovers Should Visit the “Living West” Exhibit at History Colorado

Colorado’s challenging environment has shaped the state’s history and its people, and perhaps the greatest shaping factor has been water.  Water has largely determined where people lived and how they survived, and water continues to challenge Coloradans today.  The Living West exhibit at History Colorado invites visitors to explore three water-related chapters of Colorado’s history:  Mesa Verde, the Dust Bowl, and Colorado’s Mountains. Water abundance and shortages shape all three episodes. The residents of Mesa Verde harnessed water for crops and livestock, only to experience severe drought; drought, fragile soil, volatile prices, and debt devastated many Baca County farms in the 1930s; and today we see many environmental changes in the mountains while we struggle to provide enough water for all.

Lovers of water and Colorado’s history (and present and future) will find a lot to enjoy in this exhibit. Here are seven things you won’t want to miss:

1.  Measure your water footprint against an ancestral Pueblo person’s:  Determine how much water you use each morning as you shower, brush your teeth, and eat your breakfast. Then pump water into a tube that compares the number of gallons you use to the average daily amount used by an ancestral Pueblo person.

How much water do you use in a morning? Photo credit:  History Colorado

How much water do you use in a morning?
Photo credit: History Colorado

2.  Distribute water between the West Slope and East Slope:  It’s a problem that challenges all water managers. How can we satisfy the water needs of all Colorado? Try your hand at water allocation in this interactive exhibit. Can you divert water from the Big River into a western reservoir, pump it under the mountains to Pine Lake Dam, and meet the water needs of Thirsty Town, Parched City, and Dusty Acre Farms without leaving Big City and Dry Throat Ranch high and dry? Red and green lights above each will indicate your success.


Can you meet the water needs of the East and West Slopes?
Photo credit: History Colorado

3.  Challenge your friends to a knowledge showdown:  Face off against two of your friends in the Summit Challenge. Answer questions about Colorado Wildlife, Conservation Choices, and Mountains Past, Present, and Future.

4.  Lift a pot with a day’s ration of water for a Mesa Verde resident:  The people of Mesa Verde had to haul all water for their daily use. Try to lift this twenty-five pound pot (the combined weight of the pot itself and 2.5 gallons of water) – then step back and give thanks for the ease and convenience of tap water!

Could you haul water at Mesa Verde? Photo credit:  History Colorado

Could you haul water at Mesa Verde?
Photo credit: History Colorado

5.  Experience a dust storm in a Colorado cabin:  Shelter in a cabin while experiencing the sights, sounds, and impacts of a Dust Bowl storm. Then step outside and determine your family’s fate.

6.  Calculate how much water is in snowpack:   Ice crystals take up more space than liquid water, but deep snowpack compresses the snow at the bottom. So how much water is in two feet versus six feet of snow? Turn the crank and find out!

7.  Share Your Stories:  Do you have an opinion on water management for the future? Do you have a story from last year’s floods? Share your thoughts in spots throughout the exhibit.

Not reason enough to go? You can also examine exquisite Mesa Verde pottery, twist your own cordage, paint a pottery design, date tree rings, discover the effects of beetle-kill, and consider the survival options for farmers in the Dust Bowl.

And don’t forget – attendees of CFWE’s President’s Award on May 2nd can tour the exhibit during the first hour of the reception.  Register now and join your fellow water enthusiasts!

Have you visited the Living West exhibit?  What did you think?

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From Drought to Deluge– Register now for the DARCA Convention February 26-28

The 12th Annual Convention of the Ditch & Reservoir Company Alliance (DARCA) will be held February 26-28, 2014, at the Plaza Event Center in Longmont, Colorado. There is still time to register!

Thirty speakers are scheduled for DARCA’s Annual Convention, From Drought to Deluge – Dealing with Uncertainty, and the event will focus on flood and recovery issues facing ditch companies along the Front Range. A wide variety of speakers have been invited, ones that have first-hand knowledge of the September storm event.  Additional topics will include presentations on the Colorado Water Plan, the Endangered Species Act, and new developments for hydroelectric power generation.  The director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, James Eklund, will be delivering the keynote address. Continue reading

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