Colorado WaterWise Inaugural Event Disseminates Information and Raises Questions
By Rob Zuber
Colorado WaterWise (CWW) held their inaugural event on April 2 and 3rd at the Police Protective Association Event Center, a bright new venue just north of Invesco Field. A varied crowd of water resources professionals enjoyed an informative and entertaining group of speakers discussing the current state and future challenges of water conservation in Colorado. In addition to the big picture perspectives of Harris Sherman, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; and photographer John Fielder; details of existing and planned water conservation efforts were presented.
CWW (formerly known as the Colorado WaterWise Council) is a non-profit organization with the mission of promoting the efficient use of Colorado’s water. CWW was created when Xeriscape Colorado and Metro Water Conservation, Inc. joined forces in 2000. These parent organizations were formed in the 1980s to promote water wise practices among homeowners, businesses, and water providers. In addition to Xeriscape Colorado, which provides resources to assist property owners with water wise landscaping, CWW works with CWCB and municipalities on outreach programs and works with technical experts to develop Best Management Practices (BMPs) for water conservation. Kevin Reidy of Aurora Water and Scott Winter of Colorado Springs Utilities are CWW co-chairs, and they moderated the inaugural event.
Liz Gardener of Denver Water, who is also affiliated with CWW and the Alliance of Water Efficiency (AWE), pointed out some striking facts to support the need for conservation. The following are estimates of the cost of developing new supplies:
• Aurora estimates that developing new supplies will cost approximately $80,000 per acre foot.
• Douglas County estimates that new supplies will cost approximately $39,000 per acre foot.
• Denver Water estimates new supply costs between $5,000 and $20,000 per acre foot.
However, conservation costs are estimated to be $4,000 to $10,000 per acre foot. Clearly, conservation must be considered one aspect of the future of water supplies in Colorado, but some serious implementation challenges remain. The following provides some of the event highlights.
“We are in This Together”
Harris Sherman reminded the crowd of water resources professionals of some sobering facts:
• Demographers predict that the population of Colorado will increase by 5 million people by year 2050. The South Platte basin will be the home of 80 percent of these people.
• Climate change could cause flows in the Colorado River to decrease by as much as 20 percent.
• Water demand for oil shale development could be equal to the current volume of west-to-east-slope diversions.
To meet future water needs of cities and industry, Sherman predicts further transfer of agricultural water use. He also noted that very few communities in Colorado have water conservation plans. To combat these challenges, regional and state-wide planning will be required for land use, transportation, and energy development. Harris pointed out that the State has “teeth” to regulate water quality but few mechanisms for regulating conservation. In addition to planning, tying grants to conservation may be the State’s best opportunity to encourage conservation.
Referencing Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Liz Gardener pointed out the need to manage water as a “commons” and the need to bring many disciplines together: plumbers, architects, city planners, foresters, engineers, manufacturers, and others. She also informed the crowd of an AWE white paper, written at the request of the Obama Administration, which outlines how saving water and energy are no-risk investments that create jobs as well as protect resources.
As another illustration of the need for cooperation, Gardener quipped that while there are a wide variety of musical tastes in society, everyone listens to the radio station WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?” The key to a good conservation program is to create win-win scenarios.
Mayor Hickenlooper sees the history of water development in Colorado as a symbol of the lack of cooperation between cities and regions. During his entertaining lunchtime address (the mayor noted that being a tavern owner made him accustomed to talking to people while they eat), Hickenlooper spoke with pride of his efforts to reach out to the suburbs and to Club 20 in Western Colorado. He believes that water resources management is a mutual responsibility, and managers of different water providers can act within their own self-interest if it is a broad self-interest that accounts for long-term protection of the resource. Referencing his geology education, the mayor also spoke of the use of multiple working hypotheses as a good way to allow for flexibility in water resources planning.
A Paradigm Shift is Needed – the Stormwater Nexus
Jane Clary of Wright Water Engineers presented a shift in stormwater management that can also reduce water supply needs for landscape irrigation as well as provide source water protection. She presented the concept of Low Impact Development (LID) which promotes treating stormwater runoff at the source. The old paradigm within stormwater management is to “get rid of it quick” with storm sewers and concrete channels, and, where flood control is provided, construct large detention ponds at the low end of the site. The new paradigm of treating stormwater more locally mimics the natural hydrologic cycle.
LID can entail:
• Minimization of directly connected impervious areas at a site
• Well designed, infiltration-oriented landscapes such as rain gardens in parking lots
• Sumps rather than humps in road medians
• Porous pavement
• Swales along roads rather than curb and gutter.
To implement the LID method of stormwater management, it must be incorporated into the site planning process at an early stage. Beorn Courtney of Headwaters Corporation presented a Douglas County example where this is happening. Using holistic, non-sequential land use planning, Sterling Ranch hopes to achieve the extremely low residential use of 65 gallons per capita per day. Elements of the development plan include:
• Cluster development
• Strategic and sparing use of turf
• Planned vegetable gardens (“edible landscape” or “agri-burbia”)
• High efficiency fixtures and appliances
• Tiered rate structures that are “ballistic”
• Monitoring and reporting.
Another method for using stormwater to reduce irrigation needs is the rain barrel. However, this tool for harvesting rainwater not only requires a paradigm shift – it also requires an amendment to Colorado water law. The Colorado legislature has two bills before it concerning rainwater collection. Senate Bill 80 will allow people in rural areas not hooked up to a municipal water supply to apply for a capture permit. House Bill 1129 would establish pilot projects in new residential developments to determine whether rainwater collection systems are a sustainable water source without infringing on downstream water rights.
“It’s the Desert, Live With It” Or “Use it or Lose It”
Rick Brinkman of the City of Grand Junction discussed conservation efforts in the Grand Valley that include three interconnected water providers – the Town of Palisade, the City of Grand Junction, and Ute Water District – working together to develop a regional conservation plan. The Drought Response Information Project (DRIP) includes several public education components including a large children’s festival, public service announcements, a web site and resource kits for teachers. The project slogan is: “It’s the desert. Live with it.” The project also entails the use of Colorado State University Extension to perform limited system audits to identify potential water savings.
However, implementing water conservation on the Western Slope is not without challenges. While elaborating on the CSU Extension audit program, Curt Swift also identified several attitudes of Grand Valley citizens toward water:
• We have numerous water rights and they are senior.
• Water is inexpensive.
• “Use it or lose it” – If we do not use our water, California or the Front Range will get it.
Therefore, it is difficult to obtain wide-spread citizen support for conservation programs. Furthermore, irrigation companies have little incentive to conserve as they want to sell as much as possible. Finally, CWCB will only fund audit programs for systems with meters, but meters are rare in the Valley.
Water Audit Programs and How to Implement One
(write-up of this section provided by Ruth Quade of the City of Greeley)
Jeannine Shaw, Center for Resource Conservation (CRC), started the session reporting on the results CRC has seen over the last few years. In 2008, CRC performed 1,226 residential audits and 89 large property audits across 13 water providers. Customers’ comments included, “I was excited to receive a detailed watering schedule.” Sixty-eight percent of customers are not using the cycle and soak method, so that along with shortening the run times are the most consistent message to the customers. Across the water utilities rotors are watering 25 percent longer than necessary and sprays zones are watering 87 percent more. The median distribution uniformity (DU) for sprays is 56 percent and 63 percent for rotors. Pressure is also an issue for many systems with more systems having too high a pressure. Approximately 70 percent of the properties are covered in turf while the remaining area is shrubs, flowers, or other.
Larry Keesen, Keesen Water Management, talked about the next steps after an audit. Keesen noted that without the follow-up information, homeowners lack the tools to make decisions to make the needed improvements. Devices that will help include rain sensors and smart controllers. High pressure on a system should be adjusted either by pressure control and check valves. Raising heads will also improve DU, but if the system is over 30 years old, the customer should consider installing a new system.
Laurie d’Audney from the City of Fort Collins discussed what it takes to start up an irrigation audit program, including tools, forms and training staff. Rick Schultz, Town of Castle Rock, relayed what Castle Rock is doing in the way of landscape ordinances and registering landscapers. Brent Mecham of the Irrigation Association discussed the need to standardize auditing, including the minimum number of catch cans. Speakers indicated that a minimum DU on new systems should be 65 to 75 percent.
Farm and Ranch Preservation
Aaron Million sees his Regional Watershed Supply Project, which involves moving water from the Green River in southwestern Wyoming to southeastern Wyoming and the Colorado Front Range, as an opportunity to reduce agricultural transfers and conserve farm and ranch land. His proposed project would bring approximately 250,000 acre feet to the Front Range and save considerable acreage of farmland that would have to be fallowed to provide this quantity of water to municipal and industrial users.
Although not in agreement with Million regarding west-to-east transfers, photographer John Fielder also champions the preservation of Colorado ranches. In an inspiring slide show, Fielder gave attendees a “sneak peak” at some of the beautiful photographs that will be included in his next book, Ranches of Colorado, slated to hit book store shelves in September. He applauded the efforts of CWW and other Colorado water resources professionals in their efforts to preserve the beauty of Colorado.
The Energy/Water Nexus
Stacy Tellinghuisen of Western Resource Advocates discussed how new supplies of water are energy intensive, providing several examples of proposed projects including the Southern Delivery System (SDS), Northern Integrated Supply Project, and the Maybell (Yampa pump back) project. For the SDS, it is estimated that the energy cost per acre foot is comparable to the cost for desalinization. To somewhat counteract this problem, “smart pipelines” can be built that include in-line hydropower systems. This is an important component of Aaron Million’s project. These smart pipelines will also avoid environmentally sensitive areas.
Success has Occurred but Conservation Can be Transitory
Drew Beckwith of Western Resource Advocates illustrated a report card for municipalities’ conservation programs and listed the bright spots. Aurora is very aggressive, spending more than $5 per customer on conservation. Denver Water is very good at identifying losses in their system. Boulder has an excellent public outreach program. Beckwith also noted that conservation is fast, inexpensive, and under local control.
Other presentations provided particular success stories:
• In Northglenn, “The Great Toilet Give Away” has been a success. Sonja Sjoholm-deHass informed the event participants that the City gave away 500 high-efficiency, dual-flush toilets. The City estimates that the result is an annual savings of 11 acre feet.
• Doug Kenney of the University of Colorado presented results from a study of water use in Aurora. After the drought, use was down 23 percent in 2003. The biggest savings came from behavioral changes among high-volume users and from rebate programs.
• Veva Deheza of CWCB presented projections of potential water savings through conservation and noted that per capita usage in the South Platte basin decreased 13 percent from 2000 to 2008.
• Mayor Hickenlooper noted that the City of Denver has been pro-active in making City facilities greener. Many City buildings are LEED certified, and from 2001 to 2008 the water usage in Denver parks was reduced 28 percent.
• Rick McCloud of Centennial Water and Sanitation District outlined his organization’s conservation program, which has resulted in approximately 20 percent less water use. The unique aspects of Centennial’s program are a water budget for each user based on the need for 27 inches of irrigation water per year and a very transparent billing methodology.
The studies by Western Resource Advocates and Dr. Kenney at CU revealed that water is a relatively inelastic resource: a significant increase in price is required to get a significant decrease in demand. Therefore, the most successful rate structures are those that are very aggressive, as implemented in the City of Boulder.
However, what is the long term prognosis for conservation? Laura Wing (Thornton), Greg Fisher (Denver Water), Jeff Drager (Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District), and Scott Ingvolstad (Aurora) presented some of the challenges faced by municipalities on the Front Range. A survey of Thornton residents revealed that 68 percent of adults do not care about water conservation. Fisher cautioned that despite recent success, there is always the chance that Denver Water consumers will lose interest in conservation. The options for Northern Water are somewhat limited as municipal participants in the District want to make their own decisions regarding many issues, including conservation.
While discussing the reduced demand in the South Platte basin, Veva Deheza also raised the important question: is it permanent?
Central to these conversations is the nagging question: does conservation during “normal” times lead to demand hardening and less flexibility during the next drought? This issue must be considered in all conservation programs
Where Do We Go from Here?
State agencies will need to play an integral part in the future of water conservation in Colorado. Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi outlined many of CWCB’s initiatives, including:
• Participation on the Water Availability Task Force
• Incorporation of conservation into SWSI
• Public outreach and education programs
• Climate change initiatives.
Hutchins-Cabibi noted that the Water Efficiency Grant Program will be an excellent tool if House Bill 1017 moves forward. In the mean time, Colorado will receive $62 million of the Federal stimulus funds, and 20 percent of that money is slated for “green initiatives” that could include water conservation. She also noted that the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan is only at the draft stage and requires considerable work.
At this time, more information is needed to tell us what works and what does not. As Tracy Bouvette of Great Western Institute pointed out, measuring success is very important as it lends credibility to a program. The experts at the CWW event are still searching to understand past successes. Have they been due to public education? Land use planning? Rate structures? Audits? Rebates? Some of all of the above? Perhaps the answer is relatively unimportant (at least in the short term). What is more important is to find the resources and political will to do all or most of the above for a comprehensive conservation program.
For more information on water conservation in Colorado, please visit the following web sites:
• www. AquaCraft.com