Conservation: The Key to Quenching Our State’s Water Worries

By Dominic Baca

The sun’s out and we just ended the hottest month of the year. Summer in Colorado can seem like paradise with endless activities to dive into, from children swimming in the community pool to outdoor enthusiasts tubing on Clear Creek. But have you ever stopped to think about the water resources that keep you cool and entertained in the summer?

If you haven’t read the first two installations of our summer water blog series, I’ll sum it up for you: we are in a water crisis, but there’s plenty that can be done to help it.

Here’s the background: Colorado’s rising population and temperatures means more demands on our scarce water supply. This makes water management very challenging. If we’re going to make it through this century with water left in our rivers and our homes, we’re going to have to work smarter and harder at managing our water.

Graph via Glenwood Springs Post Independent

This means using less water in our homes, buildings, yards, and developments. It’s something we all should be familiar with, and practicing statewide.

“We need to become more efficient in the ways that we use water in our homes and in our industries.”

Water conservation is a big term that is thrown around frequently, but what does it actually mean? There are plenty of definitions, but the Colorado River District puts it best as:

“The practice of reducing the amount of water used via technological and/or mechanical methods and/or by social and behavioral means.”

Essentially, it’s to become more efficient in the ways that we use water in our homes and in our industries. After all, the best way to create more water is to use less of it.

What’s already being done?

One of the best ways to incentivize water conservation is through good public policy. In recent years Colorado has seen many good water conservation bills.

For example, one bill passed in 2014 started to phase-out the sale of low-efficiency plumbing fixtures. This bill was a huge success, and helped make sure that everyone could buy more efficient water fixtures to save both money and water.

But more can and needs to be done. One problem that has failed to be fixed is the loophole in Colorado law that allows new housing development projects to waste water. This past legislative session, a bill tried to close this loophole by requiring all new housing developments to be built “water-smart” from the start. This would have required developers to factor in water conservation measures from the beginning. Though this particular bill was killed by anti-conservation members of the state Senate, it provided the framework and lead-way for future policies that seek to conserve water.

One of these is the Colorado Water Plan — the most comprehensive strategy to answer our state’s water woes. The water plan stresses that every conversation about water must begin with conservation. It contains steps to prepare for future water demands while maintaining our booming economy, cities, recreation industry, agricultural sector, quality of life, and environment.

In addition to policy changes, social-behavioral water conservation strategies are being used throughout Colorado. One example is in Pagosa Springs, where residential water providers are showing customers how their water consumption affects the San Juan River on their monthly water bill.

Another tactic is taking place in Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs water users’ bills show their water consumption in comparison to their peers. This small step to encourage people to use water wisely by showing them how their water use habits affect our environment and compares to other.

Colorado isn’t alone in the battle to secure a stable water supply for the future. Many other states recognize that their growing population paired with increasing water demand will eventually leave them in a water shortage, and they too are taking action to solve this problem.

A popular method in water conservation across western states is offering rebates or credits to users that switch to water efficient fixtures. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the city offers both homes and businesses rebates and incentives to switch their appliances to high efficiency toilets and washers. Colorado also has a similar rebate program but it varies from city to city. Here in Denver, if we can qualify for a goveremnt rebate for upgrading to water smart toilets, sprinkler heads, or sprinkler control systems.

California also offers appliance rebates, but they have taken their incentive one step further to offer water users a rebate to replace their turf grass. Users can replace their turf grass with landscapes that require little water to receive a $2,000 rebate!

What Needs To Be Done?

First and foremost, conservation is a mindset. If you view water as the invaluable resource that it is and are consciously thinking about the ways in which you use water, then you are much more likely to use it wisely.

In addition to using it wisely, you are much more likely to advocate for the preservation of water and put pressure on your locally elected officials to prioritize water conservation as a major issue in Colorado. In reality, if we want to accomplish large-scale statewide water conservation goals, we will need strong policy to do so. Therein, we will need even stronger implementation of policy.

Most importantly, we need you! We are all water users therefore we should all be water protectors! Do your part by putting pressure on an elected official about water conservation legislation, or invest in water wise fixtures, appliances, and landscapes. You can create a water conservation plan for your neighborhood, or even volunteer your time with an organization that is actively involved in water conservation efforts. There are plenty of ways to get involved and be the water warrior Colorado needs, you just have to take the first step!

Dominic Baca was a Generation Latino Fellow with Conservation Colorado. He is passionate about saving the environment through water management. Generation Latino’s mission is to mobilize young Latinos to make their voices heard through organizing the collective energy, imagination and creativity of our Colorado Latino community and channeling our ideas into policies.

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