Written by Audrey Wheeler

Colorado’s population is growing. How can we support our increasing population with transportation systems that work?

As anyone who’s been stuck in traffic recently can tell you, Colorado has a transportation problem. Our roads are deteriorating, our highways are overcrowded, and our public transit options have frustrating limitations.

The big reason why we have these problems is that our population has been growing, increasing the demand on our transportation systems while funding for roads and public transit has remained stagnant.

The gas tax, which pays for our roads, has not been increased since 1991 and doesn’t rise with inflation. Colorado is ranked 29th among states in per capita funding for public transit. On average, states cover 24 percent of the costs of operating public transit; Colorado provides only 1 percent. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) estimates that we need $9 billion just to boost our transportation network to a level adequate to meet the needs of our state right now.

It’s no wonder our leaders — like Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, Senate President Kevin Grantham, and Governor John Hickenlooper — agree that transportation funding is a top priority. Coloradans should have the freedom to get to where they need to go, and our state government has a responsibility to address these problems.

So why haven’t we agreed on a solution? Last year, a few decided the fate of many. In 2017, a bipartisan state bill (House Bill 1242) would have proposed a tax increase to voters to fund highways, local infrastructure projects, and bike, pedestrian, and transit options. Even this thoughtful, bipartisan effort that would have needed voter approval on the ballot did not make it out of the legislature. It was killed by a select group of Senate Republicans (read: The New “Kill” Committee).

This legislative session, we’ve seen ill-fated efforts at bonding measures to fix our transportation problems, but none have been the solution we need.

For a transportation solution to truly solve our problems, it must:

  • Be statewide and flexible. We want a system that provides funding to the whole state, addressing a full array of needs and creating flexible local funds.
  • Have a new, sustainable funding source. The general fund in Colorado alone cannot meet this need. While there may be some patches or band-aid solutions from the legislature, we will ultimately need an updated funding source. It’s worth repeating: CDOT estimates we need $9 billion just meet the transportation needs of our state right now.
  • Dedicate significant dollars to multi-modal (non-car) options. We need a system that works for all people, and that means all modes of getting around. This might mean funding for transit districts, sidewalks, shuttles for people who are disabled or elderly, rapid bus transit on highway corridors, and more. The system needs to move people, not just cars.

Time and again, the debate comes down to these problems. This year’s funding proposal is an irresponsible attempt to address this serious problem. It fails to meet criteria #2 and #3 above, prompting us to ask two questions:

Where’s the money coming from?

Some people seem to think the funding solution is easy and straightforward, that using existing resources to bond for transportation. But taking a bond (or loan) against our already narrow budget is not free money. Locking hundreds of millions of dollars into bonding without creating a new revenue source merely shifts the problem down the road to future generations. If Colorado is stuck making bond payments during another recession, we would need to cut other critical areas from the budget, which could mean less money for things like schools or health care. The general fund cannot be the only source of funding. Solutions for transportation can include bonding, but it should be done responsibly, with a new source of revenue to pay for it and in a way that does not mortgage our future.

How is it addressing our long-term needs?

We can’t have a transportation solution that doesn’t include funding for transit, bikes, and pedestrians. There are three reasons why:

First of all, transportation is a climate issue. The transportation sector is now the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions nationally, surpassing the energy sector. In order to fight climate change, we must change the way we move.

Second, we need to boost transportation options if we want to get serious about reducing traffic. Widening highways doesn’t reduce congestion. When we add lanes to a highway, there is a short time during which congestion does drop – but studies show that within a few years, traffic is as bad as it was before the road was widened. Instead of focusing on highways alone, we need to focus on mobility, and providing different options for moving people — not just cars — is the best way to do that.

Third, we need transportation options because they are good for our economy, public health, and safety. Increasing walkability and bike-ability of neighborhoods boosts property values and increases revenues for local businesses. People who use public transit take 30 percent more steps per day than people who drive, meaning that more transportation options can improve public health in more ways than one. Transportation is one of the largest sources of air pollution, which is especially important in places like Colorado’s Front Range that suffer from ozone pollution and smog. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma.

We can’t keep arguing in circles about how to fund transportation. We need to agree on a new funding source that will prioritize flexible, statewide funding and invest in transit, bike, and pedestrian options as well as highways and roads.

Only then will we be sure that the Colorado of the future is a great place to live.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Across the U.S., our national parks and monuments are widely revered. In a 2017 poll of seven Western states, 80% of voters supported keeping protections for existing national monuments.

Since the days of President Theodore Roosevelt, presidents have had the authority to designate special places as national monuments. Between 1906 and today, sixteen presidents — Democrats and Republicans — have used this power to create new national monuments.

These monuments have protected some of our country’s most beloved places, from the Grand Canyon, which saw 6 million visitors last year and is now a national park, to the Statue of Liberty, which had 4.5 million visitorsin 2016.

However, this April President Trump issued an executive order to review 27 national monuments that were protected in the last two decades. The idea was that by conducting a “review” of these monuments, his administration could attempt to shrink or eliminate them. This could upend protections for millions of acres of public lands across the county.

In response, hundreds of thousands of people have submitted comments to the Department of the Interior, laden with examples of the economic, spiritual, psychological, and historical reasons for preserving our national monuments.

Here in Colorado, one of our national monuments is being scrutinized. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument was designated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and has the highest density of archeological sites in the U.S. While it too has seen controversy, this area is now a well-loved and established destination in southwest Colorado. Since it became a national monument, the county has grown in population by 10 percent, alongside a boost in jobs, per-capita income, and personal income.

Archeological site in Canyons of the Ancients. Photo courtesy of BLM flickr.

From four people who value our public lands, here’s why you should care about Canyons of the Ancients (and should consider visiting it, too!):

MB McAfee, Lewis, CO

“I was born and raised in Cortez,” MB told me. “The area that is now Canyons of the Ancients was an area where we went hiking. McElmo Canyon that forms the southern boundary of the monument is called the ‘Banana Belt of Montezuma County’ because it has a warmer climate than the plateaus around it and it’s a place we picked apples and roamed in the canyons and found streams to fish in.”

She explained that, back in the 1940s and 1950s when she grew up in the area, the ancient archeology of the area wasn’t yet recognized. “As the years went by, it was discovered that there was indeed a treasure trove of archeological sites there.”

MB and her husband Chuck spent 32 years living in Loveland, Colorado, before returning to Cortez. Canyons of the Ancients, she says, “has been one part of the physical landscape and tapestry of my life…It’s a place where I went as a kid, and where I took my kids when they were little. Now that it’s revered as a monument, it’s kind of a blessing that the land I like down there — the sage, juniper, pinyon, canyon county — is now actually protected.”

She explained that when Canyons of the Ancients became a national monument in 2000, there were some locals who were opposed to it. People felt as though land that belonged to them was taken away. But not much changed in the ways people were able to use the land. MB said, “If people want to ride their ATVs there are trails they can ride, people can still graze their cattle…none of that changed when the monument was made.”

In fact, her husband was on the planning commission that made the first management plan for the national monument. “It was a large citizens group that included ranchers and farmers and water people too. It had to be a broad cross section of people who might use or be affected by the creation of the monument.”

Tom McNamara, Fruita, CO

Tom had just returned from a trip down the Grand Canyon when we spoke. He said his love for public lands goes back to when he was a kid growing up in Wisconsin. “My dad took me hunting a lot as a kid,” he explained, “So I would go out and sit in the woods and enjoy that of and by itself, without any frills or bells or anything.”

Tom, with wife Carrie, exploring public lands. Image courtesy of Tom McNamara.

“We moved out here almost 20 years ago,” he told me. From visiting the Canyons of the Ancients area, he remembers “absolutely extraordinary views, nothing like it.”

More recently, he visited Bears Ears National Monument, the newly designated area in Utah that is facing the most scrutiny of all the national monuments. As the crow flies, Bears Ears is only 30 miles from Canyons of the Ancients, and the two areas share a similar ancient history.

“We go [to the Bears Ears area] at least once a year, just because it is so unique, so different. You have a…spiritual experience, because you know people lived there so long ago. If it were trampled, or overused, the experience would be far different. It’s a prime area for anyone who wants to get away, to be among historic places, and to enjoy the quietude.”

“Does it need protection? Absolutely, we need to protect as much area as we possibly can. To go back to the Boundary Waters [of Minnesota, an area remembered from his childhood], it’s better today than it was fifty years ago. The fishing is still absolutely fabulous, and the experience overall is far better than it was because there are so many people who fought hard to preserve it. All of that is now sacrosanct because of a few people who were intelligent enough to protect that area.”

Annelise Loevlie, Golden, CO

Annelise is the CEO of Icelantic Skis. The following is adapted from her written comment to Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

Annelise, in a photo from The Denver Post, 2013.

“Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, like these canyons I was formed and revealed by the wild, subtle and unrelenting forces of nature. My language and knowledge of the world comes in large part from early conversations with rocks, trees, clouds and deer. And it is through these interactions that I, like countless others, found myself. This, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable things a person can find, and a nation can ask for.”

“Why do these places exist? These Monuments exist because at some point, people were touched so deeply by them that they were declared sacred and voices called that they be forever protected by our national government.

“Numbers often speak louder than words, so I’ll explore what these places are worth. $887 billion is the number of dollars directly contributed to our national economy each year from the outdoor recreation industry. Here in Colorado, which is quickly becoming an industry leader, we are experiencing one of the more intense migrations I’ve ever seen. Droves of people are flocking to this state in search of those experiences and lessons I was lucky enough to grow up with.

“The value of a lunchtime bike ride is outweighing a venture-backed Silicon Valley salary. My peers are paying far more for new bikes than for cars and are craving time in wild places that provide freedom and inspiration. Subtle shifts such as these are all contributing to this striking number, an economy as large as the auto and pharmaceutical industries combined, employing more than computer technology, construction, or finance.

“I’m no expert on public policy, land management, or assessing economic value. However, I know that the more people come alive, the more prosperous we will be, and these places inspire life. These are not just plots of land. They are treasure troves of wisdom, freedom, inspiration and solace — and they must be protected.”

Gordon Bosworth, Boulder, UT

Gordon is a ranger who spent time working in Canyons of the Ancients. His home is on the border of Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah. The following is adapted from his written comment to the Department of Interior on protecting these national monuments.

“My ‘on the ground’ knowledge of both monuments is extensive. I have been a ranger for the BLM for five years and USFS for 24 seasons.

Visitors at the Escalante Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

“[For] Canyons of the Ancients, [we should] keep the current protection and administration of the monument — leave as is! It is a very big financial asset to the surrounding towns of Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, and Monticello, and the [Southern] Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Navajo nations. It is a very important protected piece of America.

“If the monument is minimized the damage to archeology and the understanding of our paleo past will be impossible to recreate. Tourism is a long-term plan for this area and it is what’s sustainable, not resource extraction.

“This monument is a museum, with new discoveries all the time. The uniqueness of this monument cannot be rebuilt if damaged by non-compatible resource-intensive industries.”

As these four people, and thousands more, can attest, protecting Canyons of the Ancients — and all of our national monuments — is the right thing to do. We must join together to stand up for our public lands, to keep them for future generations.

Cover photo: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

The first-ever Colorado Public Lands Day was celebrated this weekend with 137 events across the state. This new holiday is the first of its kind for any state in the nation, and was created by our Colorado legislature in 2016 to occur on the third Saturday of May each year.

This year, events ranged from volunteering to bicycling to hiking to drinking beer. Volunteers came together to restore trails, plant native species, and clean up our wild places. Ten breweries jumped on board with limited-edition craft brews to honor public lands.

Some big names were involved in the festivities. Colorado-based band Elephant Revival hosted a trail cleanup event, played an acoustic set at a Colorado Public Lands Day event, and gave a shoutout to our public lands from the stage at the Red Rocks music venue on Sunday.

The band, which has made a bold commitment to protecting public lands, was the “official sound” of the holiday this year. U.S.  and Conservation Colorado Executive Director  got onstage at their Red Rocks show to urge the audience to protect public lands. Senator Bennet urged the audience to celebrate and protect our public lands because “our work is not done.” Hundreds of people took action with Conservation Colorado to support our national monuments.

In addition, many other Colorado politicians came out to celebrate the holiday. Governor Hickenlooper spoke about public lands protection to a packed street at the Grand Junction Epic Rides Fest. U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who represents the Golden area, commented that “In Colorado, public lands are part of our DNA,” when he spoke on stage at one of our marquee events the American Mountaineering Center in Golden.

The holiday was established in large part due to the efforts of state Senator . Donovan said of the holiday, “Since we passed it, there have been some very real challenges and political discussion around the threat against public lands staying public. I think it has a new significance, showing how important it is that our public lands stay public and accessible to all.”

It’s true that this holiday could not have come at a better time. Right now, the attacks on our public lands are all too real, from a “review” of 27 treasured National Monuments to halting the work of over 200 advisory boards for the Department of the Interior. Fortunately, the inaugural Colorado Public Lands Day proved that Coloradans are ready to stand up for their public lands.

In all, the holiday was an enormous success for celebrating and honoring our public lands. The widespread participation in Colorado Public Lands Day is proof of Coloradans’ affinity for protecting our public lands. We can’t wait to celebrate next year!

Cover image: Celebration for Colorado Public Lands Day at a brewery. Anna Peterson.

Written by Gabe Kiritz, Public Lands Business Organizer

There have been several recent attacks from Washington, D.C. on Colorado’s public lands and waters. Just this week, the Trump administration issued an executive order that will begin a process to “review” the 30 national monuments created since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres, which could result in Colorado’s iconic Canyons of the Ancients national monument being shrunk or losing it’s protections entirely.

Additionally, the Trump administration’s proposed budget threatens harmful cuts to our nation’s public lands and environment. The Department of Interior, which manages our national parks, national wildlife refuges, other public lands, is facing a massive 12 percent cut that would have major impacts on conservation and our recreation economy.

These public lands support diverse economic interests, including an outdoor recreation economy that’s estimated to be as large as the auto industry and pharmaceutical industry combined, at $887 billion. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, outdoor recreation employs more Americans than construction, computer technology, or education. Cutting funds for our public lands damages the communities that depend on tourism and outdoor recreation, the wildlife living on those lands, and the health and well-being of Americans who explore our nation’s wild places.

That’s why Colorado businesses have decided to stand up and speak out. In fact, 98 businesses just signed on to a letter with the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance calling for Senator Cory Gardner to defend and protect Colorado’s public lands. Here’s an excerpt from their letter, and you can read the full text here:

“Colorado’s national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and monuments are essential to our industries, way of life, and bottom lines. COBA members are united to conserve and protect access to our public lands and sustain our state’s economy….

We now urge you to support our economic interests by advancing meaningful public lands protections and defending our national public lands from any and all legislative attacks…”

The companies that signed this letter are outdoor recreation manufacturers, retailers, guides, and outfitters, alongside ranches, marketing firms, tech companies, and startups, depend on public lands for their way of life and to attract employees. They make Colorado a thriving place to do business.

With this letter in hand, seven Colorado business leaders flew to Washington, D.C. on March 27th, 2017 to meet with staff from Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Scott Tipton’s offices. There, they called for leadership in standing up for Colorado’s public lands. They asked Colorado’s congressional delegation to:

Colorado business leaders in Washington D.C.

The call for leadership has been made — will our representatives respond and protect Colorado’s economy?

The outdoor recreation industry in Colorado has continued to be an important indicator of how much progress Colorado has made on public lands over the last few years. For example, no land seizure bills have passed in the Colorado state legislature, despite almost ten attempts by extremist legislators to do so. These bills would have paved the way for our public lands to be seized by the state and eventually leased or sold off to private interests. Additionally, last year our state legislature established Colorado Public Lands Day, the first state holiday of its kind in the country.

That’s why, when the Outdoor Industry Association announced that it was looking for a new home for its massive Outdoor Retailer show that is friendlier to public lands that Utah, Colorado was in a position to make a strong case that we deserve the show. In fact, Conservation Colorado ran these ads in Utah newspapers making the case for the show to come here:

Senator Gardner claims to stand with Colorado businesses and the outdoor recreation industry. However, his track record thus far this Congress on protecting public lands and air quality, two fundamental pieces of natural infrastructure that sustain a healthy recreation economy and Colorado businesses, does not reflect these values. Senator Gardner must prove he values public lands as much as the support of the outdoor industry. Defending against attacks on our lands and supporting proactive legislation is a good place to start.

As the businesses said in their letter to Senator Gardner: “Our public lands are essential to Colorado’s economy and quality of life. Please uphold the legacy of bipartisan support for protecting public lands that makes us proud to base our businesses in Colorado.”

Written by Pete Maysmith

President Trump recently signed an executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, along with a host of other Obama-era policies designed to protect our health and environment from climate change. While Trump claimed this action was to promote energy independence and bring back coal jobs — both of which are not likely to be influenced by this — in reality it is a clumsy attempt to bolster the fossil industry at the expense of our health and our climate.

Fortunately, Colorado and the West will keep making progress in spite of the president’s backward efforts. This is evident because of popular sentiment, market forces, and the opportunities that exist in our state.

In Colorado (and increasingly across America), citizens understand that climate change is a threat to our livelihood and we need to take action. Following the release of the Clean Power Plan in 2015, Conservation Colorado collected thousands of signatures from Coloradans wanting to see quick action from our state to comply with the plan. Those people, along with 66 percent of our state, still want to see climate action, even if it isn’t in the form of a national plan.

Conservation Colorado’s Protégete team in 2015 holds a poster with over 3500 signatures from Coloradans calling for climate action.

In fact, a recent poll found that 82 percent of Coloradans support increasing the share of energy from renewable sources like wind and solar to create jobs and economic opportunity in rural Colorado. That’s not a partisan divide — Coloradans from both sides of the aisle understand that we should lead on renewable energy, both because it is a linchpin for clean air and because it means economic growth, including in rural areas.

The impacts of climate change on our forests, rivers, and air are becoming more evident in Colorado. These changes threaten who we are as Coloradans, from wildfires in March to extreme drought predictions for the Colorado river. The evidence is clear and cannot be ignored, and the public is realizing that more and more. Across the U.S., concern about global warming has reached a three-decade high.

As public concern grows, so do the market forces that caused coal to slow down in the first place. Wind and solar prices are dropping, while their use skyrockets. The number of jobs in Colorado’s solar industry increased by 20 percent in 2016, as the state’s solar capacity jumped 70 percent. At the same time, the state is ranked second in the nation for wind jobs, with 14,800 workers currently. Wind jobs are expected to grow by 54.7 percent in Colorado over the next four years.

Coloradans know that to promote jobs and help rural economies, we need to pursue industries with potential for growth. Right now, that’s wind and solar — and the opportunities in Colorado are limitless. Wind and solar are already providing real income through taxes, benefits to farmers, good paying jobs, and supporting the general economies of small towns on Colorado’s eastern plains. In many places, wind companies lease land from farmers to install wind turbines, providing a new income stream on land that is also usable for other agricultural activities. Already, more than $5.4 billion worth of renewable energy projects have been built in eastern Colorado, and we have the capacity for more.

Colorado’s had a promising start to lead on climate solutions. Our renewable energy standard of 30% by 2020 and the “Clean Air Clean Jobs Act” of 2010 that converted coal-fired power plants to clean resources like wind and solar put us on a great trajectory. Our state has proven it is possible to reduce carbon pollution in ways that boost the economy.

Looking forward, we’re working on a host of ideas to further cut down carbon pollution in Colorado. From fighting for investment in alternative modes of transportation to renewing a successful energy efficiency program, there’s a lot happening at the state level.

No matter what politicians or bureaucrats in Washington, DC do or say, here in Colorado we keep fighting to clean up air pollution and combat climate change. States have led and will continue to lead the way when it comes to the clean energy revolution. Despite President Trump’s intransigence, there is hope and it lies in state and local action. By adding more renewables, working with partners, and focusing in on the state level, we can get things done in Colorado and serve as a leader for other states to follow.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Climate change and rising temperatures don’t simply mean you need to get a nicer air conditioner. They also have major implications for public health. Research has shown myriad ways climate change will provide challenges for Coloradans staying healthy and safe. For example, climate change will cause disease-carrying insects like like mosquitos and ticks can move to colder areas. It means natural disasters will become less predictable and more severe. And it means allergens and air pollution will worsen.

In order to get a more thorough take on what’s at stake if we don’t act on climate, we interviewed Ken Scissors, a physician at St. Mary’s and a board member at Conservation Colorado. He’s been practicing medicine since 1980 and his insight on the effects of climate change and health are eye-opening.

According to Dr. Scissors, there are four overarching areas where climate change could affect our health:

1. Air quality

Climate change is linked to poor air quality and air pollution. Warmer air helps trap and hold smog around cities, so rising temperatures can actually worsen existing air pollution. Colorado is already vulnerable – 3 of the 25 worst cities in the US for ozone are in Colorado, according to the American Lung Association. These risks are most significant for lung and heart problems, as well as cancers and other disorders. These health issues already affect low-income communities more than average, and this effect will only grow worse with rising temperatures.

2. Natural disasters

Climate change brings also brings a substantial increase in frequency and devastation of natural disasters. Aside from the immediate injuries and death that can be caused by hurricanes, floods, and fires, they also lead to longer-standing issues. Sanitation can be compromised, illnesses spreads easily, and health care delivery is often obstructed. This health effect of climate change will be localized and dramatic, and difficult to predict or prepare for. The Union of Concerned Scientists highlighted wildfires as a major risk for Colorado. US Forest Service scientists predicted the area of wildfire burns to double by 2050. Burn scars also contribute to the severity of flooding damage. In short, Colorado may be safe from hurricanes or sea level rise – but we’re not exempt from the catastrophic effects of climate change.

3. Diseases

In general, harmful microbes, bacteria, and the animals that carry them (also known as “vectors”) prefer warm conditions. Disease-carrying animals like mosquitos, ticks, and rats will be able to move into previously-cooler areas. This increases the risk of devastating diseases like zika, ebola, hantavirus, and lyme. These diseases historically were limited by geography, but today their ranges are already expanding. Colorado is especially vulnerable to increases in West Nile, plague, and hantavirus. Biological hazards from climate change also include pollen and dust – as summers get longer, we’ll see more problems with dust and pollen in areas that never used to struggle with these problems.

4. Heat-related issues

High temperatures can also be problems in and of themselves. Heat stroke and heat stress are real risks for people who work outside or who do not have air conditioning. But for places that are already hot, for those who cannot afford air conditioning, and for people who are already in poor health, this can be a life or death matter. Like many risk factors, this is most likely to affect the sick, old, young, and poor.

Part of the struggle with climate change is that it’s a long and gradual process. Weather events can go against the grain of greater climatic shifts. The same goes for the health effects. It’s almost impossible to say if climate change caused a specific hurricane, a bad day of smog, or a breakout of a microbial disease. But we can look at trend lines and see that the frequency and severity of these events is changing.

Prevention is the best cure for most ailments, and this is no exception. The sooner and more aggressively we can slow down or even reverse climate change, the better things will come out for us. There are also some things we could do to anticipate and be proactive against health risks in the future.

We can put more resources and science into disaster preparedness and disaster relief. We can identify weaknesses and vulnerable populations and put resources into being able to reduce risks or act quickly. And importantly, we can continue working to cut carbon pollution and transition to clean energy sooner rather than later. Identifying these future threats to our health and working to decrease their impact is the only way to move forward.

As the climate warms, agriculture in Colorado is on the front lines. The agriculture industry in Colorado is worth $41 billion, and so the impacts that climate change will have on food production should be of tremendous importance to all of us.

We interviewed two researchers to get a sense of what the impacts may be. Colorado State University researchers Dr. Pat Byrne and Dr. Scott Denning both work to understand how crops can adapt to climate change.Their research may help farmers identify ways to adapt to climate change in the future.

The Problems that Colorado Agriculture is Facing

Dr. Denning explained that as the global climate changes, average temperature will rise sharply. Because Colorado is so far inland, this effect will be stronger because large bodies of water help mitigate temperature swings and Colorado is far from our oceans or Great Lakes. We can expect temperature increases in Colorado to be 1.5 to 2 times as large as global averages. Imagine the climate of Albuquerque as far north as Greeley.

Hotter temperatures come with longer growing seasons. But they also bring major problems for agriculture. Hotter temperatures make plants “thirstier” even as soaring temperatures reduce Colorado’s snowpack. That means a hotter Colorado is also a drier Colorado.

So, farmers will be needing to get more water for irrigation. With booming population growth, obtaining water rights is already challenging in Colorado. Dr. Denning’s biggest worry is water issues – for both plants and people. We’ll see an increase in irrigation needs for agriculture as snowpack decreases and city populations increase. As he puts it, “Where the heck are they gonna get the water?”

We get most of our water from snowpack. We divert about 83% of collected water to agriculture. Only 17% goes to cities. We’ve already seen a 20% decrease in snowpack.

Dr. Scott Denning

To make matters worse, climate change also creates more variability. Future summers may be cool and damp one year, but scorching and dry the next. As Dr. Byrne points out, it’s one thing to breed a strain of wheat that can withstand hot and dry. It’s another to create a strain that can withstand all extremes. Farmers will struggle to know what to plant in the face of the extremes predicted. Low yields not only spell economic trouble for farmers, but consumers as well.

The Research

Farmers are already adapting to this unpredictable world. They’re implementing low-till or no-till methods to reduce water loss, getting crop insurance, and starting to plant crops like sorghum and millet farther north. Crop diversity is good insurance against climate variability.

While the farmers who produce our food try to adapt, scientists are also searching for more drastic solutions. Dr. Byrne hopes his research on plant genetics will find or create a strain of wheat that thrives in a wide variety of conditions. He worries that common strains of wheat won’t be profitable for farmers in the future. He says of the struggle, “The biggest challenge is variability, not major changes in one direction. If, for example, we could [selectively breed plants] for increasingly hot and dry places. That would be hard but it would be possible. But what makes it hard is the swinging back and forth.”

Implementation

So far, scientists haven’t come up with a one-size-fits-all climate change solution for agriculture. But they are constantly looking for and researching new ideas. One of these is a technique called precision agriculture. Raj Kholsa, another CSU researcher, lays precision agriculture out like this: “Precision farming can help today’s farmer meet these new challenges by applying the right input, in the right amount, to the right place, at the right time, and in the right manner. The importance and success of precision farming lies in these five R’s.”

Farmers can remedy financial stress from low yields in other ways as well. Some farmers in Europe have had success in partnering with renewable energy companies to share land. The income from leasing land for windmills or solar can make a difference in tough years. Some farmers may take out crop insurance, which will pay them a sum of money if the harvest is bad.

Acting on climate change is imperative for our future food security as well as the current job security of farmers. Aside from supporting climate change champions politically, you can help by supporting local research institutions as they work to find solutions. Support local farmers financially through CSAs and farmer’s markets, and ask them if they use any of the mitigation efforts mentioned above. Supporting the right people with your dollars can help them make bigger changes in the future.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Rain barrels are officially legal in Colorado on August 10th!

This finally ends the ban on rain barrels in the state of Colorado. At last, we can all have access to an easy conservation tool that will help remind us of our connection to Colorado’s water supply.

Now, of course, the practical questions remain — where do I even find rain barrels? How do I install one? Look no further! We’ve done the digging for you.

Where do I get a rain barrel?

You can find all varieties of barrels at Lowe’sHome DepotAce HardwareAmazon and other home and garden stores. Make sure you follow Colorado guidelines that say your barrels can have up to 110 gallons storage total each, and that your barrel needs to be sealable to keep out breeding mosquitoes.

The company BlueBarrel gives recycled barrels a second life and helps you set them up into a rainwater catchment system! Make sure to grab an online voucher before checking out their stores in Denver, Lafayette, and Louisville.

Who can use rain barrels under this new law?

Anyone who lives in a house or townhouse with fewer than 4 units can use a rain barrel. No permits are necessary. For other narrow exceptions on who can collect rainwater, check out information on the State Engineer’s website.

How many rain barrels can I have?

Each household can have up to two rain barrels with 110 gallons of storage capacity. This is enough to help water your vegetable garden, outdoor plants, or a small lawn.

What can I use the water for?

Rain barrels can capture rainwater from roof downspouts and the water can only be used for outdoor purposes on the property from which the rainwater was captured. So, it can be used to water outdoor plants, lawns, or gardens, but cannot be used for drinking or indoor water needs.

For more very useful facts on Colorado’s new law (including concerns about mosquitoes and water quality), check out these quick answers from Colorado State University!

What else do I need to install my rain barrel?

Just a gutter. In order to make the most of your rain barrel, you may want to to create a raised platform for the barrel, such as cinder blocks or a wooden pallet. The higher your platform is, the higher the water pressure coming out of the barrel will be and the easier to get a watering can under the spigot.

Depending on your gutter structure, a flexible gutter extension can be useful, and may need to be secured with screws and sealed with caulk. Don’t forget to measure your gutter and buy a downspout extension that is the right size!

How do I install a rain barrel?

Here’s a nice how-to guide from Tree People: How To Install a Rain Barrel

And here is a collection of videos by Blue Barrel Systems for how to set up their systems: Videos

What do I need to do to maintain my rain barrel?

Below is some good advice from Tree People. CSU also has some helpful hints on how to keep out impurities and contaminants. And you’ll want to make sure to winterize it for our cold winters (see next question for tips)!

Once your rain barrel is installed, maintenance is easy. Simply use the water you’ve collected to water your garden and make sure the rain barrel is emptied on a regular basis. Don’t forget to double check that the rain barrel system is ready to go before a big storm!

What do I do with my rain barrel during the winter?

In Colorado, it’s not a good idea to leave your barrel set up in the winter, as water inside may freeze and damage the system. Right around the first frost, it’s time to pack it up for the winter. Adjust your gutter downspout so the water will run away from your house. Empty your barrel completely, rinse it, and let it dry. Then, either store it inside a garage or basement, or turn it upside down and leave it outside for the winter, covering it with a tarp if you have one. Make sure the spigot is open and all components are clean. In the spring, you can put it back in place and start harvesting rainwater again.

Will my rain barrel make a difference?

It may not seem like a lot, but in Colorado every drop counts. Using two rain barrels to water your plants could save up to 1,200 gallons a year, just from one household! It’s also a great way to connect to Colorado’s water supply, as using a rain barrel tunes you into the natural water cycles of our region.

Here’s Drew in a canoe to tell you a little more about why rain barrels matter:

More questions about the law on rain barrels?

Check out this short articleColorado Department of Water Resources page, or this fact sheet from CSU.

Written by Eliza Carter

The bill to legalize rain barrels has passed both chambers of the Colorado legislature and was signed by Governor John Hickenlooper this month! Soon you’ll be able head out to the store and purchase your very own legal rain barrel.

It’s clear to us that all of our amazing supporters felt very strongly about this issue. Every time we talked to folks in the community, we heard that you all wanted a rain barrel to use your rainwater more efficiently. Part of that is because it seems so silly; whoever heard of a Home Depot product that is illegal in a state where you can buy marijuana-infused gummy bears?

However, rain barrels are also a very important tool for people to become more informed about their water use and our water limitations in the West.  Here’s the thing: water scarcity can be a difficult thing to keep in mind. Many of us know that our water is limited, but very few factors in our daily lives really reflect that limitation. When we need some water at home, we can get as much as we want from the faucet or the shower or the garden hose. Not so with rain barrels. When it’s been raining a lot, a rain barrel will fill up and you’ll have water to use on your garden. But when you leave the spigot open or it’s been dry, that water will be gone before you know it.

But what’s next for water conservation in our state? Rain barrels are a great first step for a more empowered public, but that’s just part of ensuring a healthy water future and there are many more steps to take.

Colorado is facing some staggering challenges when it comes to our water supply. And until recently, we didn’t have a plan in place on how we were going to meet our growing water needs in light of population growth, climate change, and other stressors.

People are moving to Colorado by the thousands every month, and our water supply is not going to increase to meet the demand. Further, climate change is exacerbating drought and  threatening to dry up our rivers. So we need to get smart about how we use our water. Fortunately, Governor Hickenlooper recently released the final Colorado Water Plan, which will serve as a road map for how we manage our water for years to come. It contains some strong goals and that, if met, will help us ensure that future generations will have enough water and our rivers will stay healthy and flowing. The plan recognizes that increasing water conservation in our cities is one of the easiest ways we can help protect the health of our rivers.

But we’ve got to make sure the plan is implemented. It’s possible that this plan will simply get filed away, and we really can’t let that happen. If we’re going to confront the water challenges we face, we need to put in the work and buckle down, right now.

So what can you do?

Well, a whole lot, actually.

First, we should thank the governor for signing the bill!

Second, we’ve got to ensure our legislators know that this is a priority for their constituents. Over the summer, legislators on a water committee will be meeting to discuss possible legislation for next year. At this we should ensure that our elected officials make conservation and implementation the water plan a priority.

Third, you can tell the Colorado Water Conservation Board you want conservation to be a priority for them as well.

You can also keep all this in mind this November. If Colorado is going to confront its water future in smart and innovative ways, we need our elected officials to support conservation. So read up about the candidates on our elections page and vote for the folks who will keep our rivers healthy and flowing!

Finally, go buy your new rain barrel and encourage your friends to do the same!

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Whether it’s obvious or not, Latinos are conservationists and have been connected to madre tierra for generations. That’s because our Latina moms are constantly reminding us to conserve, recycle, and enjoy the outdoors. We may miss the message when it comes from trained environmentalists, but not when it’s from nuestras mamás. Here are four examples of how Latinos conserve every day to save money and resources.

While a climate expert will tell you to reduce your carbon footprint by using less energy, nuestras mamás teach us about energy conservation by having us turn off the lights when we don’t need them… Simple, right?

Conservation is part of our culture. For example, nuestras mamás always remind us to never throw things away that can be used to save leftovers – reusing everyday items saves money and helps preserve our natural resources.

Latina moms will always encourage us to enjoy parks and play outdoors – especially in the beautiful state of Colorado! So yes, Latinos agree that recreating outside is good for keeping us active and healthy. Incidentally, it’s also pretty good for our economy: public lands add $24 million to our state’s economy every year!

We are taught to conserve water by nuestras mamás as they time our showers and tell us to cerrar la llave de agua. Saving water in our communities will help save water on the state level, so we can prevent water shortages and costly projects to move water from mountains to cities!

As can be seen, trained environmentalists and nuestras mamás share the same values, we just express them differently. Coloradans want to reduce our carbon footprint, preserve our natural resources, improve our quality of life, and be smart about water use. We understand that protecting madre tierra is not all about science and numbers; as we have learned from our moms, we have to act now to protect Colorado for future generations!