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 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

Until last year, Volkswagen was perhaps best known for beetle cars and hippie vans. But in September of 2015, Volkswagen saw a storm of negative attention when the U.S. government found out VW had produced cars that cheated in emissions tests. In the end, Volkswagen admitted that 11 million of their vehicles worldwide were equipped with software that allowed the cars to cheat during emissions tests, making it seem like the vehicles were ultra-clean when in reality they were polluting far over legal limits.

VW Settlement infographicEmissions tests and air pollution limits are in place to protect human health and the air we breathe. Volkswagen’s “too-good-to-be-true” clean diesel cars emitted up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (“NOx”) on the road, but hid these emissions during tests. These smog-forming pollutants, according to one estimate,will be responsible for dozens of premature deaths in the U.S. Nearly 600,000 cheating vehicles were sold in the U.S. before Volkswagen was found out, including 9,350 in Colorado.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to hold the company accountable, and the company agreed to pay large sums to reduce automobile emissions in each state where their cars were sold.

For Colorado, this means our state will receive $61.3 million to be used for certain activities to reduce emissions. It’s up to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) to decide how the money will be spent, and the agency is currently accepting public input on the decision.

This is a huge opportunity for Colorado to boost our transportation infrastructure in a way that will protect our clean air. Because VW’s cheating caused serious air pollution in our state, we are calling on CDPHE to maximize the benefits that this settlement could have for Colorado in terms of cleaning up our air clean and reducing carbon pollution. This means several things:


1. Allocate 15 percent of the funding (the maximum allowed by the settlement) to building out the charging network for electric vehicles (EV) across the state.

Colorado is currently the best state in the country for buying an EV because of our innovative tax incentives. But it’s important that we make it the best state in the nation to drive an EV.  Some Coloradans are hesitant to buy an EV because they are concerned there aren’t enough charging stations to get around the state (a fear also known as “range anxiety.”) We want to make sure there is a trustworthy network of charging stations across the state and the region.

If 15 percent of the VW money goes towards building charging stations, this could result in 60 fast charging stations on our highways. Fast charging stations can provide an 80 percent charge for an EV in 20-30 minutes.

Electric charging stations are far cheaper than gas stations to build, and a National Science Foundation study in 2015 showed that increasing the number of charging stations by 10 percent per million people boosted EV sales by nearly 11 percent in the area. Constructing new fast charging stations is one of the best ways for Colorado to incentivize use of EVs and clean up our air.

2. Work with surrounding states to cooperatively electrify all of the major highway corridors.

Sixty new charging stations would mean Colorado could position one every 30-50 miles along the state’s major highways. That’s enough to electrify 3,000 miles of Colorado highways, or all of I-70, I-25, and I-76, as well as most of U.S. 285, U.S. 160, U.S. 550, U.S. 40 and U.S. 50! This settlement provides an opportunity to build a network that makes EV trips practical in most places in our state.

Colorado highway infrastructure

And not only should we electrify our own highways, but we can and should coordinate with neighboring states to enable EV driving throughout the intermountain west.

3. Use the remainder of the funds to replace older diesel buses with clean electric buses.

The remainder of the settlement funds — 85 percent or about $52 million — could fund up to 125 new electric buses, which would be a huge leap in the shift to a cleaner transportation fleet.

Electric buses are by far the best option for a clean transportation future, as opposed to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles, because they emit far fewer health-harming pollutants. Transitioning to electric buses could cut 90,000 tons of carbon pollution over the lifespan of the buses — that’s the same as taking 17,000 cars off the road for a year!

Graphs that show greatly decreased NOx and VOC emissions in new transit buses

Importantly, electric buses would help clean up the air for disadvantaged communities that suffer greater health impacts from air pollution. Traffic pollution has grave impacts on our health, from asthma attacks in children to impaired lung function, premature death, death from cardiovascular diseases, and cardiovascular morbidity. Plus, bus routes often run through dense areas and neighborhoods with high volumes of pedestrians. Electric buses would reduce the noise and eliminate diesel fumes, benefiting those neighborhoods.

In a rapidly warming world where climate change is slated to have dangerous impacts in Colorado, this is a great opportunity to advance public transit in a way that is good for our air and our climate.  All in all, $61.3 million is enough to jump start Colorado’s clean transportation future. We’re working to tell the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment that the best way to use the money is the way that will benefit all Coloradans.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Outdoor recreation in a warming world is not getting easier. Shorter, warmer winters hurt ice climbing and skiing, while reduced snowmelt is challenging for fishing and whitewater sports. Hot summers push climbers and hikers into the fall and spring, increasing the risk of running out of daylight.

Colorado Springs reflects many of the impacts of climate change on recreation seen across the state. For example, there was a ski hill at the Broadmoor until 1991, which is almost inconceivable to many newer residents to the Front Range. Ice climbing routes at popular local spots such as Silver Cascade are getting more and more unpredictable. And diminishing snowpack means less spring runoff, making whitewater sports difficult.

All of these things are on the mind of David Crye, Assistant Director of Colorado College’s Office of Outdoor Education in Colorado Springs. He helps organize skiing, climbing, rafting, and backpacking trips for students. Climate change affects his job, just as it threatens all of Colorado’s outdoor businesses, ski companies, and weekend warriors. Outdoor recreation is a huge part of the draw of Colorado College, so the program is important for administrators as well as for students.

David’s job revolves around planning educational outings for the students at Colorado College. This is getting challenging as Colorado’s fickle seasons become even harder to predict.

Hit-and-miss seasons for kayaking or ice climbing trips are frustrating for students and staff alike. When students are researching and proposing a trip, water or ice levels may be good–but when it comes to the day before the trip, conditions may have totally changed. This is frustrating for anyone trying to plan personal trips, but is especially problematic for structured programs like guiding businesses or school outings. These trips can’t easily be moved or rescheduled.

“Our programs exist to get people outside, expose them to nature and activities and find their place. College is about getting out trying out new things and learning – which isn’t always in the classroom,” explained David. With climate shifts causing fickle weather, students who were excited to learn about ice climbing or enjoy a scenic river may lose their chance.

While Colorado’s weather has always been reliably unreliable, climate change makes things even worse. This matters for outdoor programs, as David points out.  “Outdoor education helps our community be more cohesive and more in-tune with the world and nature. If students aren’t getting out and experiencing nature, or seeing the changes that are happening,  why would they even know or care to be an advocate for upcoming generations?”

Even historic trips are coming into question. Normally, Colorado College runs an Avalanche Safety course in mid-February. Last year, the snowpack was too low. Students got the same education in avalanche safety, but they missed out on the hands-on experience. David worries that these leaders may not actually have the experience needed to safely lead future trips, because their training took place in such bad snow.

In short, climate change doesn’t just affect high alpine creatures, coastal communities, or big ski resorts. It affects almost all forms of outdoor recreation, threatening our seasons and making planning nearly impossible. Soaring temperatures and unpredictable weather events are a major headache for guides, outdoor enthusiasts, and outing programs.

If current predictions hold true, what is now a major headache will soon become much more troubling. Boulder, Fort Collins, and Greeley were all recently named as cities that will be heavily affected by climate change. Greeley has seen one of the biggest increase in 100-degree days since 1970; Fort Collins is among the cities with the biggest increases in 90-degree days. Boulder is getting muggier – it’s ranked in the top three cities with the biggest dew point increase since 1970.

All these statistics show that you don’t have to be an ice climber to feel the effects of climate change. Daily bike commutes, summer runs, and walks with the dog could all change drastically.

Our multi-billion outdoor recreation economy is especially sensitive to the impacts of climate change. We can work to fix this by supporting good climate policy, electing leaders who make climate action a priority, and working on ways to limit our own personal use.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Imagine a game of Jenga. As each wooden block is removed from the tower, it becomes less and less stable. While the removal of one block has little effect, the removal of another will cause the entire tower to collapse.

Now, imagine each Jenga block is a species. There are plants, snakes, birds, mammals, and all the rest. Imagine each player is a threat to an ecosystem. There’s climate, habitat loss, and pollution. As each player removes a wobbly, loose piece, the entire tower gets shakier. Water pollution may remove a crustacean. Habitat loss easily takes out a few big predators. New diseases or fungus with expanding ranges hurt amphibians and bats.

The tower gets shakier.

But climate change is the biggest threat of all, the one that could cause the entire tower to tumble.

Maxwell Plichta with his research subject, the pika.

This is the scenario we are faced with now. Colorado’s animals are facing threats from all sides, with climate change front and center. Take, for example, the pika. This high-alpine critter is “as charismatic and curious as you and me,” according to Maxwell Plichta. He’s been researching pika for 3 years with the Front Range Pika Project. He loves seeing pika on hikes and points out that they’re also an important species for gauging how the environment is reacting to climate change. They’re a furry, high-alpine “canary in a coal mine.”

Pika are in especially bad shape when it comes to climate change Jenga. These little critters don’t do well above 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If they can’t find a place to cool off, they die. Comfortable in the winter and high-alpine environments, pika can’t do well at both extremes. In Colorado, pika live in high mountaintops. This means that they’ve got nowhere to go if their home gets too warm.

Pika have already disappeared from a third of their habitat in Oregon and Nevada. Recent studies show pika are doing OK in Colorado – perhaps due to the high mountain habitat available. According to pika researcher Liesl Erb, “It is good news that pikas are doing better in the Southern Rocky Mountains than some other places. It is likely that the geographic traits of the Rockies are a big reason why we are not seeing significant declines, at least not yet.”

According to Erb’s research, the places in the southern Rockies that lost pika were the driest, not the hottest. She points out that some models predict the exact sort of hot, dry climate in Colorado’s future that dooms pikas. This just goes to show how difficult it is to predict how climate change will affect wildlife.

Pika are considered an indicator species. Removing their Jenga block from the tower may not cause its collapse. It shows the danger what could happen with unabated climate change. Pika are early, easy targets. Their demise may predict danger for less vulnerable species later. In other words, disappearing pikas could be a stark warning of what is to come.

Emissions and carbon pollution threaten the air, water, and climate of both animals and people. We can protect animals from climate change the same way we protect people – support good climate policy, elect leaders who make climate action a priority, and work on ways to curb our own personal use.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Alongside the Rio Olympics and a presidential election, 2016 is an important year because it marks the 100th birthday of our national parks.

Our national parks help tell the story of who we are as a nation. Some of these places are memorialized for the human history of the area, while others are preserved for their wild character and natural heritage.

While the history of our national parks is often discussed through figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, there are scores of other stories embedded into our nation’s lands that aren’t told enough.

In fact, a 2014 analysis of all our national parks and monuments found that only 112 out of 460 national park units across the country had a “primary purpose” of recognizing the history, culture, or contributions of a traditionally underrepresented community.

Luckily, this deficit has been recognized and things are changing. Several of our new national parks are devoted to telling the full story of this country. These include the Stonewall Inn in New York City that is an important historical site for the LGBT rights movement, the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Southern California that tells the important story of Hispanic migrant laborers, and the Pullman National Monument which describes the history of the “first all African-American union in the country.” .

Colorado’s national parks are doing an excellent job of telling diverse stories. Our analysis of our national park units’ online materials reveals that seven out of the twelve have a primary purpose of telling the stories of underrepresented communities.

Colorado’s twelve national park units tell many different stories. For example, Mesa Verde National Park has incredible artifacts and remnants of Ancestral Puebloan cultures, while Bent’s Fort National Historic Site weaves together the tales of Hispanic settlers, European fur trappers, and Native Americans on the Great Plains.

How can we do this?

The beautiful spaces of Rocky Mountain National Park should be made welcoming and accessible to all.

There are plenty of excellent ideas that have been under discussion. A national coalition of civil rights, environmental justice, and conservation groups have been pushing to increase the use of national parks by minorities, employment of minorities at parks, and the number of parks and monuments that highlight the role of communities of color in American history. The coalition has also called on President Obama to issue a memorandum to encourage federal land management agencies to reflect the growing diversity of the country.

While these changes represent huge progress towards more discussion of diversity in our national parks, we recognize that this change isn’t going to happen immediately nor without the  effort of everyone who enjoys national parks. Colorado is an incredibly diverse place, and this second century of our incredible national parks, should ensure that they are accessible to and honor all people of our nation.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Colorado has long been a leader for the nation in finding policy solutions that strike the right balance between responsible energy development and protecting our clean air, clean water, and treasured lands.

Our state’s past innovation and opportunities for the future were recently highlighted at a panel that Conservation Colorado helped organize in collaboration with the University of Colorado Wirth Chair in Sustainable Development.  The full video can be seen here:

The panelists — Dan Grossman, National Director of State Programs, Environmental Defense Fund; Will Allison, Director of the Air Pollution Control Division, Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment; Patrick Von Bargen, Executive Director, Center for Methane Emissions Solutions; Dr. Tanya Heikkila, Professor, CU School of Public Affairs; Jim Armstrong, President, Apogee Scientific —  had three major takeaways:

1. Colorado’s methane regulations are good for the economy and the environment

One in three Americans lives in a county with oil and gas operations, and right now, methane is leaking from over a million oil and gas wells. That’s over 7 million metric tons of methane spilling into the air each year – enough gas to heat 5 million American homes (at a cost of over $1 billion in lost methane).

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, so wasting methane means losing money for oil and gas taxes and royalty revenues. Those lost funds would have supported education, infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and conservation efforts in areas directly affected by energy development. Curbing methane pollution is also critical because it is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release, and is already responsible for a quarter of man-made climate change.

The good news is that cleaning up methane waste is a win-win. Oil and gas companies can benefit by bringing more natural gas to market, and entrepreneurs are breaking new ground and creating jobs in an ever-growing methane mitigation industry.

Addressing methane waste helps clean up our air. The same strategies used to cut methane will also help reduce ozone-forming pollutants and toxic emissions such as benzene, which threaten the health of those living closest to development. The Colorado methane rules will be critical to reducing ozone along the Front Range to comply with the new federal ozone standards. As Will Allison, Director, Air Pollution Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment put it:

“These [regulations] are a good step, but not the end game . . . the EPA recently lowered the health based ozone standard. This makes our challenges here on the Front Range all that much greater.”

Regulations to plug methane leaks are supported by companies in the oil and gas industry. In fact, a recent study by the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions found that representatives from oil and gas companies overwhelmingly agreed that the benefits of Colorado’s regulations outweigh the costs. Companies capture lost product for additional income and reduce emissions without incurring significant costs.  Additionally, because of the required inspection schedule, the oil and gas companies have seen improved on-site safety and training for their employees.

2. There is need for more stringent federal regulations

Colorado can’t do it alone. No matter how strong Colorado’s air rules are, we’ll need our neighboring states to match our proactive approach in order to protect our air. As Dr. Tanya Heikkila, Professor at the CU School of Public Affairs, explained:

“We need to find better ways of engaging in productive dialogue and productive policy making [around climate change and methane], and I think Colorado has shown some leadership on this issue – we need to share our lessons beyond our state boundaries.”

Currently, both the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Environmental Protection Agency are working to cut methane waste and pollution. The BLM has a “no waste” mandate and is responsible for ensuring a fair return to taxpayers when publicly-owned oil and natural gas minerals are developed. The EPA can address methane pollution on state and private lands, which will ensure we don’t leave any loopholes where development takes place.

As Dan Grossman, National Director of State Programs for Oil and Gas at the Environmental Defense Fund described:

“Our Colorado regulations are strong and are working well, but we need to continue to improve them.  What I see is a continuing circle of improvement in state and federal regulations so that we can get entire the oil and gas sector under a very cost effective regime that will reduce methane and VOCs across the country.”

3. New technologies can help solve our problems

While hydraulic fracturing is a relatively new system, its widespread use has triggered a response from the industry for methane mitigation and new technologies to reduce pollution.

According to Jim Armstrong, President of Apogee Scientific, “We need have systems that can go out there and economically find larger ‘super emitters’ that may be one hundred times larger than the smaller leaks. We need uniform regulations.” Mr. Armstrong’s company, Apogee, specializes in a new mobile infrared technology that can detect emissions from up to 100 feet away.

And Patrick Von Bargen, Executive Director of the Center for Methane Emissions, discussed a new program through the Department of Energy which has funded research and development on monitoring systems. Their target is to reduce the cost of monitoring leaks by a factor of ten, which will be cost effective and available commercially in two to three years. These new technologies can provide breakthroughs with an enormous reduction of cost.

Colorado’s forward-thinking work on our state rules has provided a model for the nation, and we have proven that methane rules can coexist with responsible energy development. But there is more work to be done, and we need to fight to make it happen.

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.

**Updated information about Colorado Public Lands Day can be found on the holiday’s website: www.copubliclandsday.com**

Written by Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate

Colorado just became the first state in the nation to establish a day celebrating its parks, forests, and other public lands, passing a bipartisan bill that the governor just signed this past week. This means that May 20, 2017 will be the first “Colorado Public Lands Day.”

But what does it really mean?

First, we have to take a step back and understand the context in which this holiday was designated. Debate about public lands have roiled the West, with states like Utah leading the charge to attempt a radical takeover of our public lands heritage by passing or attempting to pass laws demanding that the public lands be turned over to the control of states or private interests.

The politicians pushing this agenda, like Utah Representative Ken Ivory and his organization called the American Lands Council, have an agenda for these lands that would shock most of us: huge increases in drilling, mining, and logging to pay for management of lands now shared by all Americans; increased privatization to make public lands available to developers; and diminution of wilderness, wildlife, and recreation on public lands as they are crowded out by industrial extractive uses. Their agenda could render the public estate unrecognizable to most Americans, who greatly value our nation’s shared natural treasures.

Colorado has not been immune to these threats. Our state legislators have introduced eight bills in the past five years to seize or otherwise undermine control of our public lands. Each has been defeated, and each has been a fight. But this year, something remarkable happened. Senator Kerry Donovan introduced a simple bill to declare a public lands holiday, and, despite a rocky path through the legislature and adding and striking of several anti-public lands amendments, the bill passed and became law.

And that represents a watershed moment not just for our state, but for the whole American West.

Colorado has done what no other state has done.

It has taken a definitive step away from the politics of public lands seizure and instituted a tangible recognition that public lands are an enormous public good. Our public lands support our legendary quality of life and lift our economy. We have changed the tenor and tone of the debate. We have again demonstrated that it is a Western value to collaborate and improve, rather than pursue conflict and bluster.

I believe that the public lands seizure political movement hit rock bottom when armed militants held the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year, spouting the same rhetoric of “returning” public lands to private interests as Rep. Ivory and his acolytes in statehouses across the West. The public watched in horror as the refuge was trashed, new roads bulldozed across wetlands, and Native American artifacts were disturbed by bullies toting semi-automatic weapons. The standoff ended in violence and the confederates are now largely in jail. The seizure movement has been in a tailspin ever since.

So my hope is that with the establishment of the Colorado Public Lands Day, we will have more bills across the West and nation that foster partnership and stewardship of public lands. There is surely room for improvement in the management of these lands, and hopefully this holiday can serve as a reminder that we can work together to solve problems and that enormous benefits accrue to us because of our public lands.

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!