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!

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!

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

How do public lands sustain Colorado’s outdoor industry?

Over 90% of Coloradans participate in some form of outdoor recreation every year, and in 2012, Colorado’s national public lands hosted over 45 million visits. Demand for recreation in Colorado’s national parks surged in 2015, with Rocky Mountain National Park becoming the third most visited in the country, behind only Great Smoky Mountains NP and Grand Canyon NP. These visitors form the foundation for Colorado’s outdoor industry, a $13.2 billion industry employing over 125,000 Coloradans. This industry has made a such a notable impact on the state’s economic landscape and quality of life that Governor Hickenlooper recently created the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry in response

Why are businesses choosing to advocate for public lands protection?

Outdoor companies see the connection between healthy, well-managed public lands, accessibility by all, and staying open for business. They know their voices add credibility to the public lands conservation, as decision makers appreciate a stakeholder community that includes representatives of economic concerns. By lending their voices and representing non-traditional conservation constituencies, businesses help broaden, diversify, and strengthen campaigns for public lands protections and the economic interests they sustain.

How do we know this works?

Many recent conservation victories exemplify this trend, with Colorado businesses playing pivotal roles in propelling campaigns to success. The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, which protected 108,000 acres of land for hunting, fishing, mountain biking, snowmobiling, hiking, and wildlife, relied on over 100 businesses that signed a letter of support for the bill. This conservation win was widely lauded for its success in uniting a diverse constituency and leveraging those voices to achieve a long sought-after goal. Decision makers recognized and respected that this conservation effort represented more than a coalition of conservationists, but rather a diverse array of voices from southwest Colorado, all with unique reasons for valuing a healthy, protected watershed.

This victory, alongside the drive to designate Browns Canyon National Monument, highlights the hallmarks of a modern, sophisticated, and successful conservation campaign – it must be stakeholder-driven and represent a diverse constituency of voices with myriad reasons for valuing public lands. Conservation Colorado and our coalition partners have continued to prioritize this in our ongoing efforts to pass the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, introduced by Representative Jared Polis. That’s why businesses like John Land Le Coq’s Fishpond have spoken out in support. And Osprey founder and co-owner Diane Wren recently demonstrated similar leadership by supporting a comprehensive Master Leasing Plan on BLM land in southwest Colorado.

What issues will we be working on moving forward?

These campaigns have proven how pivotal business voices are in demonstrating to decision makers that public lands protections reflect the best interests of Colorado’s local economies and communities. Now is the time to capitalize on these victories and build a durable, notable public lands advocacy presence for Colorado’s outdoor industry. COBA will advocate for public lands protections on local, state, and federal levels, utilizing Conservation Colorado’s experience, relationships with policymakers, and ability to engage in electoral work to ensure policy decisions reflect the interests of local communities and the outdoor industry.

COBA and its members will focus their collective voice to support sensible, stakeholder-driven public lands protections that support a sustainable outdoor recreation industry by advocating for:

How does COBA differ from other outdoor business alliances?

Conservation Colorado wields decades of experience developing relationships with elected officials at the local and state level, ensuring that COBA’s work complements the efforts of our allies and partners in this space.

Here are a few of our allies and how COBA fits with their work:

  • Our partners at the Outdoor Industry Association leverage the weight of the national outdoor recreation economy to affect policy change on a broad array of issues ranging from international trade to manufacturing to economics. Public lands represent one piece of their work, and COBA will build on the strong partnership between OIA and Conservation Colorado by adding a more nimble complement to OIA’s presence in Colorado focused exclusively on public lands.
  • Conservation Alliance works across the country to connect businesses with environmental issues by using membership dues to fund conservation efforts, including some of Conservation Colorado’s campaigns. Within Colorado, the Conservation Alliance hosts annual events to unite members and grantees and uses its voice on advocacy efforts. COBA brings Colorado businesses into the conversation, elevating their voices directly on the issue, and includes small businesses without the resources to contribute financially to support conservation.
  • Outdoor Alliance works across the country on many of the same issues like public lands seizure. In doing so, it speaks for many segments of the outdoor recreation community, representing its membership of user groups like the Access Fund, American Whitewater, and the Colorado Mountain Bike Association. COBA complements OA’s work with outdoor recreation user groups by incorporating business and industry voices more directly into the conversation.
  • The Colorado Advantage Business Council, a recent addition to the Colorado business and public lands advocacy space, focuses principally on engaging the high tech sector and other members of the emerging economy to highlight public lands as a competitive advantage. We’ll be working alongside each other to ensure that the outdoor industry has a similar presence.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

You’ve probably seen the headlines.

It’s no secret that water is scarce and highly controversial in Colorado and across the western United States. Because this issue has such a broad scope and is so complicated, it is notoriously difficult to reach compromise. We face increasing demands, shrinking supply, threats to our agricultural economy, and concerns over pumping more from our river to quench the urban thirst.

No wonder it earned the motto: “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

But in Colorado, we’re committed to tackling these challenges. After an extensive — and collaborative — process, the state released the first-ever Colorado Water Plan last November. The Plan strives to change the way we manage and value water here in Colorado. Water is an invaluable resource that defines who we are as Coloradans and the place we call home, and it needs to be recognized as such in our policies. The Plan embeds water values that must be reflected into policy, like a productive economy and a strong environment. It also makes conservation a priority by setting a statewide conservation goal.

So how will we meet this new conservation goal? It’ll take technology combined with changes in behavior. But one easy way to conserve water is still illegal in Colorado: Rain Barrels!

Rain barrels are common-sense tool for sparking behavioral change in terms of water use. They were considered inconsistent with our prior appropriation system of water rights that tightly controls our water. But legalizing rain barrels is overwhelmingly supported: it’s had bipartisan support in the legislature and has become popular with the public, as evidenced in an online poll recently run by the Denver Post (below).

State Representatives Jessie Danielson and Daneya Esgar have been working tirelessly to lift the ban on rain barrels and let people use this conservation tool in their backyards. Their bill, House Bill 16–1005 for “Residential Precipitation Collection”, recently passed the House in an incredible 61–3 vote.

This kind of bipartisan support is somewhat of a unicorn for Colorado — especially when talking about water. So how did they do it?

It wasn’t a walk in the park. Before the House voted on the bill, Reps. Danielson and Esgar put in herculean efforts to keep the door open for stakeholders to make their voices heard throughout the process. They reached out to numerous groups including farmers, ditch companies, water providers, local municipalities, conservation groups, and other stakeholders. They presented at Colorado Water Congress’ State Affairs meeting (where water resources policy and legislation are vetted and discussed), and they did public outreach to make sure they got it right. Committed to hearing concerns from their opposition, the legislators agreed to amend the bill to address concerns that urban rain barrel use would impact downstream users downstream uses (though a study by CSU found rain barrels have no measurable impact).

Meanwhile, outside the Capitol there has been a groundswell of support and interest in this bill. Nearly every major newspaper in the state has issued an editorial in support of the bill. This is in addition to the countless articles, letters to the editor, emails and calls to legislators in support.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch with a rain barrel. Watch his video here.

And it’s working.

In fact, several representatives who previously voted against the bill actually got up and voiced their newfound support when it was up for vote on the House floor.

“This is a responsible way to look at rain barrels and also respects our prior appropriation system.” — Rep. John Becker (R)

“I voted against it last year but given the hard work and thoughtfulness that’s gone into this I can now be a yes vote.” — Rep. Paul Lundeen (R)

As Rep. Crisanta Duran put it on the House floor, “We’re voting on peace, love, and rain barrels.”

Deb Neely, Colorado urban gardener, uses rain barrels to water her plants. Photo by Michael Ciaglo for The New York Times.

But lifting the ban on rain barrels is not a done deal yet. The bill will next work its way through the Senate, where it died last year due to just one Senator stalling it in his committee. Fortunately, after the promising start in the House, there’s a good chance it’ll do well in the Senate. Senator Michael Merrifield is carrying the torch and is committed to getting this bill passed in the Senate.

So, in the name of peace, love, and rain barrels — here’s to hoping we can legally catch this summer’s downpours to use for something good.

Read more: Supportive editorials from around the state

(3/05) EDITORIAL: It’s still a crime to catch the rain — Colorado Springs Gazette

(3/03) Rain barrels — Durango Herald

(3/01) Editorial: Colorado should allow rain barrels — Loveland Reporter-Herald

(2/22) Tribune opinion: Arguments against rain barrels don’t hold water — Greeley Tribune

(2/23) Rain barrels and runoff — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

(2/13) Colorado should give green light to rain barrels — Denver Post

(1/21) When in drought, stop holding residents over a rain barrel — Aurora Sentinel

Written by Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate

Americans love our rugged outdoor spaces, as demonstrated by the record number of people visiting national parks, the booming outdoor recreation industry, and the high proportion of hit movies with stunning scenery as a focus.

But some opponents of public lands have been raising their voices — and even their guns — to take away these shared outdoor spaces that belong to all of us and turn them over to private owners or the states. From armed militants in Oregon to a fringe group of elected officials in statehouses around the West, we’re seeing threats to our beautiful wild places from monied interests with some very deep pockets.

In response to the bullying antics of the Bundy family, militias, and elected officials who are trying to enact the Bundy agenda in Western state legislatures, Coloradans are fighting back — with a holiday.

Senator Kerry Donovan and some of the sweeping natural beauty in her district.

Conservation champion state Senator Kerry Donovan, whose district includes over four million acres of Colorado’s most prized public lands, is sponsoring a bill in Colorado’s legislature to set aside a Public Lands Day to celebrate our public lands. This idea is backed by a majority of Coloradans who favor keeping public lands in public hands, and believe that these places are essential to both our economy and quality of life.

A Public Lands Day is about as uncontroversial an idea as there could be. It would not cost the state a dime, as it’s not a holiday that would close schools or the government. At most it would cause an increase in volunteerism on the holiday. It provides Coloradans — and the entire West — with a positive antidote to the negative sentiments swirling around this issue.

People enjoying Colorado’s public lands in every season.

Unfortunately, this celebratory bill has been derailed by Senate Republicans, led by anti-public lands Senator Jerry Sonnenberg. They’ve added amendments that are antithetical to the spirit behind the bill, which is that Coloradans support and enjoy our public lands. Instead, the new amendments use language copied from the playbook of the Koch Brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council that erode the president’s ability to protect national parks and national monuments, even though 84% percent of Coloradans support such actions.

Most Americans know our public lands are a uniquely American concept. Public lands boost tourism and local economies; they contain some of our nation’s most iconic, historic, and beautiful places.

“This uniquely American idea, that lands should be set aside to not belong to one person but instead the collective good, is a foundational feature of our state. Public lands support our quality of life and our state’s economy — we would be a different state without them.” — Senator Kerry Donovan

While the sentiment of “giving land back to the people” may be an enticing message, the truth is that these lands already belong to the people. Here in Colorado, we love sharing places like Pike’s Peak, the Maroon Bells, and Rocky Mountain National Park with the rest of the country, and we encourage visitors to come enjoy our incredible lands.

But we need to speak up for our public lands in order to protect them. Public Lands Day for Colorado would do just that — show extremists that Colorado’s public lands are invaluable to the people of our state and our nation. We’ve got our work cut out for us to get the bill across the finish line and make Colorado’s Public Lands Day a reality.

For more information, read Sen. Kerry Donovan’s article about the bill.

Cover image by John Fielder