Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates released the following statements today, praising the Colorado House of Representatives for passing HB18-1069 on a vote of 47 to 14. The bill expands the use of reclaimed water for toilet flushing; it will now move to the Senate for further debate.

“Colorado faces a future where our demand for water will outgrow our supply. That’s why we need to implement innovative policies like this bill, which will stretch our current water resources,” said Kristin Green, Water Advocate, Conservation Colorado. “The future of Colorado’s communities, environment, and economy depends on healthy rivers. This forward-thinking solution is one way to help provide all Coloradans with the water they need while also preserving our precious waterways.”

“Water is the lifeblood of our region, and we need to implement proven solutions that safely and cost-effectively reuse existing water resources. A growing number of states, including, Florida, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, have already successfully supplemented their water supplies with recycled water,” said Laura Belanger, Water Resources and Environmental Engineer, Western Resource Advocates. “Water reuse, in concert with other water-smart tools and strategies, can help us provide for our communities while also protecting our beloved rivers and lakes.”

This legislation is related to three other bills moving through the Colorado legislature to allow reclaimed water to be used for edible crops and community gardens, marijuana cultivation, and industrial hemp use. HB18-1069 now moves on to the Colorado Senate for consideration.

Representatives Dylan Roberts and Barbara McLachlan today introduced HB18-1301, a bill to protect water quality after hard rock mining takes place. This bill ensures protecting water quality is a priority when issuing new mining reclamation permits and requires adequate financial tools to be in place for cleanup of potential mining pollution.

“It’s simple: our drinking water should be clean,” said Kristin Green, Water Advocate for Conservation Colorado. “That’s why HB18-1301 is so critical. Our state’s mining laws are in dire need of an update to protect the rushing rivers and streams we all treasure. Coloradans across the board want to see mining pollution addressed, and we can all agree that it’s a good idea to protect the rivers we count on for our drinking water from toxic mining pollution.”

Colorado has a rich history of mining, and past mining operations have created significant water quality and public health issues for the state. More than 1,600 miles of rivers and streams have been impacted by mining pollution.

Public opinion research shows that 88 percent of Coloradans believe it’s a problem that tens of thousands of Colorado’s polluting mine sites have not been cleaned up, while 70 percent say mining companies should be held financially responsible for the damage and pollution that they cause.

Specifically, HB18-1301 would:

  • Give the state of Colorado the authority to include water quality protection in the bond amount when issuing permits for hard rock mining. Bonds are the money provided by mine operators to help cover costs for protecting public health and the environment, even if the company goes bankrupt or abandons operations.

  • Hold operators accountable by ensuring they have a plan for water quality treatment that includes an end date, to avoid creating more chronically polluting mines in our state.

  • Outlaw “self-bonding” in Colorado, aligning our laws with the majority of states and federal agencies. Colorado is one of just seven remaining states that allows self-bonding, which leaves taxpayers vulnerable to footing the bill for mine cleanup.

    Contact:

Contact: Jessica Goad, 720-206-4235
Eight Major Rivers Across the State Given Grades for Their Health and Well-being

Conservation Colorado today unveiled its first-ever “rivers report card,” an assessment of the health and well-being of eight rivers across the state based on several factors including water quality and flows. Only one river received an “A” grade, while four received grades of “C” or worse.

“Colorado’s rivers sustain our communities, economy, environment, and way of life,” said Kristin Green, Water Advocate at Conservation Colorado. “They provide us with clean drinking water, irrigate Colorado crops, support wildlife habitat, and provide world-class recreation opportunities. In order to protect our rivers, we must first have a clear understanding of what threatens them. This report is a call to action for anyone who cares about our rivers to get involved and fight to ensure they are clean, healthy, and flowing.”

The grades for the rivers analyzed in the report are:

  • Arkansas River: C
  • Colorado River: D
  • Dolores River: D-
  • North Fork of the Gunnison River: B-
  • North Platte River: B+
  • Rio Grande River: B
  • South Platte River: C
  • Yampa River: A

Grades for each river were assessed by analyzing their flows, the amount of water diverted out of the basin, water quality, and the existence of major dams. 

Colorado’s rivers are threatened by climate change, overuse, poor dam management, energy development, and the needs of a population that is set to double by 2050. The report provides several ideas to protect our rivers, including conserving water, voluntarily sharing water rights, avoiding large new water diversions, building water-smart landscapes, and implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. 

Contacts:

– Elizabeth Whitehead, Children’s Hospital Colorado, 720-777-6388
– Mike Wetzel, Colorado Education Association, MWetzel@coloradoea.org
– Brian Turner, Colorado Public Health Association, 303-257-7142
– Jessica Goad, Conservation Colorado, 720-206-4235

The Colorado state legislature today passed HB 1306, a bill that would provide funds for Colorado schools to voluntarily test for lead in their drinking water. The vote count was 29-6, and the bill is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk.

“Clean water in our schools is an expectation everyone in Colorado can get behind,” said Brian Turner, MPH, President of the Colorado Public Health Association. “As a public health professional, but more importantly as a parent, I’m happy to see our state moving in the right direction for our kids’ safety.”  

The bipartisan bill would provide funding for schools to voluntarily test their water for lead, and it prioritizes testing for older schools and schools with younger children. Schools that discover lead in their drinking water have several routes for securing more funding to mitigate the issue. Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in these districts, 100 schools were found to have lead in their water.

“There are no safe levels of lead,” said Dan Nicklas, MD, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “The recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, brought the nation’s attention to this environmental hazard, though lead toxicity has always been a public health challenge. We fully support our state proactively addressing this risk to keep Colorado kids safe.”

“We recognize our school districts are badly underfunded and cannot perform this important work for student safety without assistance,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. “We appreciate our legislators for stepping forward with funding to help older schools meet the challenge of providing safe learning conditions for their students.”

“A safe environment is a human right,” said Kristin Green, Water Advocate at Conservation Colorado. “We’re thrilled that legislators from both sides of the aisle stood up for Colorado kids and will help keep them safe from lead pollution.”

Contacts:
Elizabeth Whitehead, Children’s Hospital Colorado, 303-775-6601
Mike Wetzel, Colorado Education Association, MWetzel@coloradoea.org
Brian Turner, Colorado Public Health Association, 303-257-7142
Jessica Goad, Conservation Colorado, 720-206-4235, jessica@conservationco.org

The Colorado House Education Committee is taking testimony this afternoon on HB 1306, a bill that would provide funds for Colorado schools to voluntarily test for lead in their drinking water. Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in these districts, 77 schools were found to have lead in their water.

“Lead in drinking water is extremely damaging to health, especially in young children, and research shows that there is no safe level for lead exposure,” said Daniel Nicklas, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “We must take every precaution to prevent children from consuming lead, and that starts with providing schools with the tools they need to take the first step.”

“School district budgets are in crisis across the state with the ongoing cut to schools known as the Negative Factor expected to increase in the coming school year” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. “Rural school districts are struggling to keep teachers, so we certainly cannot expect them to divert precious resources away from the classroom to test drinking water. This bill provides necessary funding to give schools the help they need to ensure the health and safety of students.”

“From a public health perspective, lead poisoning can affect children throughout their whole lives and create impacts on the whole community,” said Brian Turner, MPH, President of the Colorado Public Health Association. “We must empower schools with tools to keep kids safe and ensure that they live healthy and fulfilled lives.”

“A safe environment should be the right of every child,” said Kristin Green, Water Advocate at Conservation Colorado. “Unfortunately, lead poisoning remains a problem in our state and across the country. It is our obligation to make sure that every kid is drinking clean water. This bill is an important move in the right direction.”

HB 1306 is co-sponsored by Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Tony Exum. Funding will come from an existing water quality improvement fund. It prioritizes testing for older schools and for schools with younger children. Schools that discover lead in their drinking water have several routes for securing more funding to mitigate the issue.

Contact: Jessica Goad, 720-206-4235

As the 2017 legislative session kicks off today, Conservation Colorado, a 22,000-member-strong environmental organization, outlined its key priorities for the session.

“We’re feeling positive and optimistic about this year’s session, and look forward to making progress with supporters on both sides of the aisle to protect what we love about Colorado: our way of life,” said Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado. “The election hasn’t changed what we plan to do here, and no matter who’s in charge in Washington, D.C., we must clean up our air, conserve our water, protect our lands, and ensure that every person in Colorado lives in a healthy environment.”

Specifically, Conservation Colorado has four key legislative priorities:

Chart our own path forward and create clean energy jobs.

  • Ensure we have the cleanest air in the nation and a thriving cleantech sector.
  • Help communities in rural Colorado become economically diversified, especially those that have been historically dependent on natural resource extraction.
  • Defend against attacks from the legislature, such as last year’s ill-fated effort to gut the budget of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment or attempts to turn our national public lands over to the state or private interests.

Plan for the future, particularly with regard to transportation and growth.

  • Advocate for investments in public transit, walking, and biking options.
  • Build upon the work the legislature did last year to make Colorado the best state in the nation to buy an electric vehicle. Now we must make sure that we’re the best state in which to drive one.

Protect the health of our children.

  • Ensure that oil and gas infrastructure does not encroach on our communities.
  • Make more progress on clean air and renewable energy, considering that children are one of the most susceptible populations to air pollution.

Incentivize the sustainable use of our resources and work to prevent waste and pollution.

  • Implement policies that help conserve precious water resources.
  • Promote solutions for saving energy.

“Importantly, the anti-conservation, anti-enforcement agenda did not win here in Colorado,” Maysmith continued, “as seen in the fact that pro-environment candidates won down our state ballot. Citizens in our state value a healthy environment and the Colorado way of life, and we will fight to turn those values into real change this session.”

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 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