Posted By Carol O’Meara, Boulder County ExtensionColorado experienced a watershed moment in 2015, one with ripple effects on the state for generations to come. On the surface, the Colorado Water Plan approved by Governor Hickenlooper on November 19 is an ambitious road map for managing, conserving, and protecting this vital resource.
But still waters run deep, and if you look closely, you’ll see the plan is designed to help Colorado face climate change, population boom, protect wildlife, keep agriculture vibrant, and support economic growth. All while preserving our quality of life.
“Our water picture has changed over the last 10 to 15 years; it’s no longer good enough to just have water law managing our water,” said James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which wrote the plan. “We’ve had record fires, flooding, and historic drought – the worst we’ve ever measured. We’re warmer by two-degrees; our summers are going to be hotter and our growing season extended.”With Colorado’s population projected to grow 73-percent by 2050 and a projected shortfall of 560,000 acre-feet of water, Governor Hickenlooper in 2013 ordered the creation of the plan. The CWCB sought input from water providers, agricultural organizations, environmental groups, the General Assembly, local governments, the business community and the public.
Among the objectives for closing that gap is landscape water conservation. “With water being recognized as a major factor for the state's long-term growth, now comes the tough discussions and decisions needed to implement a state water plan that works and delivers the quality of life we all treasure,” said Kristen Fefes, a GreenCO board member (GreenCO is an alliance of seven landscape related associations).Landscape water use accounts for 3-percent of state water, which may seem like a drop in the bucket. But a study commissioned by GreenCO suggests that homeowners reducing over-irrigation by 10 to 20-percent can save 86,500 acre-feet of water over 40 years.
“Because landscape water use is so visible, it is often the main target – and main solution – for saving water. But it’s not the only solution. There’s no silver bullet; it’s going to take work on a lot of fronts to conserve water. We believe that xeriscape and other sustainable landscape practices will continue to gain popularity with Colorado consumers. They’re already a business model for us,” said Fefes.Education may be the biggest challenge and an area where Fefes hopes the state and local policy makers lean on the Green Industry. “Landscape water use is complicated and how much to use depends on a variety of factors – soil, sun, slope. There’s no one answer to ‘how much water does landscape use?’ Industry member have technical knowledge to give customized answers to homeowners. We can be a big asset for state and local policy makers in education, outreach, and implementation.”
Eklund and Fefes agree that urban landscapes are integral to our quality of life and not expendable. Its value to mitigating heat islands and reducing pollutant runoff is just as important to sustainability as water conservation.“The knee-jerk reaction is that we can conserve our way out of this, but we’re looking at all the tentacles into lives that could trip us up,” said Eklund. “The heat island effect could mean that a person keeps their air conditioning on. If a person stops watering their lawn and it dies, when it does rain we get all that dirt and pollutants washing off and into the wastewater system where we all pay money to treat it.”
Says Eklund, “We must create a conservation culture, use efficient irrigation, teach our kids that we live in a high desert and water is limited. People moving here need to know that too and not plan for the lush landscapes they might have had back east.”The Green Industry is committed to being partners with the CWCB in closing the water gap, said Fefes. Find tips for how you can conserve by signing up for the ALCC Tip of theWeek .