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Water conservation

S.W. Colo. needs ideas on smarter use

Water conservation must have been the topic of conversation in California last week, as that state’s governor mandated a 25 percent reduction in water usage by municipalities and water districts, effective right now.

That was after snowpack surveyors, used to standing amid 5 or 6 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevadas, this year walked across grassy slopes. California is in a jam.

Closer to home, at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 33rd annual water seminar Friday in Durango, there were no conservation mandates, just plenty of ideas that can lead to smarter water use.

Don’t know how much water you’re using because your monthly statement looks to be written in code? If the quantity is clear and sufficiently detailed, homeowners will be better able to track their savings.

Tell homeowners what their water usage should be, both inside use and outside. Those can be goals. It is the outside usage – particularly for the lawn with its bluegrass – that leads to large quantities. Set municipal pricing, so that it is the outside usage – above the inside year-round average – that triggers a large charge. For wildly excessive water use, set a very large charge.

Castle Rock’s water department knows that 55 percent of the water it delivers is used outside, 45 percent inside. It wants that to be 50-50, as part of a 30-year plan.

Monetary incentives can be put in place, too. Castle Rock has a fund that pays homeowners to remove grass, which has been very successful.

There are ways to reward lower usage, too. Homeowners who show a multi-month decline in usage could receive a reduction on their next bill. Or, homeowners who use less than the city’s average could receive a discount.

Landscape contractors in Castle Rock are required to complete the town’s here-is-how-to-use-less-water education course and are tested on it. The reward is that their landscaping plans are more straightforward to design and more quickly approved.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, who a year ago got the attention of the Front Range by drafting a statute that would set a precise lawn size, suggested Friday that allowing homeowners to collect rainwater in a barrel – which technically diminishes downstream water users’ rights – would make clear just how little water falls, and thus how precious it is. That is the kind of teaching tool that has value, she said. Kentucky bluegrass should not be Colorado’s state vegetation, she added.

Social pressure can be very effective and does not cost anything, a couple of speakers said. When a couple of your neighbors outfit their yards with smaller patches of grass and a good deal of gravel, and it does not look that bad, others on the street often follow suit. When it is rare to see your neighbors allow water to run down the street, you are less likely to do so yourself.

All of this makes good sense, whether in California or in Colorado.

The growing mismatch between population and water usage is ours to solve, said John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner who now is advising the governor on water issues. Coloradans cannot point to an upstream state to fix the problem. We are the upstream state.

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