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What is the ‘water year’ in Colorado, and why should we care?

Initiative encourages Coloradans to take a more active role in conservation and management
Rafters float the Animas River in October 2019. Water Education Colorado partnered with the Southwestern Water Conservation District to launch their Water ’22 campaign in Southwest Colorado in late January. The initiative is meant to educate Coloradans about water conservation and management and spur their involvement in decision-making about the important natural resource. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Water Education Colorado and the Southwestern Water Conservation District are trying to make 2022 the year of water education.

Water Education Colorado in partnership with Gov. Jared Polis and local water conservation districts like the Southwestern Water Conservation District launched their statewide Water ’22 campaign in late January to educate Coloradans about water conservation and management.

The yearlong campaign aims to connect Coloradans with their water through outreach and activities across the state while encouraging greater participation in water management and providing concrete steps anyone can take to conserve the valuable resource.

As a part of the campaign, Polis issued a proclamation making 2022 the year of water in Colorado.

“Water ’22 is really designed to more broadly reach the public to build awareness around our water issues,” said Jayla Poppleton, executive director of Water Education Colorado, a two-decade-old nonprofit founded by the Colorado Legislature. “We recognize that people don’t always think about where their water comes from, so we’re encouraging people to find out and to connect with their source watershed as a first step of engaging in protection for the future.”

“Our message is really that this is our state’s most critical natural resource,” Poppleton said. “We want to help more Coloradans understand what’s at stake and not take this resource for granted.”

The Water ’22 initiative encourages residents to learn about water first by connecting with their sources of water and engaging with water managers and experts in their communities.

Water Education Colorado and local water conservation districts are planning activities throughout the state, including volunteer days, expert talks, film screenings, a school water awareness week, a statewide watershed beer competition and tours.

As a part of the campaign, Water Education Colorado is asking each resident to commit to 22 water conservation steps that can help save 22 gallons of water per day.

The measures include shortening showers, using dishwashers and washing machines only when full, defrosting food in the fridge instead of with water, replacing bluegrass with drought-tolerant plants and flowers, and using a broom instead of a hose to clear sidewalk and driveway debris.

By adhering to those steps, the nonprofit estimates that each Coloradan could save 8,000 gallons per year, and statewide Colorado could reduce its water use by 48 billion gallons.

“From the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains to southern Colorado, our economy depends on water,” Polis said in a news release. “Together with Water Education Colorado, I’m asking everyone to conserve and protect Colorado waters for today and for future generations. Simple actions can make a big impact on our state’s most important resource.”

Another goal of the initiative is to spur more engagement in water decision-making among everyday Coloradans.

“Awareness is really a starting point for engagement. It’s also a starting point for someone’s journey to become more educated about water resources and to learn about what opportunities (exist) for them to influence the future of Colorado water,” Poppleton said.

That aim is particularly important this year as the state updates its 2015 water plan, which steers water policy and management in Colorado.

On June 30, the state plans to release its updated water plan for a 90-day public comment period, providing an opportunity for the public to guide water management.

“By raising awareness, we also intend to motivate more Coloradans to be part of the solution through tangible actions that anyone can take and also by encouraging participation in local planning and decision-making processes that affect water,” Poppleton said.

In Southwest Colorado, the Southwestern Water Conservation District is working closely with Water Education Colorado to plan activities and carry out the campaign in the region.

“We see a real opportunity with Water ’22 to raise public awareness about how water supports our quality of life, as well as the threats and the potential solutions,” said Laura Spann, programs coordinator for Southwestern Water Conservation District.

On April 1, the district will hold its Southwest Water Seminar to discuss navigating water shortages. The Water Information Program also shares educational materials about water issues in Southwest Colorado and hosts events.

The Southwestern Water Conservation District and Water Education Colorado have also convened a local speaker’s bureau with water experts such as Gigi Richard, a Fort Lewis College professor and director of the Four Corners Water Center, and Steve Wolff, Southwestern Water Conservation District’s general manager, who are available for talks at clubs and organizations.

“We’ve heard it said that educated citizens are the best defense for Western Slope water and that’s really what our district has seen as a priority,” Spann said.

The Water ’22 comes at a critical juncture for water resources in Southwest Colorado and across the state.

2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and the 85th anniversary of legislation that created the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which guides water management in the state.

The initiative also comes as worsening climate change takes a toll on water resources.

“I think it’s important for Coloradans to recognize even as we’re celebrating the value of water and what it brings to our lives and our communities, our water resources face various threats,” Poppleton said. “And our climate scientists are pointing to real indicators about how a changing climate is resulting in more persistent drought conditions and even more extreme variability than we’ve seen in the past.”

According to Richard, water education is critical, especially amid climate change.

“Everybody should know where their water comes from and understand the connection of their use of water to what’s happening in that watershed,” she said.

“There’s water embedded in everything we use – every product we buy, all of the food that we eat,” she said. “Heightening that awareness is the first step in better managing the resource.”

Water ’22 is not meant as a panacea for the water challenges Southwest Colorado and the state face. But the awareness raised by the educational push can help ensure a sustainable future for one of Colorado’s most precious resources.

“It’s not only important for spurring individual action, but also for generating the support for the management actions that our water providers and other leaders are telling us is needed,” Poppleton said.

Residents can check water22.org and waterinfo.org for educational events in Southwest Colorado.

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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