Colorado’s water education campaign focuses on individual actions
Climate-focused initiative is funded in part by fossil fuel company
AURORA — State officials Wednesday announced an education campaign aimed at water conservation that emphasizes the role of individual consumers in their everyday, in-home water use.
At the biannual meeting of the Colorado Water Congress, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled the Water ’22 campaign, a yearlong, statewide initiative that aims to educate Coloradans about one of the state’s most important resources. The program encourages conservation in the face of climate change-fueled drought by asking people to take a pledge to conserve water and protect water quality in their daily lives by taking part in 22 small actions.
Polis proclaimed 2022 the “Year of Water” in Colorado, marking the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact and an upcoming update to the state’s 2015 Water Plan.
“We have a shared responsibility to steward this incredible natural resource and make sure it’s there for our people, our places, our ecosystems, our industries that need it to thrive because it all starts here in Colorado with us,” he said.
Water ’22, which is being spearheaded by Water Education Colorado, lays out 22 simple things individuals can do to save 22 gallons of water per day. They include things like turning off the water while brushing your teeth, fixing leaky fixtures, watering outdoor lawns and landscaping at dawn or dusk, and using phosphorus-free fertilizer. The initiative is an effort at education and engagement, and is not designed to result in measurable water savings or improvements to water quality.
The campaign focuses on the voluntary actions of individual municipal water customers instead of policy changes to conserve water. And although the agriculture industry represents 86% of the state’s water use, according to numbers provided by Water Education Colorado, Water ’22 does not include ways for agriculture to conserve water.
“The main thrust of the campaign is targeting consumers at the domestic-use level,” said Jayla Poppleton, executive director of Water Education Colorado. “Our message to Coloradans is that they have a role to play. It’s up to all of us to do our part.”
According to its website, Water Education Colorado is a nonprofit organization charged with ensuring a sustainable water future by educating and engaging citizens around water. It also publishes the Fresh Water News website.
But focusing on individual actions instead of larger policy changes to conserve and protect water is problematic, said Gary Wockner, of conservation group Save the Colorado, whose mission is to protect and restore the Colorado River and its tributaries.
“We have a very serious concern that the Polis administration, in collusion with corporate interests, is trying to place the blame for the water supply chaos onto residents rather than make substantial changes to Colorado water law,” Wockner said.
Sponsors and supporters
Water ’22 promotional materials highlight the connection between climate change, drought, wildfires and water shortages.
“The Water ’22 campaign was created to educate Coloradans about how the state’s water is one of its most important resources and to encourage conservation and protection in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change, which has led to persistent drought conditions,” reads a press release.
There is no doubt climate change is robbing the Colorado River of water and driving shortages.
Scientists Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck showed in a 2017 paper that rising temperatures are responsible for roughly one-third of declining flows. Hot temperatures and dry soils have contributed to record-low spring runoff in recent years and the basin’s two largest reservoirs — lakes Powell and Mead — stand at less than one-third full, their lowest levels ever. In 2021, federal officials declared the first-ever shortage in the lower basin and began emergency releases from upper basin reservoirs to prop up Lake Powell and maintain the ability to make hydroelectric power.
But despite a focus on climate change-fueled drought, Water ’22 is funded in part by a fossil fuel giant. American oil company Chevron is a sponsor of Water ’22 and has contributed $10,000 toward the campaign, according to Poppleton. Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is the main driver of climate change.
Other presenting sponsors who have contributed $10,000 to the campaign include Molson Coors Beverage Co. and Boulder-based cannabis edibles company Wana Brands. It is also being funded with $35,000 of state grant money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Wockner said there’s no evidence that conservation by domestic water users will result in more water in rivers.
“The conservation does not appear to be protecting rivers, so how does this serve the public’s interest?” he said.
Several environmental organizations prominent in the water sector are also participating in Water ’22. Water for Colorado, which represents a coalition of groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Western Resource Advocates, Audubon Rockies and American Rivers, is supporting it as well.
Water for Colorado Communications Coordinator Ayla Besemer said things in the Colorado River basin are dire, and it’s important for Coloradans to know where their water comes from and do all they can to conserve on a personal level.
“Between the destructive wildfires, the first-ever basin shortage declaration, emergency reservoir releases and ongoing megadrought, the need to support Colorado’s fragile water resources is so urgent as to rise above one, specific donor,” she said, referring to funding from Chevron. “We trust this campaign will have a positive effect on water and Coloradans’ understanding of the current situation, aiding in collaborative efforts to confront climate change.”
Poppleton said Water ’22 is proud to have Chevron, along with its other sponsors, as supporters for the campaign.
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Steamboat Pilot & Today. For more, go to AspenJournalism.org.
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