Community Agriculture Alliance: Use water wisely

Ken Brenner
Community Agriculture Alliance
Lake Powell is shown at sunset. The lake’s storage volume is at 25% of capacity and on the verge of losing its ability to generate hydroelectric power.
Getty Images

Even with our recent moisture, I’m sure that you have noticed that rain and snow in the Yampa Valley have been trending in the wrong direction for the last two decades.

This year’s snow water equivalent, or SWE, is also less than average. In the last 22 years in the Colorado River basin, only five years were at or above average water production and 17 years have seen a decrease.

There are a number of contributing factors — increasing air and water temperatures, earlier spring snow melt, increased dust on snow events, largely absent monsoon and summer rain showers and some of the lowest soil moisture content ever measured in the Yampa Valley.

This is not just a Yampa Valley issue. We see it in Western Colorado, the entire seven-state Colorado River basin and nearly all of the western United States. California’s statewide SWE was less than 30% of average again this year. Even though last year’s SWE in the upper Colorado basin was at 90% of historic average, we only saw 33% of our historic volume make it to Lake Powell.

Lake Powell’s storage volume is at 25% of capacity and on the verge of losing its ability to generate hydroelectric power, electricity that we use. Lake Mead, the storage for water used by California, Nevada and Arizona, is at 33%, the lowest level since the reservoir was filled 80 years ago.

Powell and Mead are the “bank accounts” used to share Colorado River water and we are almost overdrawn. We will need many years of above average precipitation to build back a comfortable operating buffer of water storage for the 44 million people in the seven states that rely on the Colorado River. We have a very serious situation that seems to be getting worse.

The most important thing we can do is use water wisely. We must first understand the difference between consumptive and non-consumptive water uses. Consumptive use is when water is diverted from the river, put to a beneficial use but does not return to the river.

Non-consumptive uses include water in the river for recreation and environmental purposes. Municipal water uses are predominantly non-consumptive, except lawn watering. When we take a shower, wash our dishes and clothes, the water is used, collected, treated and returned to the river. On the other hand, 100% of the water put on your lawn is consumed, and does not return to the river.

This year our Rep. Dylan Roberts was the prime sponsor of HB22-1151, which directs the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to provide a financial incentive to municipalities and home owners who voluntarily decide to replace grass lawns with low or non-water consuming landscapes.

If we are willing to do more to use water wisely, here is a great place to focus. Please join me in encouraging the City of Steamboat Springs, and other water providing special districts, to investigate accessing these new CWCB funds to incentivize more water-efficient lawns in the Yampa Valley.

Ken Brenner is a board member for the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable.

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