Citizen's Guide to Colorado Water Conservation Second Edition

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CITIZEN’S GUIDE TO COLORADO WATER CONSERVATION This Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation, Second Edition (2016), is part of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s series of educational booklets designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on water resource topics. The 10 books now in the series cover: Water conservation, interstate compacts, water law, transbasin diversions, water quality, climate change, Denver Basin groundwater, where your water comes from, Colorado’s environmental era, and Colorado’s water heritage. View or order any of these online at

CFWE thanks the many people and organizations who assisted in the development and review of this publication, and ​ in particular ​recognizes ​the following co-authors of specific sections: Perry Cabot, Colorado Water Institute Jane Clary, Wright Water Engineers Kristen Fefes, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado/GreenCO Brenda O’Brien, Green Industries of Colorado (GreenCO) Holly Piza, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District​ Reagan Waskom, Colorado Water Institute

SECOND EDITION Author: Caitlin Coleman Editor: Jayla Ryan Poppleton Designer: Charles Chamberlin FIRST EDITION Author: Nancy Zeilig Editor: Karla A. Brown Copyright 2016 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISBN 978-0-9857071-4-9

MISSION: The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote increased understanding of water resource issues so Coloradans can make informed decisions. CFWE is a non-advocacy organization committed to providing educational opportunities that consider diverse perspectives and facilitate dialogue in order to advance the conversation. BOARD OF DIRECTORS Eric Hecox, President Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr., Vice President Scott Lorenz, Secretary Alan Matlosz, Treasurer Gregg Ten Eyck, Past President Nick Colglazier Lisa Darling James Eklund Steve Fearn Greg Johnson

Dan Luecke Kevin McBride Trina McGuire-Collier Reed Morris Lauren Ris Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg Andrew Todd Chris Treese Rep. Ed Vigil Reagan Waskom

STAFF Nicole Seltzer, Executive Director Kristin Maharg, Director of Programs Jennie Geurts, Director of Operations Jayla Poppleton, Content Program Manager Caitlin Coleman, Content and Communications Specialist OFFICES 1750 Humboldt Suite 200 Denver, CO 80218


TABLE OF CONTENTS 2 WHY CONSERVATION? Limited Supply, Growing Demand..........2 Conservation and Colorado’s Water Future...................................................2 Municipal and Industrial Conservation in Colorado’s Water Plan............................2 Agricultural Conservation in Colorado’s Water Plan............................4

5 EFFICIENT WATER USE IN HOMES & CITIES Household Water Use..................................5 Municipal Water Conservation Achievements.................................................6



Indoor Water Use..........................................6

Heating and Cooling..................................18

Conservation vs. Efficiency.................... 23

Outdoor Water Use......................................7

Indoor Plumbing..........................................19

Return Flows.................................................24

Best Management Practices for Outdoor Water Efficiency ..................8

Landscape Irrigation..................................19

Salvaged Water............................................24

Process Water............................................. 20

Saved Water..................................................24

Oil and Gas Extraction............................. 20

Best Management Practices for Increased Efficiency...................................24

Rainwater Harvesting................................10 Graywater......................................................10 Incentives for Efficient Household Water Use......................................................12

Recycling and Reuse................................. 20 Best Management Practices.................. 22

Education, Technical Assistance and Next Steps.............................................13

Incentives for Efficient Water Use in Commerce and Industry..................... 22

New Construction.......................................13

Challenges to Efficient Water Use in Commerce and Industry..................... 22

Water Conserving Tools for New Construction................................14 Water Delivery Systems............................15 Demand Forecasting/Demand Management................................................16 Challenges to Efficient Water Use in Homes and Cities...................................17

Agricultural Water Conservation in Practice..................................................... 29 Incentives for Efficient Water Use and Conservation in Agriculture.......... 29 Challenges to Efficient Water Use and Conservation in Agriculture...........31


CITIZEN’S GUIDE PHOTO CREDITS: Cover: Adobe Stock; Table of Contents: Adobe Stock; Page 3: iStock; Page 5: Courtesy Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado; Page 6: Courtesy Denver Water; Page 8: Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities; Page 10: Courtesy Hunter Industries; Page 11: Graywater garden— Jeremy Levine; Rainwater—Courtesy Urban Drainage and Flood Control District; Page 14: Courtesy Water Smart Software; Page 15: Rob Larsen; Page 16: Courtesy Denver Water; Page 17: Courtesy Brendle Group; Page 18: Courtesy Hunter Industries; Page 20: Courtesy Encana Corporation; Page 21: Courtesy Denver Water; Page 23: Adobe Stock; Page 26: Tim McCabe/USDA; Page 27: (Left) Adobe Stock; Natural Resources Conservation Service Colorado; Back cover: iStock



Why conservation?


atural constraints bind Colorado’s water supplies. While water is limited, water demands have the potential to grow. As demand increases, competition for water resources is intensifying, and so is the importance of efficient water use and water-conserving practices.

Limited Supply, Growing Demand In this semi-arid state, a limited quantity of water is available each year—an amount that varies widely based on variable precipitation, temperature, the timing of runoff, the amount of water in underground aquifers, and the amount of surface water stored from previous years. How Coloradans use and consume water is a reflection of our climate, topography, land use, and societal values. Water is embedded in every aspect of our lives. As individuals, our water uses include outdoor landscaping, washing dishes, running the washing machine, toilet and shower. But our water footprint stretches well beyond those direct uses to include water used to produce the food we eat and clothes we wear, to manufacture the products we purchase, to provide the electricity we consume, to fuel our vehicles, and more. Although much of an individual water footprint stems from water used outside the home watershed or state, as consumers, Coloradans can look to these connections in making water-efficient choices that are beneficial for local, regional and global water consumption. Locally, the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that Colorado consumes an average of 5.3 million acre-feet of water per year. Uses in which water is not returned to the river—such as water incorporated into crops or products, or consumed by people or livestock—are called “consumptive uses.” Homes, business and industry, farms, recreational activities, and the environment all compete for a share of the state’s finite supplies. Of that con-


Conservation vs. Efficiency—What’s the Difference? The terms “water conservation” and “water efficiency” are often used interchangeably but have different meanings. Conservation refers to those measures that provide verifiable, permanent water savings or a reduction in the amount of water consumed. This is separate and in addition to the temporary savings that result from shortterm drought restrictions and related programs. Efficiency focuses on reducing the amount of water waste—using the minimum amount of water necessary to accomplish a task.

sumed water, 89 percent goes to agriculture, 7 percent to municipalities, and about 4 percent to large industries. But the value of water isn’t only found in consumptive water uses that remove water from streams. Flows that remain in the river benefit fisheries, the environment, recreation, wildlife and other needs—these are known as “non-consumptive uses” and not only have economic value but support many of the qualities people love about Colorado. As competition for water intensifies, it becomes increasingly important to reserve water for the environment and recreation, ensuring that flows aren’t completely diverted, leaving rivers dry. COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

Conservation and Colorado’s Water Future While Colorado’s water supply is limited, water demands are high and expected to increase. In June 2014, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) projected that population could nearly double from 2008 levels by 2050, likely reaching between 8.3 and 9.2 million people. If growth occurs as predicted, the result could be a water supply gap of around 560,000 acre-feet for industrial and municipal uses, leaving many water needs unmet or met in undesirable ways. The need to parse scarce water supplies among multiple valuable uses increases the necessity of efficient water use. Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, prepares the state for a water-stressed future. The plan aims to level the gap between water supply and demand, emphasizing water conservation as an important demand-lowering strategy.

Municipal and Industrial Conservation in Colorado’s Water Plan The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) 2010 forecasts that Colorado could save 160,000 to 461,000 acre-feet statewide by 2050 through “active” municipal and industrial conservation. That same study projects that an additional 154,000 acre-feet of savings will naturally accrue by 2050 through “passive” measures such as replacing old fixtures with new water-efficient models. In addition to conservation savings, reuse of existing water supplies could provide another 43,000 to 61,000 acre-feet of water per year. Colorado’s Water Plan sets the stretch goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water saved through active conservation measures on an annual basis by 2050, which could fill most of the supply gap. The plan states, “Every acre-foot of conserved





Outdoor Residential

Outdoor Park and Commercial


Industrial: 4%

Municipal: 7%



Large Industrial*: 1.1% Municipal

Recreation and Fisheries†: 5.5%



Indoor Residential

14% 8%



Indoor Non-residential

*Includes: thermoelectric power generation, coal and natural gas development, snowmaking and other large self-supplied industrial † Recreational in-channel diversions account for nearly half of the recreation and fisheries water. Sources: Colorado’s Water Plan Chapter 5, Colorado Division of Water Resources Average Deliveries 2008-2014, and Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010



WHY CONSERVATION? Conservation and Colorado’s Water Future Colorado’s Water Plan projects the gap between water supply and demand for municipal and industrial uses alone could reach 560,000 acre-feet (af) by 2050 absent measures, including water conservation. According to modeling from the Statewide Water Supply Conservation and proactive Colorado’s Water Future Initiative 2010, Coloradans could save between 160,000 acre-feet and 460,000 acre-feet by 2050 through “active” conservation and another 154,000 acre-feet through “passive” conservation annually. Colorado’s Water Plan set a “stretch goal” of 400,000 acre-feet of active conservation savings annually statewide by 2050. This would come close to closing the gap. Passive conservation

Active conservation

560,000 af

Combination active and passive

Projected water gap*

614,000 af 554,000 af

314,000 af 460,000 af

Water Plan goal through active conservation 400,000 af

154,000 af

154,000 af

154,000 af

SCENARIO 1 Low-level active conservation savings

SCENARIO 2 High-level active conservation savings

SCENARIO 3 Targeted active conservation savings

160,000 af

* Projected range for water supply gap is 190,000 to 630,000 af water used to meet new demands is an acrefoot of water that does not need to come from existing uses.” Fully stretching limited water supplies to better meet demand has other benefits. Efficiency delays the capital costs of obtaining additional water supplies, including the purchase of water rights or building larger systems for conveyance or treatment of water; demonstrates a commitment to sustainability; and can improve water quality by reducing wastewater discharges and outdoor irrigation runoff.

Agricultural Conservation in Colorado’s Water Plan With Colorado’s semi-arid climate, a significant quantity of water is necessary to sustain irrigated crops and the agricultural economy. Under a status quo scenario, future gaps in municipal and industrial water supply will likely be met by voluntary transfers 4

of water out of irrigated agriculture, as lucrative offers are made by urban utilities and industrial operators. SWSI 2010 estimated that by 2050, absent proactive, alternative actions, Colorado could lose 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland to meet the demands of growth. Colorado’s Water Plan and the Basin Implementation Plans created by the nine basin roundtables across the state explore various methods to keep agriculture viable amid competition for scarce water resources. The water plan includes minimal mention of agricultural water conservation, and rather focuses on what’s needed to keep water on farms—which often points to conservation. The plan also places high stakes on the success of alternative transfer methods (ATMs) that hinge on cooperation between agricultural, environmental and urban interests. These methods provide an alternative to permanent agricultural to urban water right transfers, where farmers temporarily lease water to cities but continue COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

to own it. During certain years, farmers can plant crops that require less water, temporarily take land out of production, or apply less water than their crops need for optimum yields, thereby reducing their consumptive use under their water right and freeing up that water for lease. Beyond alternative transfer methods, agricultural water conservation will be an important element in Colorado’s future out of necessity. Shrinking aquifers in the South Platte, Republican and Rio Grande basins are already forcing increased efficiency, conservation, and the reduction of irrigated acres on some farms. In other locales, water efficiency is good practice for irrigators preparing for drought. The drought in 2012 resulted in nearly 125,000 acres of reduced planting and 98,000 acres of failed crops. More dry years are expected in the future, and efficient cropping systems and irrigation methods that are adapted for drought can help reduce adverse impacts on farms and rural economies.

Efficient Water Use in Homes & Cities A

ccording to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, municipal water use accounts for about 7 percent of water diverted from Colorado’s surface and groundwater sources. SWSI 2010 also reports that of all the water consumed in Colorado, 7 percent is for municipal use. Municipal water suppliers—cities and regional utilities or water and sanitation districts—treat water to make it fit for drinking and deliver it to homes and businesses. Treated, potable water is used primarily for drinking, sanitation and landscape irrigation, as well as for fire protection and to supply public facilities such as swimming pools, golf courses and parks. In some communities, water is recycled and treated to a lesser extent. This non-potable water is not fit for human consumption, but can be applied to other outdoor or industrial uses. Between 2000 and 2015, Colorado’s per-capita water use decreased by 20 percent statewide, with some municipalities reducing per-capita use by as much as 30 percent, according to SWSI 2010. Yet there is much more to be done to reach the goal of conserving 400,000 additional acre-feet of water annually. SWSI 2010 estimated that achieving that level of water savings will require reducing per-capita water use by approximately another 30 percent—from 172 gallons per-capita per day as averaged across municipalities system-wide in Colorado in 2010 down to 119 gallons in 2050. The success of water efficiency and conservation initiatives for homes and businesses depends largely on people’s attitudes toward conservation, their understanding of how to reduce water use, changing social norms, and the availability of incentives and technologies.

Household Water Use During Colorado’s summers, lawns, trees and gardens consume the majority of water

Landscapes have historically accounted for more than half of municipal water use. Outdoor conservation measures such as reducing turf area and using native plants in garden beds can reduce landscape irrigation requirements without sacrificing attractive landscapes.

delivered to residences. Landscape irrigation has historically accounted for more than half of annual domestic water use in Colorado, but according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, between 2006 and 2016 household water use has moved toward a division of 60 percent indoor use and 40 percent outdoor use. Per-capita water use in Colorado varies widely by locale, and with municipalities serving both commercial and residential customers, it can be difficult to separate out residential use. Because per-capita water use is calculated differently across the state, and because the specific climate and mix of residential and commercial uses in communities can dramatically affect water use when measured system-wide, it isn’t necessarily the most useful measure for drawing compari-

sons. However, it can be used to identify longterm trends. Comprehensive statistics on percapita water use in Colorado are collected by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but as of 2016, were not yet publicly accessible. Colorado’s per-capita water use is higher than the national average, which can be attributed to high evaporation rates associated with the state’s climate, the need to irrigate gardens and lawns during the growing season, and the custom of planting landscapes typical of more water-rich regions. Colorado is making strides in reducing its per-capita water use, which can be attributed to conservation programs, financial incentives offered by utilities and municipalities, and changing norms as Coloradans become more aware and more willing to conserve.




Water Conservation Planning and Investment Since 1991, Colorado statute has required that all water providers that deliver at least 2,000 acre-feet of water per year, referred to as “covered entities,” file a water conservation plan with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) in order to be eligible for state funding. As of 2016, there were 68 approved water conservation plans on file with the CWCB from around the state. According to the 2010 Municipal and Industrial Water Conservation Strategies report prepared for the CWCB, water providers report the cost to implement water conservation over the next 10 years averages around $6,327 per acre-foot of expected demand reduction (with a range of $245 to $37,387 per acre-foot). Compare that to the average cost of $20,764 per acre-foot of new firm yield that researchers found in the 2010 study “Relative Costs of New Water Supply Options for Front Range Cities” (with a range of $11,473 to $23,912 per acre-foot). Spending targeted toward conservation, therefore, whether through restructuring water rates, providing audit programs, or offering rebates has proven less expensive than buying and finding new water supplies.

Denver Water’s “Use Only What You Need” campaign uses creative messaging to expand customer awareness and involvement in conservation.

Conservation Plan Spending Distribution For the 30 municipal water conservation plans on file with the CWCB as of 2010, here’s how their next 10 years of spending broke down on average:

Leak detection Other

1 5

Landscape programs like water audits, rebates and education 29

Meter testing and replacement 3 Water rates 3 Audits


3 Education 17

Indoor appliance and fixture rebates 20

Development of ordinances and regulations 19

Municipal Water Conservation Achievements Statewide, water saved through conservation amounts to just under 20 percent over the last decade, but some areas have made greater reductions. As of 2015, water providers and users within the South Metro Water Supply Authority reduced per-capita water demand across the region by 30 percent compared to pre-2002 drought levels; Aurora Water reduced per-capita water use by 35 percent; and Denver Water reduced per-capita use by at least 22 percent. These conservation achievements have allowed many communities to use less water than they once did, even as they serve growing populations. Many of the state’s aggressive conservation efforts began during and after 2002, one of the most extreme drought years the state has seen. Municipalities, confronted with the reality of potential supply shortages, turned to outdoor watering restrictions, public education campaigns, and other tools to encourage conservation. A 2004 paper, “Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Water Restrictions During Drought in Colorado,” found that mandatory water use restrictions in 2002 in select Colorado cities reduced per-capita use by 15 to 55 percent. Drought-related conservation programs can significantly lower demand on a temporary basis, reducing the need for water storage and potentially leading to new long-term conservation habits. However, drought response does not necessarily equate to long-term conservation. The 2010 “SWSI Conservation Levels Analysis Final Report” prepared by the Great Western Institute for the Colorado Water Conservation Board shows a dramatic 22 percent dip in per-capita water use from 2000 to 2003 as a result of the drought. But between 2003 and 2010 some of that immediate reduction wore off, and 7 percent of those savings were lost as water use climbed back toward pre-drought levels. The continued success of efforts to reduce urban water use largely depends on long-term incentive and customer feedback programs designed to change public values and behaviors, coupled with the implementation of more water-efficient technologies.

Indoor Water Use Colorado’s statewide average for daily percapita indoor water use is about 50 gallons, according to a 2014 paper prepared by Western



Coloradans and Conservation From 2004 to 2010, Colorado reduced municipal per-capita water use by almost 20 percent. To meet the Colorado Water Plan‘s 2050 stretch goal, per-capita use must be reduced from 2010 levels by another 30 percent approximately. Gallons per-capita per day (gpcd) 2004








210 172

88 119

Sources: Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010 and Colorado’s Water Plan

Resource Advocates. Compare that to findings from the Water Research Foundation’s 2016 “Residential End Uses of Water” study, which surveyed and collected data from 26 municipalities across the United States and Canada, including Denver and Fort Collins. The study

found that indoor water use averages 58.6 gallons per-capita per day—Colorado’s indoor use falls below that continental average. Water-efficient plumbing fixtures, appliances and retrofit devices are the main technologies available to consumers to reduce indoor water use, while smart metering and water audits can be made available by water providers to help consumers make informed water use decisions. Water savings occurs both passively and actively. “Passive” savings result from factors beyond the purview of the utility’s conservation program—typically through housing and business retrofits mandated by law. A 2015 study by Aquacraft estimates that over 40 percent of the water supply gap that municipal and industrial water uses face could be met with the passive replacement of interior retrofits and strict building codes that require use of the most efficient fixtures. “Active” water savings result from proactive conservation efforts where a water provider spends time and money purposefully encouraging conservation that requires a customer’s participation and response. These can occur

Indoor Water Conservation Savings: Water-Efficient Fixtures and Appliances PLUMBING FIXTURES Toilets



APPLIANCES Clothes washers (14 lbs. capacity) Dishwashers






5-7 gallons per flush

1.6 gallons per flush

0.8-1.28 gallons per flush


3-7 gallons per minute

2.2 gallons per minute

0.5-1.5 gallons per minute


5-8 gallons per minute

2.5 gallons per minute

1.5-2 gallons per minute

24+76+z 19+81+z 19+81+z






56 gallons per cycle

23 gallons per cycle

13 gallons per cycle


9.5-14 gallons per cycle

6.5-9.5 gallons per cycle

3.1-3.5 gallons per cycle

16+84+z 1+99+z

through rebates, audits, leak detection, education and outreach to facilitate awareness and behavior change, conservation rate-setting, and more.

Outdoor Water Use Urban lawn watering and irrigation is the single largest demand on most of Colorado’s municipal water supplies. According to a 2014 fact sheet from the Colorado Water Institute, outdoor water use accounts for about 55 percent of the residential water use along the Front Range, most of which is used on turf. That percentage ranges: Outdoor water use accounted for 62 percent of single-family residential use in Denver and 50 percent in Fort Collins, according to a 2016 national study, “Residential End Uses of Water, Version 2” by the Water Research Foundation. Although they can be water intensive, urban landscapes are valuable. Green spaces cleanse water, reduce stormwater runoff and flooding, and keep pollutants out of groundwater. Trees, turf and other landscaping mitigate rising temperatures and improve air quality. And, while gardens are aesthetically pleasing, they also serve as a place of refuge for many, providing both mental and physical health benefits. To maintain and benefit from our urban landscaping, while also being cognizant of water’s scarcity, outdoor efficiency improvements are among the most important municipal water conservation efforts Coloradans make. Installing water-efficient irrigation systems, avoiding over-irrigation, selecting low-water-use plant varieties, and reducing effective irrigated area can significantly reduce the demand for outdoor water use without sacrificing attractive landscapes. The water savings achievable with well-designed, installed and maintained landscapes and irrigation systems varies depending on the irrigator’s behavior and how much they were watering prior to those landscape and irrigation system improvements. A person who was historically overwatering could cut their water use in half with a well-designed landscape and updated irrigation system. Another who was under-watering would make the same improvements but see an increase in water use as a result of irrigating sufficiently to meet their landscape’s needs. Generally, household irrigation efficiency depends on the irrigation system’s ability to deliver the optimal amount of water required




Top 10 Ways to Save Water Indoors


Replace old fixtures including toilets, faucet aerators and showerheads with WaterSense-labeled models.


Repair leaks including toilets, faucets, showers and service lines. If you hear or see running water, don’t ignore it.


Replace old clothes washers with high water-efficiency models (water factor of 4.5 or lower).


Run only full loads of laundry and dishes.


Turn off the faucet. Never leave a faucet running unnecessarily.


Cut a few minutes off your shower time.


Dispose of food in the garbage or compost instead of the garbage disposal.

8 9



Avoid running water to defrost food. Instead defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Install an efficient dishwasher. (Dishwashers use less than handwashing, particularly if you limit prerinsing.) Wash cars at a car wash that recycles its water.

Some water providers have created demonstration gardens, such as this one by Colorado Springs Utilities, and use them to showcase Xeriscape principles and inform customers of best practices for water-efficient landscapes.

by each area of a landscape while minimizing waste. If an irrigation system is only 75 percent efficient, 25 percent of the water applied will go unused by the landscape, and the irrigator therefore must boost irrigation by 25 percent to attain a uniform distribution of water in all areas. Sometimes the most waterefficient systems involve more than one type of irrigation—pop-up sprayers may be best for turf, while drip irrigation may be more appropriate for areas containing flowers or shrubs.

Best Management Practices for Outdoor Water Efficiency WATER USE REDUCTIONS Many customers don’t know how much water their landscapes need, and because landscapes can often accept excess water without damage, over-irrigation is a common problem. According to the “2015 Update to GreenCO Literature Review: Exploring the Role of Landscape Water Conservation and Efficiency Mapping in Meeting Colorado’s Water Gap,” modeling work conducted in the South Platte Basin projected that 30 percent of singlefamily homes and 20 percent of multi-family properties are over-irrigating. GreenCO’s modeling showed that reducing over-irrigation by 20 percent in singlefamily residential units and by 10 percent for multi-family residences could save about COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

86,500 acre-feet of water in the South Platte Basin alone over a 40-year period. GreenCO’s report also suggests that reducing overirrigation can provide these significant water savings with no impact to landscape quality and without incurring the high costs of new plant installations. LANDSCAPE WATER BUDGETS Landscape water budgets can be implemented by a water provider to identify target levels of water use customized for each customer and landscape. A landscape water budget compares metered consumption against the estimated real outdoor water needs of the customer. Needs are calculated as a function of landscape size and the water requirement of the plants in that landscape—the water requirement is usually estimated using data on evapotranspiration rates, which is the amount of water plants consume through the processes of evaporation and transpiration. Water budgets can help users better understand their consumption and make informed decisions about how to best manage irrigation, thereby reducing over-irrigation. Although water budgets can be incorporated into a rate system (see page 12), they are also a useful informational tool. The potential water savings achievable with landscape water budgets are highest for customers

who over-irrigate. After implementing budget-based rates, the Centennial Water and Sanitation District reported a 25 percent reduction in demand, which can be tied to landscape reductions, according to the 2010 Colorado WaterWise “Guidebook of Best Practices for Municipal Water Conservation in Colorado.” Colorado communities with water budgets in place include Boulder, Castle Rock, Centennial, and Greeley. IRRIGATION EFFICIENCY AUDITS Performing audits and then improving irrigation systems based on those results is an effective non-regulatory approach to improving outdoor water use efficiency. Average reductions in water use made in response to an audit range from 1.3 to 3.3 gallons per square foot, according to the “2015 Update to GreenCO Literature Review: Exploring the Role of Landscape Water Conservation and Efficiency Mapping in Meeting Colorado’s Water Gap.” According to the 2010 Colorado WaterWise “Guidebook of Best Practices for Municipal Water Conservation in Colorado,” savings fall in the broad range of 5 to 40 percent. Water providers offering irrigation audits typically target customers with high seasonal demand. Common irrigation problems identified through auditing include: broken sprinkler heads, sprinkler heads located above or below grade, tilted sprinkler heads, over-spray, improper operating pressure, improper irrigation scheduling and others. Many programs offer audits in Colorado. The Center for ReSource Conservation’s Slow the Flow program provides landscape irrigation evaluations to customers of more than 15 participating utilities, as does Denver Water, the Town of Erie, the City of Fort Collins,

the City of Greeley, Highlands Ranch Metro District, and many others. WATER WASTE ORDINANCES Most water providers in Colorado have water waste ordinances. These typically give the water utility the right to fine for wasteful watering practices, which can include watering in the middle of the day, watering during a rainstorm, watering the pavement, etc. The impact of these ordinances depends on enforcement, which generally depends on the amount of funding committed to the effort. REPLANTINGS, XERISCAPE, AND LANDSCAPE CONVERSIONS Significant water savings can come from replacing landscaping with low-water-using plants and amending the soil for improved water retention. By reducing the water requirements of a landscape before selecting efficient fixtures and irrigation systems, a homeowner can achieve the highest level of water savings. In Colorado’s Water Plan, the “low” conservation scenario sets the expectation of seeing about 20 percent of all municipal and industrial landscapes transformed from high-water-demand turf to low-waterdemand plantings. Under a “high” conservation scenario that number rises to more than 50 percent of landscapes. Developed in Colorado, the basic principles of Xeriscape remain paramount to all conservation-oriented landscaping. These include: planning and design, soil improvement, grouping plants with others that have similar water demands, practical turf, efficient irrigation, mulching, and maintenance. Planting native and low-water-use plants is also often included.

Water Use Efficiency Mapping Water Use Efficiency Mapping is a newer tool to better identify a municipality’s least efficient customers and target them with audits, rebates, education and other incentives. It was first used by Aurora Water with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2013. The city was mapped to determine the amount of pervious area on each parcel of land. Then Aurora Water assigned water requirements, like those used in water budgeting, to each property, linking them to actual water consumption. Through this process, Aurora Water was able to identify its most inefficient customers, then contact them to request they use the utility’s water calculator. The water calculator generates a custom prioritized list of actions that customers can take to become more efficient. Aurora Water plans to provide rebates over time to make efficiency recommendations attainable, and through this program, will phase out its existing rebates.

Top 10 Ways to Save Water Outdoors


Use climate-appropriate landscape techniques, including drought-tolerant plant selection, soil amendment, and irrigation hydrozones where plants with similar water requirements are grouped together.


Water appropriately. Adjust watering through the irrigation season to match climate conditions and obey local irrigation ordinances and restrictions.


Water during cooler hours and not on windy days.


Avoid watering if it has rained in the past few days or will rain again soon. Install a rain or soil moisture sensor if one isn’t included in an irrigation controller.


Aerate in the spring or fall to open up soil to absorb more moisture.


Mulch to improve moisture retention and to control weeds that compete for water.


Don’t water the sidewalk, rocks or road. Use a broom to clean a driveway or sidewalk.


Cut grass at least 3 inches in height to encourage deeper roots and better moisture retention.


Apply fertilizers that use slowrelease, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen to reduce water requirements.


Use efficient technology like drip irrigation, rotary nozzles and smart irrigation controllers where appropriate.




Water Savings through Plant Selection and Irrigation Management For those Coloradans who love their lawns, warm-season turf grass such as buffalograss is often touted as a water-efficient alternative to bluegrass. Modeling in the “2015 Update to GreenCO Literature Review: Exploring the Role of Landscape Water Conservation and Efficiency Mapping in Meeting Colorado’s Water Gap” found that with proper soil amendment and aggressive irrigation management, bluegrass and other cool-season turf grasses have the potential to achieve greater water savings than warm-season turf like buffalograss, reducing the irrigation requirement by almost 50 percent—from an average year’s water requirement of about 18 gallons per square foot to an estimated 9 gallons per square foot. The study estimates that converting cool-season turf, like Kentucky bluegrass, to shrubs and groundcover could save 2 to 5.5 gallons of water per square foot. If the replacement is a lowwater-using plant, savings are projected to increase to 5.9 to 11.5 gallons of water per square foot. The lowest irrigation requirement is for deep-rooted xeric plants that can be watered infrequently using drip irrigation. Under this scenario, the study’s models calculate a 50 to 60 percent reduction in water use can be expected as compared to sprinkler irrigation of turf— not significantly higher than aggressively managed bluegrass. Both GreenCO and the Colorado State University Turf Program recommend that turf selection should be based on the desired functional, recreational and aesthetic benefits, in addition to considering the maintenance and water requirements. Cool-season turfgrass is desirable for certain landscape purposes, such as for high-use areas, whereas warm-season buffalograss has lower traffic tolerance. The savings demonstrated for bluegrass in GreenCO’s study, even if not directly transferable to the average homeowner, may therefore represent a significant opportunity for savings on large landscapes or highly managed commercial landscapes.

IRRIGATION SYSTEM RETROFITS AND CONTROLS Each landscape is unique and has individual needs, but an efficient irrigation system will distribute water evenly and ensure that most of the water applied to the landscape is absorbed by the plants being irrigated. Because each landscaping situation is different, the range of utilized savings resulting from irrigation system updates varies. The 2015 Update to GreenCO Literature Review found that when comparing results from existing studies, water savings achieved through replacement of irrigation systems was approximately 4.8 gallons per square foot. Weather-based irrigation controllers also brought a reduction in water use that averaged 3.3 to 3.7 gallons per square foot when normalized for Colorado conditions. The GreenCO study also found that using drip irrigation to infrequently water deep-rooted xeric plants can save 50 to 70 percent relative to a traditional bluegrass lawn. And drip irrigation 10

Irrigation controllers can be programmed to ensure each landscape zone receives the right amount of water at the right time.

used for annuals saved approximately 10 percent compared to using spray irrigation to do the same. However one of the studies reviewed, the 2011 Residential Water Demand study conducted by Aquacraft for the City of Westminster, demonstrated that when residents changed their irrigation system from manual to sprinkler irrigation, average water use inCOLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

creased by approximately 6.2 gallons per square foot. This is likely a result of residents using manual systems giving their landscapes less than they need, due to the additional effort required to manually irrigate. The Aquacraft study found that most residents, in fact, were underwatering, applying between 67 and 73 percent of the quantity of water required by turf grass, whereas only 12.9 percent of the study sample was overwatering. If those who were overwatering reduced use it would only be a 3 percent reduction in water, whereas if those who were underwatering started giving their turf and plants the amount of water they’d need to thrive, outdoor water use would be about 35 percent higher. The 2016 “Residential End Uses of Water” study found that 71.5 percent of households under-irrigate or use deficit irrigation, 16 percent irrigate the needed amount, and 12.5 percent over-irrigate nationwide. Both cases demonstrate the need for utilities to direct their programming toward customers who are known to be overwatering.

Rainwater Harvesting In 2016, the passage of HB 16-1005 made rainwater harvesting widely legal in Colorado. The practice was illegal in the state until 2009 when SB 09-80 allowed some residents with private wells to begin collecting rainwater and HB 09-1129 created a pilot program for harvesting projects. Today, precipitation can be collected from residential rooftops provided a maximum of two barrels with a combined storage of 110 gallons or less are used; precipitation is collected from a single-family residence or a building that houses no more than four families; collected water is used on the residential property where it was collected; and that water is used for outdoor purposes like lawn irrigation and gardening. In addition to providing water for outdoor irrigation—and reducing demand on municipal supplies—rainwater harvesting may increase overall water awareness for residential users, leading to an increased conservation ethic. Although rain barrels may be conservation motivators, 110 gallons or less collected at a time is not enough to significantly reduce most households’ consumption.

Graywater Making use of graywater is another strategy for efficient consumption of available supply,

Rainwater Harvesting and Stormwater Management at Denver Green School In 2012, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District (UDFCD) received a temporary permit from the Colorado Division of Water Resources allowing the construction of a rainwater harvesting system on a new Denver Public School building, the Denver Green School. Constructed by UDFCD as a research project, the system was made possible by Denver Water, which provides augmentation for the water used per the requirements of Colorado water law. The unique system was constructed with stormwater management in mind. With a realtime connection to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather forecast, any stored water drains prior to a storm so that the system’s full capacity is available for rainwater capture. Data collected at the Denver Green School site between 2012 and 2014 show a reduction in the volume of stormwater runoff of 88 percent on average per event. By reducing the volume of stormwater exiting the site, the system reduces pollutant loading in nearby streams as well as erosion in the stream associated with increased stormwater runoff.

Graywater garden.

where allowed. Graywater is water discharged from showers, clothes washers and sinks that is captured, treated, and reused, typically for toilet flushing or outdoor irrigation. It does not involve recirculating water already used for toilets, urinals, kitchen sinks or dishwashers. In Colorado, graywater may be captured and reused only in regions where local governments have adopted an ordinance approving its use. In 2013, HB 13-1044 authorized the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to develop regulations to ensure the safe use of graywater and allowed local governments to use those rules to establish safe graywater use in their regions. In November 2015, CDPHE adopted Regulation 86, the Graywater Control Regulation. And in December 2015, the Colorado Plumbing Board adopted portions of the International Plumbing Code that allows for graywater piping. According to Denver Water, estimates suggest that for every 1,000 single-family homes equipped with graywater systems, between 50 and 60 acre-feet of water could be saved each year if all graywater produced was used. According to a 2010 paper by the American Water Works Association, Water Environment Federation and the WaterReuse Association, graywater can comprise a significant portion of the water use at any site, with up to 50 percent of indoor potable water use having the potential for recapture followed by reuse outdoors. The homeowner’s ability to access and

The study also showed that rainwater harvesting can provide a significant reduction in irrigation demand for sites with a large rooftop-to-irrigated-landscape-area ratio, for example 3:1. At the Denver Green School, 81 percent of irrigation water used was rainwater. Other water-saving techniques such as the use of rain sensors and native plants and grasses will improve the effectiveness of rainwater harvesting for supplemental irrigation water. Although water rates are currently relatively inexpensive, the cost of a water tap can be a significant consideration. In 2016, a three-quarter inch water tap in the Denver area was about $8,000 and a 1-inch tap more than $19,000. When a planned rainwater harvesting system is used to reduce the size of the required water tap, the cost savings could be in excess of the harvesting system infrastructure cost.

Most of the 8,000 square-foot roof at the Denver Green School drains to a 3,000-gallon cistern, which collects rainwater for irrigation use on the adjacent landscape. When available, the cistern can capture a rainfall depth of approximately 0.7 inches, providing stormwater management benefits as runoff is slowed and re-routed to the landscape.



EFFICIENT WATER USE IN HOMES AND CITIES separate out the discharges of graywater components can be complex, costly and limiting. Some homebuilders are pre-piping new homes to be graywater ready, so conversion to utilize graywater should be easier for new development. Potential for this technology also exists in commercial uses, where the economies of scale make it an easier investment. The widespread installation of graywater systems is yet to be seen in Colorado.

Incentives for Efficient Household Water Use Financial incentives such as rebate programs and conservation-oriented water rate structures are often offered by water providers, or occasionally watershed groups, universities, state agencies and local public interest groups. CONSERVATION WATER RATES Conservation-oriented water rates are an important component of any water conservation program because they convey a message about the value of water. Historically, water rates have been set at flat, break-even prices to ensure affordable and accessible water.

Flat rates, which do not charge higher prices for higher volumes of water use, can still be set to cover the cost of service incurred by a water provider, but inadvertently encourage water waste due to the lack of a price signal. Now, more than half of Colorado’s municipal water providers use some form of water conservation pricing. REBATES Water providers offer rebates to minimize the financial barriers that stand in the way for consumers to make efficiency upgrades. Rebates also serve another, larger purpose of changing the marketplace by artificially increasing the sales or social acceptance of the desired water-efficient product. Many indoor conservation incentives focus on toilet rebates and discounts. In 2015, Colorado Springs Utilities, Denver Water, the City of Greeley and others all offered toilet replacement rebates ranging from $150 to $25 for replacing old toilets with efficient models. Often the largest rebates are available for ultra-high-efficiency toilets, encouraging the greatest level of water savings—the Center for ReSource Conservation offered ultrahigh-efficiency toilets to Boulder residents

for only $50. As of 2016, Greeley also offered $100 rebates when replacing clothes washers with certain qualifying models, while Colorado Springs Utilities offered free showerhead exchanges. While Colorado’s water providers have traditionally offered mostly indoor rebates, they are increasingly shifting focus to create rebates that encourage outdoor water conservation. In 2016, Denver Water offered rebates on rotary or high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles and up to a $100 rebate on WaterSense-labeled smart irrigation controllers. Castle Rock offered rebates on smart irrigation controllers, rain sensors, and rotary nozzles. Others encourage the installation of xeric landscaping, soil amendments, and other landscape conversions. In 2016, Castle Rock offered a $1 per-square-foot rebate for the removal of high-water-use plants when replaced with Xeriscape. Through its “cash for grass” program, Aurora Water has historically offered rebates when customers replaced front and sides yards of residential properties. As of 2016, Aurora was reimbursing customers for material costs rather than paying per square foot of grass removal. To improve the success of their rebate programs, Aurora, Castle Rock,

Conservation Water Rates Conservation rates send a price signal to customers to conserve. They typically consist of one or a combination of the following: • TIERED OR INCREASING BLOCK RATES: Tiered or block water rates charge an increasing amount of money for higher quantities of water use, rewarding customers who use minimal amounts of water. These rates can recover costs from each customer class in such a way that no one group is rewarded more or less than another for reducing demand. Many municipalities including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Durango, Fort Collins, Grand Junction, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Walsenburg, and Westminster use some form of inclining rate structure. These tiered rates are also effective in curbing outdoor water use. • INDIVIDUALIZED WATER BUDGET BILLING: Utilities using a water budget system customize tiers based on each customer’s needs. These individual water budgets are created for each customer based on variables such as the number of people living in a household and dwelling size. Outdoor use is included in the budget based on the size and average evapotranspiration rate of the landscape plus past use on an account’s record. Utilities that adopt water budgets typically use an increasing block rate structure. The first block, for example, provides at least enough to cover indoor water use; the second block covers outdoor use. When water use exceeds 100


percent of these two budgeting blocks, it enters an additional block where penalty rates for exceeding the budget can reach 500 percent of the base rate. Water budgets also help customers think about their water usage by identifying the customer’s water usage goal on their water bills. • SEASONAL AND EXCESS USE RATES: A form of increasing block rates, excess use rates involve calculating a rate for a base level of water use that is often dependent on a customer’s average use during non-peak periods, like the winter. Then during peak periods, water use above this base level is priced at the base rate plus an excess use rate. Seasonal rates charge a higher rate for use of the same quantity of water during peak seasons. For example, if you paid $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water in the winter, during summer irrigation season you might pay $5 for 1,000 gallons of water. • SURCHARGES: A surcharge is a temporary additional fee added to customer water bills in times of peak demand or water shortage such as drought. Results of a 2003 customer survey conducted by Denver Water indicated that surcharges combined with other water-efficiency measures—including water use restrictions and enforcement—can be an effective tool for encouraging conservation. Like ongoing water rate structures, surcharges vary according to customer class and can include varying numbers of tiers, each representing a larger quantity of water and a higher unit cost.


Colorado Springs Utilities, Denver Water, Northern Water and others offered classes and demonstration garden programming about the design and installation of xeric landscapes.

Education, Technical Assistance and Next Steps

Live Like You Love It

EDUCATION AND OUTREACH PROGRAMS Virtually every municipal water provider in Colorado invests in some form of community outreach or public education. Traditional methods focus on bill inserts and direct-mail materials, which are still effective and guaranteed ways to reach every customer. Most utilities’ websites also highlight information on efficient water use and conservation programming. Large water utilities hire staff with expertise in public relations and education and contract professional marketing firms to design and implement public awareness campaigns. Typical water providers’ education programs include water use audits, displays at public events such as farmers markets, demonstration gardens illustrating water-wise landscaping, social media and traditional media outreach, and workshops or training programs on specialized topics such as irrigation scheduling. For children, many utilities fund water-related educational materials, classroom programs, and large water festivals for schools. Landscape professionals and green industry members from around the state also can receive water conservation and efficiency best management practice educational programming hosted by GreenCO. As of 2016 about 830 individuals had passed these trainings and are now able to implement best practices and increase efficient landscapes through their work. Public education efforts to raise awareness and foster behavior change are critical in all conservation efforts. Central outreach components, according to the 2010 Colorado WaterWise “Guidebook of Best Practices for Municipal Water Conservation in Colorado,” include effectively communicating the value of water, delivering consistent and persistent messages, and providing customers with timely information on their water consumption along with alerts when unusual usage is detected. The combined results of such programs have been significant, but because residential users have responded well to education, changes in rates, incentives and other tools,

from 5 to 20 percent—a result that could be mirrored by water users in the future.

Colorado WaterWise launched Live Like You Love It in 2014 to deliver a unified message about the value of water and the need to conserve it around the state. A toolkit, including fact sheets, a video and more resources, is made available for partner organizations at

some water providers expect that it will be difficult to achieve such a steady increase in residential conservation in the future. Next-step measures for additional water conservation will require consumer initiative and behavior change, prompted by increased awareness, to use rain sensors, upgrade irrigation systems, or use shower timers to limit water use, as well as more involved measures on the part of utilities like smart metering, leak detection, and more on-site water audits. SMART METERS Ranging in functionality, smart meters collect household water use data in real time or regular intervals and convey that information to both the local water provider and the consumer. Having real-time access to metering information allows consumers to monitor their use from a smartphone or computer and adapt based on that feedback. And water providers can use the data to better assess issues from off-site locations, more quickly detect leaks, efficiently manage pipes, predict problems, and bill customers based on actual usage and water consumption data rather than estimates. Today, all Colorado water providers serving more than 600 customers must provide meters and metered-based billing to their customers, and many, though not all, are using smart meters. Smart metering is used in Colorado Springs, Cortez, Fort Collins, and other communities. Smart metering is relatively new, and research to demonstrate its effect on water use has been limited. In the energy sector, smart meters have been demonstrated to lower consumption, with energy use reductions ranging

CUSTOMER FEEDBACK Accessing real-time metering data online isn’t the only way for customers to make decisions about their actual water use. Many water providers send mail-based usage data, with some providing additional social comparison feedback so customers can compare their water use to that of their neighbors, a process called social norming. In 2014, Fort Collins Utilities started sending some customers a home water report every other month with the aim of motivating customers to reduce their water use. As of 2016, they reached 75 percent of their customers with these reports and found them to be a cost-effective method to make customers more aware and reduce their water use. A 2011 paper that appeared in the American Economic Review found that water providers that incorporated social comparisons caused a lasting and persistent reduction in water consumption. The study reported about a 5 percent reduction in water use when social comparisons were used to encourage water conservation, and found that those reductions were durable—with social comparison messaging likely leading to lasting conservation investments like fixing leaks and adopting water-saving technologies.

New Construction As Colorado’s population grows, new housing will be built, while at the same time, 75 percent of existing housing along the Front Range could be remodeled or replaced by 2050, according to the Brookings Institute. These new builds and rebuilds are an opportunity to rethink the way Colorado grows in light of water scarcity. According to Colorado’s Water Plan, the manner in which the state grows will have a strong influence on Colorado’s future water supply gap and vice versa. The plan aims for 75 percent of Coloradans to live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land use planning by 2025. Certain land use patterns, like planning new development on smaller lots or designing homes and landscapes to a water budget, can dramatically lower water demand. Increases in housing density, for example, result in smaller landscapeable areas and corresponding reductions in outdoor water use. From a Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB)



EFFICIENT WATER USE IN HOMES AND CITIES 2010 memo, “the general rule implies that a 20 percent increase in density would yield a 10 percent per-capita water savings.” Building water efficiency into new growth can lock in water savings for the future, by accounting for the effect of lot size and landscape choices at the outset. This also reduces to some extent the dependence on the customer’s initiative and investment in achieving water conservation targets. Recognizing these connections, Western Resource Advocates hosted trainings in 2014 and 2015 for city planners, developers, water managers and government officials, led by the Land Use Leadership Alliance, focusing on better integrating water planning and urban development on Colorado’s fast-growing Front Range. Western Resource Advocates is also preparing a training manual with the same aims for land use planners and practitioners, to be available on its website in summer 2016. Legislators also passed SB 15-008 in 2015, directing the CWCB to work with the state Department of Local Affairs to develop and provide trainings for water managers and land use planners on best management practices that facilitate reduced water demand in new

construction. In addition, the bill created a new consideration for the CWCB or Colorado Water Resources Power and Development Authority, the two main governmental lenders for water projects, in determining whether to provide financial assistance for a project: Entities seeking funds should demonstrate they have participated in and are employing methods learned in these trainings. The CWCB plans to launch the first module in fall 2016.

Water Conserving Tools for New Construction CONSERVATION-BASED CONNECTION CHARGES Also known as tap fees, impact fees, system development charges, or plant investment fees, these charges can be structured to encourage developers to build efficiency into new developments, supporting sustainable growth. Aurora, for example, uses its fee to encourage landscaping with native plants that require no irrigation water in new developments by giving the developer a full refund on connection charges for zero-water-use landscapes. According to a 2015 report by Western Resource Advocates, “Water Connection

WaterSmart Software and Social Norming The City of Fort Collins and Greeley along with many other water providers in Colorado and nationwide use WaterSmart software to encourage water conservation. The software analyzes and presents water-use data in engaging ways, including “social norming” or comparing it to similar households’ data, to encourage customers to conserve. The City of Greeley worked with WaterSmart to create and communicate water budgets to its customers. After creating, revising and fine-tuning water budgets in 2013, Greeley created accurate water budgets based on household occupancy and sent home water report mailings to communicate budgets and conservation messaging. Within six months, customers who received the home water reports were more budget compliant and demonstrated water-use efficiency improvements of more than 4 percent.



Charges: A Tool for Encouraging Water-Efficient Growth,” a typical irrigation meter from Aurora Water for a large landscaped area costs $200,000 to $300,000, but developers opting into zero-water-requiring zones can entirely eliminate that charge. Aurora forfeits the revenue, but also avoids the cost of building new, permanent water infrastructure to supply that development. Similarly, in Fountain, connection charges for new residential homes are determined, in part, by the type of landscaping on a property. Water-conserving landscapes pay much less than turf-only landscapes—property with turf covering 50 percent of the landscapeable area is charged half of the connection charge, and property with turf on 30 percent or less of the total landscapeable area pays 30 percent of the full fee. Since mid-2014, 75 percent of proposed new residential homes in Fountain feature water-conserving landscapes. POLICIES AND PLANNING TOOLS In Colorado, any town or county with more than 25,000 residents must develop a master plan to guide its land use. Few communities incorporate a water resources element into their comprehensive plans, but today some are coming up with innovative applications of land use rules. In 2016, HB 16-1313 gave municipalities or counties the option to amend their master plans to incorporate water conservation goals in their master plans. Zoning, building and land use codes direct development. Today Boulder, Denver and other cities set “minimum” densities which limit the size of lots and lawns, enabling more efficient water delivery systems and requiring less costly infrastructure. Most cities aren’t pushing for smaller lot sizes to limit water consumption—it’s dictated by the market— but minimum density requirements, mixeduse zoning and open-space designations allow for more efficient water use. Landscape ordinances can also integrate water efficiency into land use plans. In 2016, Broomfield required customers to add organic matter to the soil before installing turf and limited turf coverage to 60 percent of the landscaped area of any new home. In the Roaring Fork Valley, Ruedi Water and Power Authority released a draft Regional Water Efficiency Plan in spring 2015 which calls for the development of a model landscape ordinance to address water use across the valley—the first plan of its kind spanning across numerous participating municipalities

2010, also required builders of single-family detached residences to offer buyers the opportunity to select from a variety of water-smart options at the time of construction.

Water Delivery Systems

This higher-density neighborhood in Boulder was designed with small turf areas, resulting in reduced landscape irrigation requirements.

to achieve benefits on a regional watershed scale. The ordinance will include a set of standards with options that include encouraging the use of native vegetation, limiting turf coverage, and establishing landscape water budgets. The state of California developed a statewide model landscape ordinance in 2010, then updated it in 2015, to facilitate further advancements in water-efficient landscape design and development. GREEN BUILDING CODES AND METHODOLOGIES Green building codes create a higher standard in energy and water efficiency than standard building codes and provide a tool for guiding construction and development in a more sustainable manner. Green building methodologies can also go beyond what is required by code to encourage higher efficiency. Boulder, Denver, Durango, Telluride, Eagle County, and other cities and counties across the state have programs that encourage green building and water use reductions and often mandate them for city buildings. LEED programs address indoor and outdoor water efficiency, land use and water quality to

some degree but focus more heavily on energy efficiency. The U.S. EPA’s WaterSense provides the first national certification for waterefficient new homes, delivering a 20 percent more water-efficient building, and Colorado has been an early adopter of the WaterSense criteria for new homes. HB 10-1358, passed in

Municipal water suppliers can conserve by delivering water efficiently. According to Colorado’s Water Plan, 8 percent, or 76,000 acre-feet, of municipal water diverted in the state is lost en route to its destination. In Colorado, Denver Water reports average losses below 5 percent, while Pueblo Water reports losses estimated between 6 and 7 percent. Some small Colorado utilities have reported losses as high as 50 percent, according to the 2010 “SWSI Conservation Levels Analysis Final Report” prepared by the Great Western Institute for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). Some states, including Colorado, are considering maximum water loss levels be mandated for larger utilities. A bill proposed in 2016 would have required Colorado’s “covered entities,” or water providers delivering more than 2,000 acre-feet of water per year, to conduct annual audits and meet minimum targets for water loss. Water savings from water loss management programs depend on the level of water loss, which varies between systems. Typically older systems with old pipe and high pressure have greater real losses, or leaks, while systems with old oversized water meters and/ or poor accounting practices have greater apparent losses, or water that is actually

Water-Efficient Land Use in Douglas County Douglas County officials were among the first to include water use in a county’s comprehensive land use plan. In 1998, faced with declining stores of nonrenewable groundwater, they created a water supply overlay district across the county’s western half, restricting groundwater use and requiring developers to prove they had access to reliable, long-term water supplies. The new 3,400-acre planned development of Sterling Ranch has embraced these factors, planning homes that have only WaterSense fixtures and partially Xeriscaped yards, and piloting a rainwater capture project. Sterling Ranch plans to use a third of the water of a typical Douglas County development—0.22 acre-feet per year compared to 0.54 for a traditional home. Through water-wise landscaping and reduced irrigated area, Sterling Ranch homes expect to use only 7.6 gallons of water per square foot for outdoor irrigation—a 76 percent reduction compared to the 35 gallons of water per square foot for a traditional lot.



EFFICIENT WATER USE IN HOMES AND CITIES delivered but not accounted or charged for. Water utilities rely on water audits and work to control leaks, maintain the integrity of buried pipelines, and install customer meters to ensure efficient distribution. LEAK DETECTION Using sophisticated sonic devices that detect the sound of moving water, utilities can pinpoint the exact location of leaks in buried transmission lines. Municipal water providers may also use statistical models to predict the remaining useful life of buried mains by analyzing data on pipe material, leak history, pipe installation date, and soil composition. Installing meters at homes and businesses, which is legally required throughout Colorado, enables water utilities to look for problems by comparing the amount of water delivered with the amount leaving the treatment plant. With smart meters, water providers can better predict or catch leaks in real time. A meter replacement program that launched in Grand Junction in 1996 reduced losses by 8 percent, according to a May 2002 report issued by the city. The City of Durango is conducting a zonal metering program that isolates flows and water deliveries in and out of older sections of town to identify leaks in these vulnerable sections of its system. Water loss control programs identify real, or physical, losses of water from the distribution system as well as apparent losses, or wa-

Water Loss Control Via M36 Water Audits The standard for water auditing and water loss control was set by the International Water Association and adopted by the American Water Works Association. This standard, now known as the M36 Water Audit Methodology, includes conducting a top-down water audit to trace the flow of water from the site of storage, withdrawal or treatment through the distribution system to the point of delivery, then reviewing the “water balance.” This method provides accountability by suggesting that the total amount of water placed into the distribution system should equal the water taken out of the system. According to the latest M36 Manual, water loss control produces benefits in four ways: by limiting unnecessary and wasteful source water withdrawals; by optimizing revenue recovery and promoting equity among ratepayers; by minimizing distribution system disruptions; and by reducing the potential for contamination in the water distribution system.

ter that is consumed but not billed for due to faulty metering, unauthorized consumption, or data handling errors. Any water that is not reflected in customer billing, whether due to physical or apparent losses, is considered “non-revenue water.” By reducing water loss, water utilities can maximize their supplies and bill for more of the water already being treated and run through their systems, which also saves energy and treatment cost. According to a Western Resource Advocates and McKinstry 2015 report “Tapping the Power of the Market,” meter replacements enabled by performance contracting in Colorado, if adopted at a 40 percent rate, could result in 39,000 acre-feet of reduced apparent water loss, translating to increased revenue streams of $34 million.

Demand Forecasting/ Demand Management

Leak detection programs can help utilities reduce water loss in the delivery system. 16

Long-term water demand forecasting is a critical tool used by water managers. Water providers face an uncertain future. They don’t know how population, climate, or the economy will change in their service areas, and yet they must be prepared to meet customers’ demands. Water demand forecasting and water supply planning has become increasingly sophisticated, but many utilities still develop demand forecasts the old-fashioned way— using population projections and estimated per-capita demand. This traditional forecasting method excludes principal factors that produce variability in water use. However, COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

due to resource constraints, concerns about climate change, and other uncertainties, more water managers are making it a priority to understand and model those factors that influence use in order to prepare for the future. Integrated resource planning is a more comprehensive planning effort than the traditional forecasting and planning model. Through integrated resource planning, supply-side and demand-side management options intersect, using least-cost planning and often incorporating water conservation programs as an option for meeting future water needs. This mode of planning often includes goal setting and demand monitoring to determine if a conservation goal has been met or is on target to be met, and can provide data for future planning. The planning process described under the statute that requires conservation plans to be filed with the Colorado Water Conservation Board follows the methods of integrated resource planning and can be used as a reference for utilities. The Alliance for Water Efficiency also has a water conservation tracking tool for integrated resource planning. This tool tracks water savings and compares multiple conservation scenarios to determine the best combination of activities. By having good predictions of what the future may hold, and goals for that future, water providers can make better investment choices and adjust their work to achieve their goals. Planning is essential in implementing conservation measures and permanently reducing demand. Conservation and customer

ting outdoor use first during times of drought and as outdoor use is reduced, early targeting of indoor water use and mandatory water use restrictions, along with many others. The report suggests that concern about demand hardening can be managed through a welldesigned water shortage contingency plan.

Challenges to Efficient Water Use in Homes and Cities

Many water providers offer water use audits to residential and commercial customers to identify opportunities for improved efficiency and conservation.

behavior are among the many factors that make their way into demand forecasts and water supply planning. Planners must also build in some cushion for drought. As a municipal system grows more efficient, it can become increasingly challenging to significantly reduce customer demand during a drought or shortage. The system therefore loses some of its cushion, experiencing what’s known as “demand hardening.” To avoid demand hardening, some water provid

ers have been reluctant to pursue conservation more aggressively, however research from the Alliance for Water Efficiency’s 2015 “An Assessment of Increasing Water-Use Efficiency on Demand Hardening” report demonstrates that long-term water efficiency doesn’t diminish customers’ ability to respond to water shortages. The report offers recommendations for drought planning to prevent demand hardening from becoming a reality. These recommendations include cut-

Achieving efficient water use in Colorado’s municipalities depends on overcoming a number of challenges. Low water rates present a significant challenge to conservation objectives. Because water has historically been underpriced, consumers have become accustomed to low prices that do not adequately account for the full costs of water supply, treatment and distribution. For water providers to successfully send a price signal to conserve, they may have to identify more dramatic increases between rate blocks. Studies have shown that customers are often relatively unresponsive to small increases in price. At the same time, if a water provider is successful in encouraging customers to conserve, and the volume of their distribution decreases, they may have to raise rates just to continue covering their operational costs. Some providers have experienced customer pushback in this scenario. Political reluctance to raise rates can be another challenge for municipally governed water utilities. However, unless there are other perceived reasons to conserve, as long as water is relatively inexpensive the application of more waterefficient technologies and management practices may be limited. Aging infrastructure is another challenge, forcing water providers to spend more of their budgets on infrastructure repair, replacement and leak detection. These mounting costs on top of the need to allocate more resources to water conservation budgets can present a challenge to water providers as they seek customer buy-in for rate increases. Finally, a lack of awareness or understanding is an ongoing challenge. While consumer behavior is slowly changing, education to increase public understanding continues to be vital. Informing customers about how they can conserve and why they should is an ongoing necessity in order to achieve widespread implementation and perpetuation of conservation practices.



Efficient Water Use in Commerce & Industry W

ater deliveries to industrial users account for about 4 percent of Colorado’s water supply, but business and industry also claim a substantial portion of municipal supplies. Colorado Springs Utilities estimates that from 2008 to 2013, commercial water sales accounted for 23 percent of deliveries, plus additional nonpotable deliveries comprised 12 percent of total municipal water delivered. Moving forward, Colorado Springs plans to focus conservation efforts around those commercial and industrial customers—where most inefficiencies remain. Although water providers offer conservation programs to their commercial and industrial customers, they are often highly individualized, designed on a case-by-case basis. Denver Water says it aims to reach its customers through tailored programs—from a florist to a restaurant to an industrial manufacturer—and though the conservation measures vary, customers in all classes have been willing to conserve. In 2014, Grand Junction, Ute Water Conservancy District, and Clifton Water District worked with the Brendle Group to conduct audits on six commercial and industrial businesses in the area. Water-saving opportunities varied from customer to customer. A high school was able to save the most water by upgrading its sprinkler system and making outdoor irrigation changes; a restaurant saw the most water-saving opportunity in an upgrade of its old ice machine; and a printer was able to save the most water by upgrading to highefficiency toilets and urinals. Other commercial and industrial water users are self-supplied, including major beer producers like MillerCoors, mining and energy companies, thermoelectric power generators, the ski industry, food processors, and many others. Collectively these industries require about 200,000 acre-feet of water an18

Commercial and industrial uses of irrigation water, such as golf courses and athletic fields like this one at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, have many of the same opportunities for conservation as municipal uses.

nually, but Colorado’s Water Plan projects that industrial water needs could increase by 50,000 to 130,000 acre-feet per year by 2050. Using water more wisely in commerce and industry can contribute significantly to stretching water supplies.

Heating and Cooling Cooling and heating systems are the largest water users in typical commercial, industrial and institutional facilities, including thermoelectric power plants. The cooling process accounts for 95 percent of the consumptive COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

use in thermoelectric power generation, with Colorado’s power plants withdrawing around 64,500 acre-feet of water annually, or about 0.45 percent of total water withdrawals in the state. However, different types of power generation require different quantities of water. A thermoelectric coal-fired power plant requires an average of 480 gallons of water per megawatt-hour, whereas a thermoelectric natural gas plant requires 200 gallons of water per megawatt-hour. Cooling towers use large volumes of water because they remove heat by evaporation. According to Xcel Energy, cooling makes up

more than 95 percent of a thermal power plant’s water needs, though that number varies among plants. Single-pass, or oncethrough, cooling systems are the most waterintensive of all cooling methods, but have lower consumptive use because the water passes through a singular cooling process that absorbs heat and is then discharged. In these systems, water is directed through a piece of equipment once and then drained into the wastewater system. According to Colorado’s Water Plan, thermoelectric generating facilities in Colorado do not use once-through cooling systems. Water can be lost from cooling towers in three ways: evaporation, bleed-off, and drift. The largest volume of water is lost through evaporation. Bleed-off involves discharging a portion of the circulating water to remove suspended and dissolved solids. Drift refers to water droplets and mist carried out of the cooling tower by airflows. Denver Water says that it has seen some of its highest industrial savings by working with customers to concentrate the number of times water runs through a cooling tower before being drained to the wastewater system. Because evaporation rates are primarily controlled by the needed amount of cooling, evaporative losses offer limited opportunities for conserving water. Instead, facilities that want to improve the efficiency of cooling towers can use some of the following strategies. MINIMIZE BLEED-OFF Postpone the frequency of bleed-off by improving the quality of cooling tower water—either through chemical adjustments or filtration. RECYCLE AND REUSE Recycle bleed-off water for landscape irrigation, for example, or reuse a certain quantity of water discharged from the system. INSTALL CLOSED-LOOP COOLING SYSTEMS Closed-loop systems recirculate the cooling water instead of disposing it. These recirculating systems use water to cool steam, returning the vapor back to a liquid state before reentering it in the steam cycle. After recirculation, the water may be appropriate for irrigation, cooling tower make-up water, or vehicle washing. Closed-loop systems require lower water withdrawals than once-through systems, but have a higher consumptive-use rate of 7080 percent according to Xcel Energy. These

Efficient Brewing When Breckenridge Brewery moved to its new Littleton campus in 2015, the company upped both its brewing capacity and water efficiency. The brewing process that required 9 gallons of water to produce each gallon of beer at the former location now requires about 4.5 gallons. Rather than releasing steam into the air during the brewing process, the Breckenridge Brewery installed a vapor condenser which captures steam and converts it into hot water. As a result, the brewery is able to recapture 700 gallons of water with every brew—that’s water that would have been released into the atmosphere. The brewery combines the steam condensate with 800 gallons of cold water, coming away with 1,500 gallons of hot water that can be used for the next brew. The process not only saves water but it also conserves power, as the brewery doesn’t have to heat that 1,500 gallons of water to reach brewing temperature. Thanks to these savings, the vapor condensor nearly paid for itself in its first year of operation.

are the most common systems employed in Colorado’s thermoelectric generating stations, used in Xcel’s Arapahoe Station, Comanche Station Units 1 and 2, Cherokee Station, and Tri-State G&T’s Craig Station. REPLACE WATER-COOLED WITH AIR-COOLED EQUIPMENT Many facilities are researching the use of dry cooling which uses only ambient air to condense steam. According to Colorado’s Water Plan, this method has lower plant efficiency, has a greater land footprint, and requires a higher electric load, all of which increase expenses. These systems are also expensive to build and depend on ambient air temperature for efficiency, working best on cold days and less so in the heat of summer. However, some facilities, including an Xcel plant in Pueblo, have installed hybrid systems that use water for cooling only when air temperatures are too high for dry cooling. Xcel Energy says its hybrid system cuts water consumption by 50 percent. Boilers and steam generators are often used to heat large buildings or complexes. Older boiler systems can cause water losses resulting from corroded steam traps and other deteriorated components. Technologies that can improve water use efficiency in heating systems include steam trap replacement kits (which prevent water losses from escaping steam), condensate return systems (which reduce the amount of make-up water needed by returning steam condensate to the boiler system for

reuse), and auto match blowdown controls (which time bleed-off discharges to release only the amount of water necessary to maintain desired water quality).

Indoor Plumbing High-efficiency plumbing offers a secure solution to water use in restroom facilities used by employees or for the public. WaterSense toilets and urinals can save a significant amount of water in commercial facilities, while sink faucets and toilets may also be retrofitted to reduce water demand. High-traffic facilities such as passenger terminals, entertainment venues and office buildings can install WaterSense fixtures and sensor-activated control devices that release water from lavatory spigots, improving efficiency by preventing water from running in fixtures that are not in use.

Landscape Irrigation Golf courses, sports fields, and other large landscaped areas surrounding suburban office parks or residential communities can be responsible for considerable water demand. Large landscapes are prime candidates for conversion to water-wise designs, waterefficient irrigation systems, and aggressive management. Under the care of a qualified professional, these landscapes present significant opportunities for savings. In addition, landscape contractors and




homebuilders can play a significant role in improving water use efficiency. An understanding of water-wise landscaping alternatives and the latest advances in water-efficient irrigation systems, as well as regular implementation of accepted best management practices, can decrease water demand at new developments and existing residential and commercial properties.

Process Water Businesses and industries use process water to clean products; to transport or remove ingredients, products, or contaminants; and to control pollution or dispose of waste. Process washing and rinsing are integral components of many manufacturing operations, including metal plating and finishing, paper production, and semiconductor chip fabrication. Process water is also used to develop x-ray and photographic film. Because the amount of water required for processing varies according to its use, both demand and potential reductions in demand are site-specific. Among the technologies that can improve the efficiency of process water use are smaller tanks in sinks for washing and rinsing, intermittent-flow rather than continuous-flow systems, and batch processing equipment. In-flow meters, control valves, or sensors allow flow rates to be adjusted to the minimum amount required and to be stopped as soon as rinsing or washing is completed.

Oil and Gas Extraction Oil and gas development accounts for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall water usage in the state, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources. As of November 2015, there were more than 52,000 active oil and gas wells, though that number varies with the economy. Water in oil and gas production is used primarily for drilling and completion. This includes cooling the drill bit, bringing drill-cuttings to the surface, and hydraulic fracturing. During hydraulic fracturing, water mixed with sand and chemicals is pumped at high pressure down the well bore, creating tiny rock fractures that release oil and gas—that fracturing fluid is about 86 percent water. Water usage during oil and gas operations varies based on the well type and location, and whether the well is hydraulically fractured. Because they aren’t as long, vertical wells use less water than horizontal wells—100,000 20

Some oil and gas producers have invested in water treatment and distribution infrastructure in order to reuse water used to drill and hydraulically fracture wells.

to 1 million gallons of water compared to between 2 million and 5 million gallons— depending on well depth. Wells that were hydraulically fractured averaged 3.2 million gallons per well start in 2012, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Although water use for energy extraction may increase in the future, recycling that water could lessen demand. On the Western Slope, Encana was recycling more than 95 percent of water used for or produced during drilling as of 2013. The wastewater cycles through the company’s treatment plants and is piped to wells where it’s reused for hydraulic fracturing. Each barrel of water is reused an average of 1.33 times before disposal. The quantity of recycled water varies from year to year and isn’t formally tracked by the COGCC. In June 2012, the COGCC began requiring oil and gas operators to report the volume of liquids used in hydraulic fracturing. That year, operators used about 7.3 billion gallons of water for 2,300 well starts. Of that total volume, operators reported about 3.8 billion gallons, or 53 percent of the total, as recycled fluids. In 2014, all of those numbers decreased: About 4.2 billion gallons of water were used for 1,600 wells starts, with 1.2 billion gallons, or 29 percent, reported as recycled fluids. COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

Water reuse presents an opportunity to further stretch and efficiently use available water supplies. However, these methods can’t legally be utilized everywhere—only certain water rights can be used for reuse. Municipal water supplied through a transbasin diversion can be reused to extinction. Likewise, the consumptive use portion of water rights transferred out of agriculture as well as nontributary groundwater are also reusable. To this point, all water is not the same— location matters. In Colorado, if someone flushes a toilet on the Front Range with water imported from the Colorado River that water has traveled across the state, out of its basin of origin and has a different impact, in many ways, than a toilet flushed in Summit County. Since water imported to a new river basin through a transbasin diversion is 100 percent consumptive to its basin of origin and can no longer support the ecosystem, recreation, or other needs in its native basin, the water is considered completely repurposed and available for consumption. Under Colorado water law, the imported water can be used and reused to extinction—a valuable option for water managers trying to stretch their supply. NONPOTABLE REUSE To date, most reuse systems in the state have been nonpotable, recycling water for use by commercial, industrial and institutional consumers. In a nonpotable reuse system, municipal water providers treat return flows, such as effluent from a wastewater treatment plant, to make it safe for irrigation of golf courses, cemeteries, parks, zoos, or commercial/industrial cooling, for example—the water is not fit for human consumption, bathing or cooking. Because irrigation is a key use of this nonpotable water, it is only useful on a seasonal basis. Water quality standards and Safe Drinking Water Act requirements drive the treatment process. In Colorado, most nonpotable reuse occurs along the Front Range, with Colorado Springs and Denver operating sizable reuse systems. In 2016, Denver’s water recycling facility treated up to 30 million gallons of effluent a day. INDIRECT POTABLE REUSE Through indirect potable systems, which are becoming increasingly common, treated reclaimed water is blended into a natural water source that could be used for future drinking

Top 10 Ways to Save Water in Commercial & Industrial Use 1 Conduct a facility audit to

quantify water use, identify savings opportunities and set goals based on industry benchmarks.

Denver Water’s system of purple pipes is used to transport treated, recycled wastewater for nonpotable uses such as power production and irrigation. Operational since 2004, at buildout Denver’s recycled water infrastructure will provide enough water to offset the needs of 43,000 households.

water upon further treatment. Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project and the Town of Parker use water from their reclamation facilities to supply Reuter-Hess Reservoir. Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project can supply up to 20 percent of the city’s demand with water they already have. As long as people use water, there’s a source of reusable water. This is useful from day to day, but also provides long-term drought assurance. DIRECT POTABLE REUSE These systems treat effluent to an acceptable level for human consumption in an advanced water purification facility, then, with no en

vironmental buffer, that water is stored and distributed to customers. There are no direct potable systems in Colorado today, but this is likely to change before long. Many see direct potable reuse as a safe, cost-effective, and drought-resistant source of water that would be available year-round. Factories and businesses also engineer systems to reuse process water on-site, including techniques such as sequential rinsing or reusing wash and rinse water. In sequential rinsing, spent water from one process is reused as rinse water for lower-grade process steps or other applications such as cooling tower


Improve cooling tower efficiency.


Improve efficiency of laundering facilities.


Improve efficiency of kitchen facilities.


Investigate the feasibility of onsite water recycling and reuse or of moving to a waterless technology.


Replace water-cooled equipment with air-cooled equipment when possible.


Retrofit steam sterilizers to reduce water use.


Use nonpotable water for industrial process use.


Install water-efficient fixtures in restrooms and showering areas.



Landscape with water-wise landscaping principles and use water-efficient irrigation systems.


EFFICIENT WATER USE IN COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY make-up water. Wash or rinse water from certain manufacturing operations can be treated and returned to the rinse system for reuse. Challenges to increased reliance on reuse include the costs and byproducts of treating the water to meet water quality standards, as well as the large quantity of energy required to run reuse systems. For these reasons, Centennial Water and Sanitation District has a reuse system but only runs it when necessary. For Centennial, using the regular water supply is less costly and energy intensive than reclaiming water. Another important challenge to water reuse and recycling is public perception and political acceptance of the technology. According to the Water Reuse Association, educational messages delivered in a clear straightforward way facilitate the understanding and acceptance of water reuse, particularly direct potable reuse.

Best Management Practices Best management practices for efficient water use in business and industry are similar to some residential and agricultural practices, specifically regarding efficient irrigation, leak detection and repair, and replacing old plumbing fixtures and equipment with low-wateruse models. Other best practices include: • Conduct water use audits. • Read water meters regularly and install submeters in large complex facilities. • Inspect and repair boiler systems. • Recycle water that flows through cooling towers or replace cooling towers with aircooled equipment. • Reuse process water. • Replace or retrofit all systems through which water passes only once. Additional common best management practices and retrofitting strategies used to improve water use efficiency in specific commercial and institutional settings include: COMMERCIAL LAUNDRIES Replacing conventional washers with highefficiency and “tunnel” washers can reduce water use by as much as 70 percent, while installing water reclamation systems can reduce use by 90 percent. CAR WASHES Eliminating part of the rinse cycle can save water use by 25 percent; reduced water pressure, nozzle size, and conveyor belt time can reduce use by 35 percent; and installing water 22

reclamation systems can reduce water use by 50 percent. These systems separate oil, grease, and grit from wash and rinse water, then treat and filter it for reuse. COMMERCIAL KITCHENS Low-water-use dishwashers, pedal-activated faucets, WaterSense-approved pre-rinse spray valves and point-of-use hot water dispensers can increase water use efficiency.

Incentives for Efficient Water Use in Commerce and Industry Because most commercial, industrial and institutional customers receive some or all of their water supplies from municipal providers, they have access to many of the same incentives as residential customers. Additional incentives tailored specifically for commercial customers may include financial incentives such as repurchasing programs, through which the utility buys back saved water, and free technical assistance in the form of water use audits. REPURCHASING PROGRAMS In a repurchasing program, the utility subsidizes a facility’s investment in water-efficient equipment or processes by repurchasing the water saved during a specified period of time. Denver Water has offered its commercial, industrial and institutional customers a performance contracting program since 1997. Under this program, Denver Water will pay commercial, industrial and institutional customers $18.50 for every 1,000 gallons of water saved annually, provided they save at least 100,000 gallons of water in one year. With these incentive contracts, customers can earn 50 percent of project cost up to $40,000 for conserving water. Payments apply only to non-domestic indoor water-efficiency improvements, typically those requiring changes to equipment or processes such as once-through cooling, cooling tower modifications, cleaning process changes, installation of water-efficient equipment, and reuse applications. WATER RATES Utilities often use increasing block rates (see page 12) for commercial customers. Even so, block rates for commercial, industrial and institutional customers are usually different from block rates for residential customers. If commercial customers have access to and can COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

use reclaimed nonpotable water for some purposes, prices for this type of water are usually lower than those for potable water. WATER USE AUDITS Several municipal water utilities in Colorado offer commercial customers on-site facility audits. In an audit, a utility staff person visits the facility to assess water use and recommend measures for streamlining it. Auditors remind facility owners that reducing water use saves more than the cost of water, with efficiency improvements often paying for themselves in water savings within a year or two. It can also reduce wastewater, energy and chemical costs. In addition, water audits can include bill analysis and cooling tower audits.

Challenges to Efficient Water Use in Commerce and Industry As in residential situations, widespread implementation of water-efficient technologies and practices in commerce and industry faces numerous challenges. Some key stumbling blocks are the cost of improved technology, minimal understanding of the options available to help conserve, and indifference to water pricing. Economics are a major consideration in any business decision to implement watersaving technologies or management strategies. Generally, only the most cost-effective measures are adopted, given the high priority businesses place on returns on investment. Through focus groups, Denver Water learned that most commercial, industrial and institutional customers want water-efficiency measures to pay for themselves within a year. Facility owners are less inclined to invest in measures involving longer payback periods without incentives such as programs to repurchase saved water or the threat of surcharges related to water shortages. Although professional water use audits can identify opportunities to improve efficiency, businesses must also be willing to devote staff time and resources to evaluating options and implementing changes. In some businesses, particularly large industrial operations, water accounts for such a small portion of expenses that owners may have little motivation to look for ways to reduce demand, particularly if a water provider charges uniform rates.

Efficient Water Use in Agriculture A

griculture is the largest water user in Colorado and a primary economic driver in many rural counties. According to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, agriculture accounts for 86 percent of the total amount of water diverted from the state’s surface and groundwater sources. And according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) 2010, farmers and ranchers use 89 percent of the total water consumed in Colorado, or about 4.7 million acre-feet each year—and could stand to use more. SWSI 2010 reports that crops grown in the state as of 2010 could use another 2 million acre-feet if they were fully irrigated. Looking to the future, Colorado’s irrigated acreage is projected to decline, by as much as 15 to 20 percent by 2050 according to SWSI 2010, for various reasons. Although drought conditions vary in severity, duration and location, prolonged dryness has significant effects on water supply across all regions of the state. The challenges of living in our arid climate, on top of mounting municipal demands, shrinking groundwater levels, climate change, and the need to enhance environmental flows, may reduce current agricultural water supplies while also increasing demand to share irrigation water resources across other sectors. Increasing agricultural productivity on the diminishing base of irrigated acreage and water supply is an important objective for maintaining a viable agricultural, food and livestock production industry. Both efficient water application and agricultural conservation through limited irrigation can help farmers stretch resources to survive dry years. And for those reliant on declining aquifers, agricultural water conservation and irrigation efficiency are becoming necessities. Improving the planning and infrastructure to increase efficient water use in these communities, for instance, helps sustain the water resource, enabling producers to continue farming.

Conservation vs. Efficiency In agriculture, efficiency and conservation have distinctly different meanings, and should be understood in terms of the scale at which their respective approaches are applied. At the basic scale of a farmer’s field or pasture, conservation is the reduction of crop consumptive use. Crop consumptive use is the amount of water permanently withdrawn from the system because it has been evaporated from the field surface, transpired by plants, and stored in the plant material. Because evapotranspiration (ET) and plant productivity are closely linked, conserving water on agricultural operations usually will result in a decrease in yield for the same types of crops. Reducing the water that an alfalfa field

receives, for instance, results in less alfalfa. Similarly, a corn field getting less water will yield less corn, and a hay pasture used for grazing livestock will yield less hay. Therefore, conservation is accomplished as farmers implement less water-intensive cropping systems or fallow their fields. Conservation is usually accompanied by a reduced water diversion with the effect or intention of leaving water elsewhere in the delivery system for other uses. Agricultural water efficiency is the concept of reducing water delivery and irrigation amounts without affecting the benefits water provides. This can be done by decreasing water losses at the field or farm scale, but also at larger scales within ditch, canal or basin boundaries. For the farmer, the idea



EFFICIENT WATER USE IN AGRICULTURE is to maintain or improve the crop water use rate while minimizing water delivery. Increased efficiency in water applications and delivery can result in irrigators diverting less water. When water isn’t diverted, the river ecosystem and downstream water users stand to benefit; however, the farmer does not gain the ability to sell or lease any portion of the water that goes unused due to an efficiency improvement, because the measure and limit of the water right is attached to the historical consumptive use of the crop itself. Additionally, increased efficiency on a district or basin scale will impact return flow timing and amounts.

Return Flows Return flow originates from surface water or groundwater returning back to rivers and shallow aquifers after being applied to beneficial use. In most irrigation systems, crops are able to consume only a portion of the water applied. The volume of water that goes unused becomes a return flow. This water may percolate deep into the ground to recharge aquifers or return to the stream. In many places across Colorado, return flow fractions may be diverted and subsequently returned to the river and shallow, alluvial aquifers three to seven times or more before finally exiting the state. Water users downstream depend on return flows to fulfill their water rights. Therefore, when an agricultural water right is sold and transferred to another beneficial use, the future consumption of that water is limited to the beneficial historical consumptive use of the original water right. In other words, the transfer must account for the maintenance of historical return flow volume and timing patterns and take the necessary steps to prevent injury to other water users. For some, the concept that the reuse of return flows by downstream users constitutes overall efficiency on a basin scale reinforces the idea that individual irrigators don’t need to be efficient in their own operations. However, this isn’t completely true. Not all excess irrigation water comes back to the river as a return flow. For example, in cases where irrigators are using water imported from another river basin through a transbasin diversion or from nonrenewable groundwater stores, the return flows do not return to the original source. In addition, high water tables in some places and poor drainage systems 24

cause water to be lost through evaporation— improved water management in that scenario has the potential to make water available for another use or user that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Return flows can also create water quality problems. Multiple irrigation applications potentially pick up salts, fertilizers, pesticides or sediments and carry these constituents into rivers and shallow groundwater. Improved irrigation efficiency can reduce the movement of such constituents. Return flows are not the same as tailwater, which a farmer can legally continue to control, recirculate and re-apply in accordance with the diverted water right. When soil in irrigated fields becomes saturated, runoff collects at the lower end of the field. Some irrigators capture this tailwater and reuse it elsewhere on their farms. However, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, runoff from another irrigator’s fields must be allowed to return to the stream. Carriage water, also called push water, can be part of a farm’s return flow, although it doesn’t come from the bottom of a field. Carriage water is the additional water needed in most ditch laterals to actually “push” the water through, so that siphon tubes, for instance, have enough head to jump the lateral. Some drip and sprinkler irrigation systems also need push water because they are attached to old laterals. This extra push water is considered return flow when it percolates into the ground or is returned to the stream system through drainage ditches. Some of it, however, may be taken up by crops and become part of the consumptive use.

Salvaged Water The possibilities for salvaged water from agriculture are often misunderstood, particularly in the context of agricultural irrigation. Salvaged water is generally viewed as water that results from reducing non-beneficial consumptive use of water, by the cutting or removal of phreatophytes, or deep-rooted plants that continually draw water from a saturated zone along a river or ditch, for example. The removal will largely eliminate the loss of water being caused by those plants. The question then arises: Can an irrigator take this “salvaged” water (which before the phreatophyte removal would have evaporated or transpired and not returned to the river or aquifer) and sell it or use it to irrigate more COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

acres? According to the Colorado courts, the answer is no. Under the Southeastern Water Conservation District v. Shelton Farms decision of the Colorado Supreme Court in 1975, a person cannot “salvage” water and count that as part of a water right. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that any salvaged water belongs to the watershed, not the individual who reduces evaporation or removes thirsty plants.

Saved Water “Saved” water, as opposed to return flows or salvaged water, is not expressly defined in Colorado water law and, therefore, is much debated. Saved water is generally viewed as water that results from reduced diversions due to increased efficiency in irrigation delivery and application methods. A ditch company lining its conveyance channel to prevent seepage or a farmer switching to a more efficient irrigation system to reduce excess wet soil evaporation or deep percolation are both instances where saved water could occur. However, unlike water lost to evaporation or transpiration by plants, this seepage or percolation would have returned to nearby rivers or aquifers to be used by other water users to fulfill their water rights. So, can the irrigator sell “saved” water or use it to irrigate more acres? Theoretically, someone could take a saved water situation to water court. However, legal precedent has almost exclusively been that unless the historical crop consumptive use is decreased, water saved through efficiencies cannot be transferred to other uses. Because downstream users depend on these return flows to fulfill their water rights, saved water cannot be tacked onto an individual’s existing water right decree or made into a new decree. Nevertheless, saving water in this manner can be a valuable contribution to water efficiency throughout a basin, especially during drought. Water not lost to seepage can be stored for longer periods or carried over in a reservoir for later use, pursuant to the operating rules of the reservoir. Prolonging reservoir stores can be very helpful to farmers in the late season. By minimizing water lost to seepage, farmers can more efficiently deliver water to its intended destination. At the same time, water that isn’t diverted to compensate for transit loss due to seepage and evaporation remains in the stream to potentially improve aquatic habitat or be made available to other downstream users.

Comparison of Different Irrigation System Efficiencies at the Farm and Field Scale












































































90 85






85 90








































* A LEPA is a low energy precision application. Source: Howell, T. A. 2003. Irrigation efficiency. pp. 467-472. In: B. A. Stewart and T. A Howell (eds.) Encyclopedia of Water Science, Marcel-Dekker, Inc.

Best Management Practices for Increased Efficiency According to an article in the November/ December 2015 issue of Colorado Water, published by the Colorado Water Institute, a generic efficiency in water use can be calculated by taking the quantity of water consumed by a crop divided by the water diverted and applied to the crop. The potential for efficiencies and means of becoming more efficient vary among operations. Efficiencies can often be found in irrigation delivery and application systems, for example by switching from flood irrigation to sprinkler or drip irrigation, with the improved irrigation system ideally providing plants with just the right amount of water while reducing loss to seepage and evaporation.

Improved and more efficient irrigation systems can result in increased crop consumptive use, particularly in water-short situations. This is because they are designed to increase crop production by distributing water uniformly and simultaneously to a bed of plants, as opposed to furrow irrigation, which applies water unevenly with the plants near the uphill source generally receiving more water than plants in the lower sections. These gains in yield generally hold as long as the entire field area is converted from furrow irrigation to the more efficient system. Recommended irrigation management practices can increase water use efficiency, as well as improve water quality by reducing erosion and non-point source pollution from fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Best management practices, or BMPs, for man-

aging agricultural irrigation are numerous. Common BMPs include improving irrigation conveyance and delivery, improving irrigation application systems, utilizing irrigation scheduling, land leveling, conservation tillage, and soil health management. CONVEYANCE AND DELIVERY Improving irrigation water delivery systems is an important strategy for increasing agricultural water use efficiency. To reduce seepage and evaporation, ditch or irrigation companies can add lining to open earthen ditches or convert them to pipelines. The Colorado Water Institute examined earthlined ditches and in 2004 reported seepage rates varying from 20 percent to more than 50 percent. Compare that to the 5 percent seepage rate of a lined canal. Results of a 10-year



EFFICIENT WATER USE IN AGRICULTURE study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation between 1992 and 2002 found that lining ditches or replacing them with buried pipelines can reduce seepage rates by 70 to 90 percent. Effective linings for ditches include paving materials such as concrete; exposed and buried membranes made of plastic, synthetic rubber, or bentonite clay; and polymers such as polyacrylamide. Polyacrylamide is a soil conditioner that can be applied to earthen ditches to reduce soil erosion and increase soil adhesion, which also improves water quality. Through a study in western Colorado, the Bureau of Reclamation found that seepage can be reduced by as much as 60 percent by adding polyacrylamide to earthen ditches. Although lining water delivery systems often increases efficiency, it can dramatically reduce and alter historical return flow patterns in systems dependent on shallow groundwater. During certain months, base flows in these rivers originate primarily through irrigation canal seepage. Lining ditches can reduce surface water flows and potentially impact other water right holders. IRRIGATION APPLICATION SYSTEMS Finding the most efficient irrigation system for a field involves consideration of many factors, including soil properties, topography, field shape, the cost of the system versus the value of the crop grown, operation and maintenance costs, energy and pressure requirements, availability of local qualified expertise, and the system’s effects on crop yields. Three types of irrigation are used for crops

Colorado Irrigation System Mix as of 2013

SPRINKLER 1,470,829 acres

GRAVITY 1,196,805 acres DRIP 10,126 acres

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture 2013 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey

Gravity-flow irrigation such as flood and furrow is slowly being replaced in many parts of Colorado by sprinkler systems that provide greater water efficiency.

in Colorado—surface or gravity-flow systems; sprinklers, including side-roll, center-pivot sprinklers and linear-move systems; and drip, trickle or micro-irrigation methods. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2013 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey, more than half of the irrigated land in Colorado is watered with sprinkler irrigation, followed closely by surface and gravity-flow systems, while less than 1 percent of Colorado’s irrigated acres employ micro-irrigation methods. Surface irrigation systems, such as furrow or flood methods, are the oldest and least expen-

sive means of irrigation, but they are also the least water efficient at the field scale. However, they require little or no energy input. To ensure that water reaches the end of the furrow or field, a prolonged irrigation period is needed. This period is sometimes referred to as the irrigation “set.” During this period, irrigators apply water from the source at the upper end of the field, where it soaks into the soil vertically, at same time pushing horizontally down the furrow. The timing of these competing pathways makes furrow irrigation a difficult job. During each set, irrigators need to fill the soil root zone

Improved Efficiency in a Water-Short System: Arkansas Basin Rules A unique situation exists in Colorado’s Arkansas River Basin with regard to irrigation efficiency improvements. In 2009, Colorado’s State Engineer deemed that improvements to surface water irrigation systems, such as sprinklers and drip systems that replace flood and furrow irrigation, or canal lining that reduces seepage, have the potential to materially deplete the usable waters of the Arkansas River in violation of the 1948 Arkansas River Compact. This compact governs the shared use of Arkansas River water between Colorado and Kansas.


In order to ensure such improvements to surface water irrigation systems do not cause Colorado to fall out of compliance with the compact, the State Engineer promulgated rules, effective since January 2011, called the “Compact Rules Governing Improvements to Surface Water Irrigation Systems in the Arkansas River Basin in Colorado.” These state that historical seepage or return flows must be maintained under circumstances where improvements have been made to surface water irrigation systems. Many of the ditch systems in the Arkansas Basin are water short even in average runoff years, thus efficiency


improvements may increase consumptive use, leading to violations of the compact. Any irrigator making such improvements must file a “Rule 10” compact compliance plan with the State Engineer, or otherwise gain approval for an augmentation plan or substitute water supply plan where an alternate source of water is used to offset the impact of the improvements. These rules are very specific to the Arkansas Basin, and should not be viewed as an impediment to farmers looking to be more efficient.

Drip systems (left) are the most efficient form of irrigation, but are not appropriate for all crops. Overhead lateral-move sprinklers (right) and center-pivot sprinklers are about 85 percent efficient. The cost of installing and operating these systems can be offset by the labor savings and increased productivity they provide.

with water, so they let the furrows run all the way through the field, causing runoff, or tailwater, at the lower end. This has the effect of ensuring that the driest part of the field at the end has good soil moisture in the root zone. Irrigation systems that minimize runoff by distributing water more uniformly and precisely across the field—for example, sprinkler or drip systems—are considered more efficient because less water needs to be diverted to the field to fill the soil moisture profile. Generally, irrigation efficiency describes the overall performance of the irrigation system in delivering water to the root zone. For example, if an irrigation system is 75 percent efficient, this means that 75 percent of the water applied to the field is stored in the root zone and utilized by the cropping system. The other 25 percent may return to the river or groundwater aquifer or be lost to evaporation. Surface and Gravity-Flow Irrigation: The efficiency of surface, or flood and furrow, irrigation varies significantly with soil type, field length, terrain and other factors, but most lose substantial quantities of water to drainage, runoff and evaporation from saturated soil conditions. Land grading minimizes variations in field contours and increases the uniform distribution of surface irrigation water. Laser leveling, the most precise land-leveling technology, uses laser-controlled grading equipment.

Sprinkler Irrigation: Sprinkler irrigation systems are more efficient than flood irrigation, and more versatile, but often more costly. In addition to the capital investment in sprinkler technology, irrigators pay the energy cost of pumping water into the system. This can be offset by additional earnings through increased crop yields and labor savings. Depending on their utility provider, some irrigators may also be able to take advantage of off-peak rates to irrigate at night, although fungus issues can be exacerbated. There are several types of water application, water pressure, and movement of sprinklers that can be used to best suit the field and crop, including side-roll, center pivot and overhead linear move. According to the Colorado Ag Water Alliance, well-managed center-pivot and overhead linear move sprinklers are about 85 percent efficient. Micro-irrigation: Micro-irrigation systems are the most efficient because they deliver water at a slow, frequent and consistent rate directly to the plant’s root zone as needed by the crop, ensuring that little water is lost. Not only is little water lost, but the precision of these systems creates such prime growing conditions that crop productivity can increase by up to 25 percent. Examples of micro-irrigation include surface drip, subsurface drip, and micro-sprayers. Although they’re efficient, micro-irrigation systems can be prohibitively expensive and require

maintenance. As of 2013 only 10,126 acres in Colorado were irrigated with these systems, according to the USDA 2013 Farm and Ranch Survey. These systems are most commonly used in orchards and vineyards. IRRIGATION SCHEDULING Irrigators can enhance on-farm water efficiency by scheduling irrigation based on soil moisture and plant evapotranspiration (ET) rates. Ideally, irrigators should apply the right amount of water needed at the right time to replenish soil moisture and maintain optimal plant growth. Irrigation scheduling can improve water efficiency by at least 20 percent, according to research conducted by Colorado State University. SOIL MOISTURE MONITORING Monitoring soil moisture levels to determine when and how much to irrigate can improve water conservation while also boosting crop yields, improving water quality, and reducing soil erosion. Determining soil moisture can be as simple as feeling the soil or as sophisticated as using cloud-based telemetry to download data remotely from moisture sensors or to analyze data collected by drones. The least expensive method of soil moisture monitoring is through direct inspection—inspecting, feeling or weighing soil cores. More sophisticated sensors are increasingly being used: Portable sensing tools can be pushed



EFFICIENT WATER USE IN AGRICULTURE Infrastructure for Advanced Irrigation Scheduling Using Soil Moisture Monitoring and Telemetry Soil moisture monitoring can be used to determine when and how much to irrigate. Techniques range from the simplistic—simply feeling the soil—to the high-tech. Advanced monitoring systems rely on buried sensors that transmit data to data loggers or cloud-based servers, which can then be accessed from a computer or smart device.


Transmits to Gateway


Transmits to Base Station Solar panel Battery

Soil temperature sensor

Soil moisture sensors of varying depths END NODE



Source: Irrometer

directly into the soil, while other systems rely on buried sensors or electrical resistance blocks that connect to a device for tracking soil moisture data. More sophisticated systems employ telemetry to transmit readings from sensors buried in the field to data loggers or cloud-based servers that can be accessed from a computer or smart device. WATER IRRIGATION SCHEDULER FOR EFFICIENT APPLICATION An online tool, the Water Irrigation Scheduler for Efficient Application, or WISE, available at, is used to estimate daily soil water depletions which can indicate the required amount and timing of irrigation. WISE tracks daily additions and depletions of water in a crop’s root zone and incorporates daily weather data from automatic weather stations in the Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network, or CoAgMet. CoAgMet CoAgMet can also be a standalone online resource used to estimate the ET rate of a crop on a daily basis. Data is available at coagmet. com. CoAgMet data-collection stations are located around the state and managed by the 28

Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. Irrigators can use CoAgMet reports, which estimate ET rates for eight popular crops, to fine-tune irrigation timing and amount. Producers can look at ET and plant needs in planning a soil/plant-based irrigation schedule. One limitation to ET-based irrigation is that it is less applicable if growers do not have storage or flexible control over when water is available. REMOTE SENSING BY DRONE Irrigators can also use remote sensing or captured images from an aircraft or drone. Remotely sensed multispectral imagery with visible, near-infrared, and thermal wavebands can be used to calculate the ET rate within each pixel, which can then determine irrigation water requirements and spatial differences between stressed and non-stressed crops. Remotesensing approaches can be ground-truthed using ground-based radiometers, which measure incoming and reflected radiation, and then correlating this energy balance with the evapotranspiration of water from the field surface. AUTOMATED IRRIGATION SYSTEMS Automated irrigation systems use weather COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

station data and moisture sensor data to determine when and how long to water crops. The control system pulls in real-time data and determines if water is required. Automated systems often save on labor but are associated with higher equipment costs, therefore costeffectiveness depends on the crop planted. CONSERVATION TILLAGE AND SOIL HEALTH MANAGEMENT Conservation tillage refers to any cultivation method that leaves at least 30 percent of the soil surface covered by crop residue or stubble. By maintaining more ground cover and disturbing less soil than traditional cultivation methods, conservation tillage and no-till techniques impede soil erosion, reduce runoff by holding snow and rainfall on the field, decrease surface evaporation, promote soil moisture retention, and minimize soil compaction. Reduced tillage also increases soil organic matter content. Additional practices like applying compost, manure or other soil amendments can also increase soil organic matter, which improves fertility and productivity but also enhances soil structure to promote water infiltration and storage. A properly planned temporary

fallowing or cover crop planting regime can also improve soil health, boost soil structure, and make water available for other uses.

Agricultural Water Conservation in Practice True agricultural conservation is defined as conserved consumptive use. This is achieved by reducing the amount of water consumed by the crop for production and can be accomplished in a number of ways. FALLOWING The most basic form of agricultural water conservation is to limit irrigation amounts on a farm or ranch. Among the most common conservation strategies is fallowing, which is a technique involving the purposeful rotation of cropland out of production during the growing season. Variations of the fallowing approach include rotating fields into dryland or cover crops. Without proper efforts to control weed pressure, fallowing can result in less water conserved on a net basis. LIMITED OR DEFICIT IRRIGATION Confronted with the need to conserve water, such as a declining aquifer or drought period, a farmer may also choose to practice limited or deficit irrigation. Limited or deficit irrigation refers to situations where irrigation water is either managed or applied out of necessity in amounts throughout the duration of the irrigation season such that the total amount of water applied is less than that required to meet the potential evapotranspiration (ET) of the crop. The terms limited irrigation and deficit irrigation are often used interchangeably, but there is in fact a distinction between these techniques, with limited irrigation being a more holistic term as opposed to deficit irrigation, which is more specific. Limited irrigation refers to farm-based strategy to reduce or budget water applications through a combination of one or more practices, one of which may in fact be deficit irrigation. Limited irrigation may be achieved by one of several techniques, including: 1) reducing acres under irrigation, 2) making use of available recycled water, 3) modifying irrigation equipment and systems through sprinkler nozzle configurations or system pressure modifications, and 4) deficit irrigation. Deficit irrigation is a technique that will result in the irrigation rate being less than the ET demand of a crop. A U.S. Department of Agriculture field study that launched in 2008 looking at crops in Colorado’s high plains

showed decreases in productivity with deficit irrigation, which led to reduced economic returns. However, results of that same study have identified times when limited irrigation is useful. For example, an alfalfa farmer can limit irrigation in spring and fall, let the crop go dormant in the summer, and still achieve viable production—a strategy that could be crucial in future watershort years. Finally, a more sophisticated form of deficit irrigation, known as regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) may be undertaken as a conservation approach. The use of RDI is a management technique for purposely imposing water stress on a crop by withholding water at certain stages of crop growth. Contrasted with deficit irrigation, however, RDI is not intended to reduce crop yield or quality; rather the purpose of RDI is to target irrigation reductions during periods when plants can tolerate stress or perhaps even respond favorably. In short, RDI is largely implemented through two operational approaches: 1) growth stage-based deficit irrigation or 2) partial root-zone irrigation. Factors that will determine the ultimate success of limited irrigation strategies include crop choice in relation to climate and availability of water, physical and chemical soil properties, and anticipated precipitation amounts and timing throughout the year and during the growing season. Because reduced yield is often a result of limited irrigation practices, the goal is to manage crops and water use for the greatest possible return for the crop grown. For this reason, it is important to implement additional water conservation techniques in conjunction with limited or deficit irrigation strategies. CROP SELECTION Finding ways to reduce the water demands of growing crops is a significant challenge to reducing agricultural water use. Under specific soil, precipitation, and other conditions, a crop’s physiology requires a certain quantity of water to grow and produce the optimal yield. For example, the consumptive use of irrigated alfalfa is between 26 and 40 inches of water per growing season depending on the location and cutting schedule, to reach optimal yields; irrigated grain sorghum requires between 15 and 25 inches of water; and irrigated sunflowers can consume between 20 to 22 inches per year. Many plants can be grown under deficit conditions, but yields are generally lower than the maximum attainable—with yield increasing as crop water use increases. In addition to plants that are naturally well adapted to drought and

deficit irrigation, seed companies like Syngenta, Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer have been working to develop drought-tolerant plant hybrids, with a focus on corn, intending to help plants tolerate drought stress and minimize the risk of crop loss in drought. As of 2014, farmers had only adopted use of these hybrids to a limited degree, according to a Ceres report on “Water and Climate Risks Facing Corn Production.” Researchers at Colorado State University found that drought-tolerant genetic modifications produced greater yields during short periods of water stress compared to non-modified varieties. However, current genetically modified varieties cannot tolerate excessive drought stress for extended time periods any better than traditional crops. The 2015 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation “Moving Forward Phase I” report, which looked at the portions of the seven states that use Colorado River water for agricultural irrigation, reported that, despite drought conditions affecting the basin since 2016, overall productivity has increased. In fact, productivity is up by about 25 percent basin-wide since 1980, with more crops being grown on about the same amount of water and the same amount of land. This is partially attributable to irrigation efficiency improvements, which, under water supply-limited conditions, have resulted in more water available for crops that would otherwise go under-irrigated. But it is also due in part to changing crop types to high-value, low-wateruse crops, double-cropping, and systematic genetic improvements in crop varieties. Aside from planting low-water-use crops or accepting smaller yields, a farmer can also reduce a crop’s basic water demand by reducing evaporation. Medium- and low-pressure sprinkler systems, drag lines, as well as drip irrigation systems are particularly efficient at reducing evaporation because they apply water close to plant roots.

Incentives for Efficient Water Use and Conservation in Agriculture A variety of incentives are available to encourage more water-efficient irrigation equipment and management techniques. Some incentives are economic, including potential increases in crop yields, reduced energy and pumping costs, and time savings associated with less laborintensive systems. Other incentives include improved water quality, storage of water in reservoirs for release when it is most needed, or preservation of water in deep aquifers for future



EFFICIENT WATER USE IN AGRICULTURE generations. There are also a variety of incentive programs available to help offset the cost of efficiency improvements. ECONOMIC INCENTIVES When deciding whether to make the oftensubstantial investment in an improved irrigation system, farmers and ranchers must ask themselves if the investment can pay for itself within a reasonable timeframe. Irrigators whose primary source of water is groundwater can sometimes see significant reductions in energy costs, as well as increased crop yields and reduced evaporation and runoff, after converting from high- to lowpressure sprinkler systems. This conversion can result in a 40-percent reduction in energy costs; however, the pump, motor and sprinklers all must be modified to account for the reduced operating pressure. Growers have also seen yield increases after installing more efficient irrigation systems. For example, irrigators in the Arkansas Valley who switched to drip irrigation methods for melon and vegetable crops have noted marked increases in fruit quality and yields. At the same time, updated technology can lead to labor savings. Automated headgates, for example, can save on time and energy costs, as many are solar powered, while also being more accurate. Thanks to telecommunications technology, ditch headgates can be remotely managed and controlled, allowing ditch operators to visit the site only when necessary. Automated sprinkler technology and soil moisture sensors can also be remotely accessed, saving time, energy and water. FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE AND COST-SHARE PROGRAMS Agricultural producers who want to enhance the efficiency of their irrigation or livestock watering systems often can obtain technical and financial assistance from a variety of resources including local, state, and federal agencies, universities, nonprofits, and private companies. For Colorado farmers and ranchers, the most extensive federal source of technical and financial assistance is the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. NRCS programs offer assistance to address a variety of natural resource concerns, including water quality, water use efficiency, soil quality, and soil erosion. One of the best-known NRCS programs is the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, or EQIP. This program offers technical 30

and financial help for implementing agricultural water conservation and efficiency practices or to develop conservation plans. Through the 2014 Farm Bill, or Agricultural Act of 2014, the USDA created the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP offers a competitive grant process promoting a collaborative approach to regional conservation. Partnerships can include agricultural districts, sportsmen’s groups, water providers, nonprofits, universities, businesses and others. Advocacy and interest groups are also connecting irrigators with one another and to RCPP funding, while encouraging more efficient water use. Groups like The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Western Resource Advocates work on joint and separate efforts to provide guidance, share resources, and develop policy around agricultural water conservation. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also offers a WaterSMART program that has a variety of grants available to assist applicants with agricultural water efficiency improvements. These grants range from 50-50 cost-share funding for irrigation and water districts, to a cost-shared analysis looking at system-wide efficiency, to providing technical assistance or funding for planning and implementation of efficient infrastructure. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also makes funding available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and local NRCS offices as part of the Upper Colorado River Salinity Control Program. In 2016, this funding supported salinity control projects in four river basins in Colorado—the Gunnison, Dolores, Colorado, and San Juan. Through the program, landowners receive assistance for water efficiency improvements, with the primary purpose being to reduce the amount of salts entering the Colorado River. State funding is also available. The CWCB offers an Alternative Agricultural Water Transfer Methods grant program, which not only funds efforts to look at the mechanics of interruptible water supply agreements between farmers and municipalities, but also supports the implementation of alternative cropping patterns and limited irrigation. At local levels, additional resources and opportunities are often available through Colorado State University’s county extension offices, which provide a range of technical assistance to farmers including water conservation and irrigation management. In groundwater-reliant regions, local proCOLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

grams have been designed to help farmers use water more sustainably and connect them with federal funding. In the Republican River Basin, for example, the Republican River Water Conservation District has committed to spending $67.9 million through 2028 to permanently retire 49,000 acres of irrigated land. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program brings the most money to the basin—the program pays farmers for every acre that goes unirrigated. To qualify, land must be put to grass for at least 15 years and the water right permanently retired. After 15 years, that land can be turned to dryland farming. Additional water-saving measures are being employed and encouraged to make irrigators more efficient. WATER QUALITY IMPROVEMENT The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that four of the top six causes of water quality impairment in the United States are associated with agricultural runoff, including pathogens. In the future, it’s possible that water quality regulatory requirements and legal decisions could affect farming practices. Irrigation efficiencies often lead to water quality improvements, because the transport of fertilizer, nutrients, pesticides and sediment into the groundwater or nearby streams is minimized in conjunction with the reduction in runoff and water loss to deep percolation. In addition to water application, other best practices including conversation tillage and no tillage also lead to improved water quality. EDUCATION AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE Universities, water conservancy districts, irrigation and ditch companies, and other local agencies offer Colorado’s agricultural producers a variety of educational materials, training workshops, and field demonstration projects to help improve agricultural water use efficiency and conservation. Some agencies also offer incentives such as free installation of soil moisture monitoring devices or on-site technical consultations. At the state level, conservation districts provide input and direction to local NRCS offices, supporting statewide and regional programs to help farmers improve irrigation systems and the environment. Conservation districts cover large geographic areas and may contain numerous local water management agencies, including conservancy districts, groundwater management districts, and municipal water providers.

Nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and other local groups also offer resources including the Colorado Ag Water Alliance, the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and others. The Agricultural Water Conservation Clearinghouse provides resources that address agricultural water conservation globally. The clearinghouse incorporates various climates, with a focus on arid and semi-arid areas in the western United States.

Challenges to Efficient Water Use and Conservation in Agriculture Some of the biggest stumbling blocks to agricultural water conservation in Colorado are related to economics, over-appropriation of the state’s surface water supplies, and common misconceptions regarding the “use it or lose it” provisions of the state’s water rights system. Economic disincentives are a considerable challenge to agricultural water conservation. Facing strong competition, rising input costs, and commodity prices that haven’t significantly increased for years, farmers in many areas are hard pressed to afford irrigation efficiency improvements. If water prices are relatively inexpensive, this creates an additional disincentive to operate more efficiently. In addition, almost all of Colorado’s river systems are over-appropriated—meaning the courts have approved more rights to divert water out of the stream than streamflow can satisfy during an average year. This means that when senior water right holders free up or “save” water, many junior users are waiting in line to use it. So the question arises: Why install an expensive irrigation system to save surface water or groundwater just to have it flow downstream for another user, or just so your neighbor can pump more groundwater? However, for a more junior user during watershort years, or a groundwater user whose aquifer is quickly dropping, the justification of efficiencies becomes more obvious. Water rights are extremely valuable. However, under Colorado law, if a water right has not been put to beneficial use for a period of 10 years or more, the State Engineer may list the water right on the decennial abandonment list for the water court to declare that water right abandoned. Although a water right cannot be legally considered abandoned unless the owner shows intent to abandon, non-use of the right for 10 years does make it vulner

able to this sort of proceeding. Many water right holders are concerned that if efficiency improvements mean they no longer need to divert as much water at their headgate, they could lose that foregone portion of their water right permanently. This common concern misinterprets what constitutes the measure and limit of a water right in Colorado. Say, for example, that a farmer wants to sell his or her water right to a city. As part of the required “change of use” proceeding, the water right will be quantified based on its historical consumptive use—the amount of water a given crop on a given number of acres has consumed over time. A crop’s consumptive use will not change substantially with the use of more water-efficient irrigation techniques, and therefore the amount of water tied to an individual’s water right will also not change. Still, some water right holders incorrectly perceive that if they ever want to sell their water right or change its use, more efficient practices diverting less water may diminish the amount and value of their water right. The Colorado Water Institute and Colorado Division of Water Resources released a special report in February 2016, “How Diversion and Beneficial Use of Water Affect the Value and Measure of a Water Right: Is ‘Use It or Lose It’ an Absolute?” that helps clarify these legal questions. The report notes that diversions in excess of the amount necessary to accomplish the decreed beneficial use could be curtailed as wasteful. It also notes that, while the diversion amount is an important component of a water right, excess diversions beyond the duty of water do not add to a water right’s value in a change of water right case. Rather, in a historical consumptive use analysis, “excess diversions will either be discounted as wasteful or made a part of the return flow obligations of the applicant.” Another concern is that irrigation efficiencies could result in retimed and reduced return flows, affecting downstream users and the natural environment. In the Yampa Basin, for example, flood irrigation in the spring recharges wetlands, natural aquifers and shallow groundwater, then boosts streamflows with return flows in late summer. Conversion to sprinkler irrigation in the Yampa Basin would result in drying up certain wetlands that rely on return flows from flood irrigation. However, careful management and augmentation through a firm reservoir supply could enhance wetlands while conserving water and improving water quality.

Top 10 Ways to Save Water in Agriculture 1 Line earthen ditches or convert them to pipelines to reduce seepage.

2 Install the most efficient

irrigation system practicable to the farm or ranch operation.

3 Schedule irrigation based

on soil moisture and plant evapotranspiration rates.

4 Automate irrigation systems in

connection with weather station data and soil moisture sensor data to determine when water is required.

5 Use conservation tillage or

no-till techniques to retain soil moisture.

6 Apply compost, manure and

other soil amendments to increase soil organic matter and promote water infiltration and storage.

7 Fallow or rotate planted fields with dryland or cover crops to temporarily reduce crop consumptive use of water.

8 Practice limited irrigation

methods to reduce or budget water applications to reduce crop consumptive use.

9 Employ regulated deficit

irrigation to apply less water then a crop requires at strategic times during the growing season while maintaining productivity and reducing crop consumptive use.

10 Plant drought-tolerant crop


varieties or choose crops with a lower seasonal water demand to reduce crop consumptive use.




umerous public policies—federal, state and local—mandate, promote or otherwise affect behaviors and attitudes toward water conservation and efficiency in Colorado. These policies include legislation passed by the U.S. Congress or the Colorado General Assembly, guidelines issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regulations issued by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, legal decisions handed down by Colorado’s water courts, and local ordinances and covenants.

Federal Legislation and Guidelines PLUMBING FIXTURES Passed by Congress in 1992, the U.S. Energy Policy Act established for the first time national maximum allowable flow rates for plumbing fixtures. The legislation specifies maximum flow rates for toilets (1.6 gallons per flush), urinals (1 gallon per flush), shower heads (2.5 gallons per minute), and faucets (2.5 gallons per minute). These national water efficiency standards apply to plumbing fixtures installed in all newly constructed or recently renovated residential and nonresidential facilities. CONSERVATION PLANNING As mandated by federal legislation (1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act), in 1998 the EPA issued guidelines for municipal water utilities to follow in developing local water conservation plans. The guidelines are designed to help utilities integrate water use efficiency into planning for new facilities. Three sets of guidelines are presented: basic guidelines for water systems serving 10,000 people or fewer, intermediate guidelines for systems serving 10,000 to 100,000 people, and advanced guidelines for systems serving more than 100,000 people. Components of the intermediate and advanced guidelines include forecasting water demand and evaluating water use efficiency measures on the basis of cost-benefit analyses.

State Legislation and Guidelines In 1991, Colorado became one of the first states to pass statewide water conservation legislation. Originally designed to improve 32

urban water use efficiency, the Colorado Water Conservation Act created the Office of Water Conservation within the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and required water providers with annual deliveries of more than 2,000 acre-feet, also known as “covered entities,” to develop water conservation plans by 1996. In their plans, providers were instructed to consider, at a minimum, water rate structures, regulatory measures, incentives, water reuse systems, and education, among other measures. Amendments to this legislation in 2004 continued to enhance water conservationrelated financial and technical incentives for Colorado communities. Amendments included provisions specifying that after July 2006, covered entities seeking financial assistance from the CWCB or Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority must submit a new or revised conservation plan for the board’s approval before funds can be released. Other provisions increased the scope of work for the Office of Water Conservation to include technical assistance to agricultural and industrial water providers and state agencies, as well as assigning it the new title of Office of Conservation and Drought Mitigation. In 2003, the state also weighed in on water-efficient landscaping, passing a law prohibiting the adoption of any new covenants that unnecessarily restrict low-water-use landscaping. That same year the state legislature adopted a joint resolution, HB 03-1091, containing a set of 10 principles designed to guide future water policy for the state. The ninth principle asserts that “water conservation measures that do not injure other water rights should be aggressively pursued.” It was also in 2003, having seen the need for better planning during the 2002 drought, when SB 03-110 called for the CWCB to create COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

the first Statewide Water Supply Initiative. By 2005, HB 05-1177 called for the creation of the Interbasin Compact Committee and nine roundtables around the state, one in each river basin and one in the Denver metro area. These groups helped identify needed water projects, and their work subsequently informed the creation of Colorado’s Water Plan. In 2005, the governor signed legislation protecting water rights owners against abandonment of their water rights if non-use results from water conservation activities, provided they met certain conditions.

Legislative Timeline 1990 Section 37-97-103 of the Colorado Revised Statutes required that all water providers supply metered water delivery and billing to their customers, within systems serving more than 600 taps. 2004 HB 04-1365 Section 37-60-126(11)(a) of the Colorado Revised Statutes prohibited any new covenants from restricting drought-tolerant vegetation. 2005 HB 05-1254 created the Water Efficiency Grant Program to provide entities with financial assistance to implement water conservation plan measures and promote water conservation education and public outreach around the state. 2009 HB 09-1129 allowed for a pilot program to test collection of precipitation from rooftops for nonpotable use. The program can include up to 10 new residential or mixed-use developments. 2010 HB 10-1051 required “covered entities,” those which deliver 2,000 acre-feet or more per year, to report water use and efficiency data to the state each year to aid in water supply planning. That data is reported online at 2013 SB 13-183 prohibited homeowners associations (HOA) from enforcing rules that limit

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES xeriscape, limit drought-tolerant vegetation, or require any amount of turf. The bill also protects owners from HOA fines for failure to maintain a landscape if the owner is complying with local water restrictions. HB 13-1044 allowed the use of graywater in Colorado, in areas where local decision making authorities permit, and upon the issuance of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rules. D 2013-005 Governor Hickenlooper issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to commence work on Colorado’s Water Plan. 2014 SB 14-103 also known as the “fixtures” law required that only WaterSense-specified indoor fixtures may be sold in Colorado. 2015 HB 15-1016 incentivized participation in the rainwater harvesting pilot program through a less burdensome substitute water supply planning process. SB 15-008 directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board with the Department of Local Affairs to develop free regularly occurring trainings for local government officials, water managers, and land use planners and to make recommendations on how to better integrate water demand management and conservation planning into land use planning. Colorado adopted its first state water plan. 2016 HB 16-1005 made limited rainwater harvesting widely legal in Colorado.

Local Ordinances and Covenants Some Colorado utilities have adopted water waste guidelines and rules. Some of these include: • Prohibitions on irrigation of driveways, sidewalks, and streets; • Limitations on the percentage of landscaped area that can be planted with thirsty species of turf grass (such as bluegrass); • Prohibitions on the installation of new single-pass cooling systems except in rare cases for backup systems in hospitals.

PUBLICATIONS American Water Works Association, M36 Water Audits and Loss Control Programs, Fourth Edition (2016). Alliance for Water Efficiency, An Assessment of Increasing Water-Use Efficiency on Demand Hardening (2015). Amelia Nuding, Sharlene Leurig, Jeff Hughes, Water Connection Charges: A Tool for Encouraging Water-Efficient Growth (2015). Aquacraft and Colorado WaterWise, Colorado Water Wise Guidebook of Best Practices for Municipal Water Conservation in Colorado (2010). Colorado State University Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Water Agricultural Water Conservation Tools, Technology and Collaboration (Nov/Dec 2015). Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado’s Water Plan (2015). Colorado Water Conservation Board, Statewide Water Supply Initiative (2004 and 2010). Douglas S. Kenney, Roberta A. Klein, and Martyn P. Clark, Journal of the American Water Resources Association, “Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Water Restrictions During Drought in Colorado,” (Feb 2004). Great Western Institute for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, SWSI Conservation Levels Analysis Final Report (2010). Paul Ferraro, Juan Jose Miranda, Michael K. Price, American Economic Review: Vol. 101 No. 3, “The Persistence of Treatment Effects with Norm-Based Policy Instruments: Evidence from a Randomized Environmental Policy Experiment,” (May 2011). Reagan Waskom, Kevin Rein, Dick Wolfe, MaryLou Smith, How Diversion and Beneficial Use of Water Affect the Value and Measure of a Water Right (2016). U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Canal Lining Demonstration Project Year 10 Final Report (2010). Western Resource Advocates and McKinstry, Tapping the Power of the Market (2015). Westminster and Aquacraft, City of Westminster Water Conservation Plan (2013).

William DeOreo, Peter Mayer, Benedykt Dziegielewski, Jack Kiefer, for the Water Research Foundation, Residential End Uses of Water, Version 2 (2016). Wright Water Engineers, Inc., Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Aquacraft, for GreenCO, Exploring the Role of Landscape Water Conservation and Efficiency in Meeting Colorado’s Water Gap: Expected Benefits of Landscape Water Conservation Best Management Practices 2015 Update to GreenCO Literature Review (2015). ONLINE Alliance for Water Efficiency: Agricultural Water Conservation Clearinghouse: agwaterconservation. Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, Green Strategies for Colorado Landcapes: Colorado Association of Conservation Districts: Center for ReSource Conservation: Colorado State University Extension: CSU Colorado Water Institute: Colorado WaterWise: Denver Water Water Wise Landscape Handbook: TipsTools/Outdoor/WaterWise Green Industries of Colorado (GreenCO): Home Water Works (residential water efficiency site created by the Alliance for Water Efficiency): Water Reuse Association: Western Resource Advocates: colorado



CONSERVING FOR THE FUTURE Whether you enjoy fishing, boating, hiking, a stroll in the park, driving by grazing cattle, gardening, farming, doing business in Colorado, or anything else, your way of life depends on water. As Coloradans look toward a future of stretched water supplies, the importance of each available drop of water will be amplified, along with the necessity to conserve and efficiently use the state’s limited water resources cooperatively. Wise water use and collaboration are both key to ensuring there is enough water to support thriving agriculture, a healthy environment, successful industry and commerce, and a vibrant, growing population. Together, let’s continue to pursue water efficiency and conservation for Colorado’s future.


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