By Haley Huntington
Denver, Co., May 31, 2013 – After minimal sleep and a 6 AM flight, The Tapped Out team touched down in the mile high city on Tuesday morning, ready to hit the ground running. Heading north from Denver to Greeley, Co., the team met with Jon Monson, Water and Sewer Director for the city. Monson gave an incredibly informative interview, teaching us about Colorado’s unique water delivery and allocation systems.
“Water flows uphill towards money,” explained Monson. In Colorado, water allocation decisions are governed by the Prior Appropriation Doctrine, which dictates water rights for users in the state (and other surrounding “Basin States”). The Doctrine essentially states that the first person to put water to beneficial use is granted the right to use it.
Roughly 85 percent of the city’s water goes toward agricultural use. However, it trickles slowly toward the cities and municipal needs during drier years when there is less water to go around and reservoirs have been depleted. As city and state populations continue to increase, so will the need for the scarce and valuable resource that is water.
“People won’t stop moving here unless we put a gate up, and that’s not going to happen,” said Monson.
Increasing demand for water, both for municipal and agricultural use, has led to some positive initiatives, though. The City of Greeley is hard at work to educate its residents on smarter water use practices, as well as providing incentives for those following that advice.
According to Monson, educating children is the best way to do this. By educating our youth, they can act as a force of change upon their parents, as well as teach their own children later in life.
Upon conclusion of Monson’s interview, the team packed back into the minivan to drive to their next destination: the home of a fourth generation family farmer by the name of Kent Peppler.
After a warm welcome to the city of Meade, Co., Peppler taught the team all about the process through which he gets the water he uses on his crops (barley used to brew Coors beer, for example). He also elaborated on how irrigation systems operate, as well as how water’s role in agriculture has evolved throughout the years.
“Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting,” Peppler said. The team learned quickly that this is a term frequently used by Coloradans. According to Peppler, farmers need to band together to ensure that they are strategic in how they use and store water because there is only so much to go around, and there are a lot of other beneficial uses fighting for the right to water.
After a busy first day and some much needed sleep, the team started off the next day at Northern Water and met with Public Information Officer, Brian Werner, to gain insight on the historical role water played in the development of the American West. From the placement of preliminary settlements near accessible water sources, to water’s role in spurring social progress and the industrial age, Werner served as a walking encyclopedia in terms of educating the team on a multitude of water issues.
Werner also informed us of some of the impressive projects that Northern Water is employing not only to provide water to thousands of Colorado residents, but also educating Coloradans about how easy it is to conserve water in daily life.
“Water is a fairly cheap resource,” said Werner, “but I hope we don’t have to get to that point,” he continued, referencing the increasing cost of gasoline and speculations about increasing the price of water in order to make people more cognizant of their consumption.
“We can live without gasoline. But we can’t live without water,” remarked Werner.
In attempts to keep the cost of water low and make the most of the precious natural resource, Northern Water utilizes some pretty impressive visual tools to show Coloradans that using less water is much easier than it seems.
According to Werner, about half of the water homeowners use goes to outdoor uses, whether it be for washing cars or landscaping upkeep. So logically, one of the easiest ways to conserve water is to change and minimize the way it is used outside.
Northern Water’s backyard serves as a textbook example of the practice of xeriscaping, meaning landscaping that uses little to no water for upkeep. The various plots and experiments that are showcased are great learning tools for homeowners and landscapers, educating them on which plants can survive on minimal water supply and still look beautiful in the semi-arid region. Side-by-side plots of grass represent lawns watered with the amount of water that the average homeowner uses, compared to a plot watered with 30 percent of that supply. Not surprisingly, the grass does just fine with less water.
In a short three days, the state with 300 days of sunshine annually taught the Tapped Out team many valuable lessons about water allocation and conservation. Just because water is plentiful at times, using it all at once is hardly a smart practice. In order to keep water coming out of our taps and onto our crops, conservation is key.