Although there are many definitions of water conservation, maybe the best way to think of it is:  “the practice of reducing the amount of water used via technological and/or mechanical methods and/or by social and behavioral means.” Water conservation in the Colorado River Basin is especially important, given that nearly every drop is allocated to specific users and uses and is accounted for under a water rights system that is predicated on the prior appropriation doctrine. Simply put, water conservation practices are intended to reduce growing demands and stretch existing water supplies.

Why Conserve

With limited (and projected to be diminishing) water supplies and increasing water demands due to a growing populations, it is critical to reduce water use. For example, installing drip irrigation (mechanical) or taking shorter showers (social) will reduce the amount of water we use. The potential for water conservation is very significant and include activities in all areas of use including agricultural, municipal, industrial and household sectors.

Agricultural Use
Within Colorado, water for irrigation and livestock accounts for about 87% of the total annual water distributed. Of that, only 56 to 86% is actually consumed, allowing some of that water to return to the rivers and streams. Although many downstream water right holders depend upon much of these “return flows” more efficient water is quite important and beneficial to water users and the state.

Improving irrigation water delivery and application systems are important strategies for increasing agricultural water use efficiency. Recommended irrigation management practices include, but are not limited to:

  • lining and/or piping open, earthen ditches with impermeable materials and/or replacing them with enclosed, buried pipe
  • irrigating with more efficient systems such as sprinklers and drip systems, where appropriate
  • better scheduling of irrigation based upon crop needs, soil moisture available and evapotranspiration rates
  • laser leveling fields to increase uniform infiltration and to decrease runoff
  • using minimal till with ground cover crops to enhance water and nutrient holding capacity
  • applying polyacrylamides (PAM) to the soil to minimize undesirable deep percolation and erosion, especially where surface irrigation is employed
  • planting low-water use crops that are well adapted to local conditions

It is important to note that each farm is unique; therefore farmers and ranchers must evaluate their site-specific conditions to determine the best use of irrigation water to increase efficiency.

Partial list of potential references that may be helpful:

Irrigation Management – Best Management Practices, Colorado State University Extension
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Water quality, conservation, drought and irrigation resources, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Services

Conservation in Municipal Water Use Sector
Municipal water conservation is a very important tool in the efforts to stretch water supplies.

There are quite a few on-line and other published resources that can be employed to assist in municipal water use efficiency. For example, Practices for Municipal Water Conservation in Colorado is a guidebook to assist urban water providers with the selection and implementation of effective water conservation programs and measures.

The Colorado Statewide Water Conservation Best Practices Guidebook (aka the Best Practice (BP) Guidebook was developed with funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Efficiency Grant Program through a grant awarded to Colorado WaterWise). The guidebook includes a set of water conservation best practices to assist urban water providers with the selection and implementation of effective water conservation programs and measures.

Of course, because household water use makes up the lion’s share of municipal use, it is important to understand how conservation in the household can help reduce the gap between water demands and supplies.

Conservation in Household Water Use Sector
It is critically important that we all work to save water in our homes and in our day-to-day lives. This is especially true because about half of all the water we use in our homes each year is typically used in discretionary activities such as watering gardens and lawns, filling the swimming pool and washing the car. And there are many very effective ways to conserve our water supplies by reducing our discretionary water uses, for example, include using an automatic shut-off faucet when washing the car, implementing irrigation timers and/or landscaping with locally-adapted plants that consume less water.

Indoor water use might be considered less discretionary, as most of the water a family uses is related to cooking, cleaning, drinking and for sanitation in our bathrooms. To help save water effectively, it is important to focus on significant use areas such as in the bathroom. We all know that perhaps the easiest way to save water is to shut off the faucet while you brush your teeth or take shorter showers and not excessively flushing the toilet (e.g., not to unnecessarily flush trash). Installing low-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads can also help save lots of water. An ultra-low-flush toilet uses just 1.0-1.5 gallons per flush compared to 4 gallons per flush for a traditional toilet and replacing older appliances with highly efficient technologies can significantly reduce your in-house usages.

As a good example, the list below shows how your uses can add up and where you might make a big difference by changing your behavior and by implementing new technologies:
Brush your teeth? – 2 to 5 gallons
Wash the car? – 50 gallons
Use the dishwasher? – 8 to 15 gallons
Flush the toilet? – 1.5 to 4 gallons (each flush)
Take a shower or bath? – 17 to 24 gallons
Run the washing machine? – 35 to 50 gallons (each load)

Additional Resources, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, native alpine plant resource
City of San Diego Water Conservation Program, water conservation tips
Colorado State University Drought Tips, resources for dealing with drought conditions
Colorado WaterWise, provides resources for efficient water use
Division of Water Resources Conservation Program, water conservation in Utah
Greenco, Green Industries of Colorado representing horticulture and landscape industries
Ideas for Kids to Help with Conserving Water at Home, page created by Wisconsin Middle School students
Plant Database, US Department of Agriculture
US Bureau of Reclamation Water Conservation, Upper Colorado River Basin
Water Conservation, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Water Conservation, Southern Nevada Water Authority
Water Conservation Garden, San Diego County, CA
Water Management and Conservation Program, Wyoming Water Development Commission
Water Use It Wisely, promoting water conservation in Arizona since 1999
WATERCASA, Water Conservation Alliance of Southern Arizona
WateReuse Association, sustainable water reuse solutions
WaterSense, EPA-sponsored program promoting the water-efficient products and services market
Xeriscape Council of New Mexico, promoting water conservation in New Mexico since 1986
Xeriscape information, term Denver Water coined in 1981 for low-water-use landscaping

Senate Bill 2013-019  Concerning the Promotion of Water Conservation MeasuresSB 019 conservation agreement Water Trust

With the passage of SB 019, the Colorado Legislature granted the Colorado River District, among others, authority to approve water conservation plans requisite to the protections offered by S.B. 13-019.  This bill directs the water court to not consider any decrease in water use as a result of certain water conservation programs, thereby protecting the historical consumptive use calculation should the water right owner ever seek a change for use for the right.  The provisions of SB019 are limited to Water Divisions 4, 5 and 6 (the Colorado River District’s boundaries).

The qualifying water conservation practices include enrollment in a “federal land conservation program” (e.g., Conservation Reserve Program) or participation in “a water conservation program approved by a state agency, water conservation district, water district, water authority, or water conservancy district for lands that are within the entity’s jurisdictional boundaries.” (emphasis added).  Application of the approved plan’s protection can be exercised a maximum of five (5) years in any ten (10) year period.  Approval water conservation measure under legislation of SB019 may be considered following the completion and submission of the application linked below.

Instructions to Application for Approval of a Water Conservation Program(.pdf)

Application for Approval of a Water Conservation Program(fillable Word doc)