Water wars: How Denver's lush lawns slurp away the Upper Colorado (VIDEO)

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Last week, we reported on the anticipated demand for costly water diversion projects by 2050 -- and the conservation strategy proposed in Filling the Gap, a timely report from environmental groups. Unfortunately, most Denver residents won't read the report; most of them don't have a clue where their water comes from.

That's the grim conclusion one could reach after viewing Tapped Out, a recent video put out by Trout Unlimited and Boulder-based StoryGroup. The piece starts out with some ignoramus-on-the-street interviews along the Sixteenth Street Mall, in which Denver citizens are asked just that question: "Where does your water come from?"

The most common answer? "The sink."

The purpose of the video is to give the uninitiated a quick education in water diversion and the depletion of the Upper Colorado River basin. It focuses on two of the most pressing threats to the folks in Grand County right now. The Moffat Tunnel already takes sixty percent of the flow of the Fraser River to Front Range users, and now planners are talking about taking half of what's left. Meanwhile, the Windy Gap Reservoir is lowering water levels around Grand Lake itself, altering the ecology of Colorado's largest and deepest natural lake.

And what's it all for? As much as 60 percent of the metro area's water consumption goes to landscaping -- mostly that nice green grass imported from somewhere else. Hence, the argument that conservation and reuse can make a tremendous impact on future water projects; for more on proposed solutions, go here. And check out the video below.

More from our Skiing archive: "Save Snow: Aspen joins worldwide environmental protest, proves adequate at spelling."

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"The purchase, sale, possession or maintenance of Kentucky Bluegrass or its seed is prohibited in the State of Colorado".



I am a fishing guide in the fraser valley. Each year i spend over 100 days on the fraser and upper colorado river systems. During late july and august i have seen the upper fraser river with water temperature above 75 degrees. Water temps over 70 create fatally low amounts of oxygen in the stream.

The denver water intramountain diversions must end. They are currently taking up to 60% of the native flows from our valley and wish to take another 20% of the remaining water. This will be unsustainable and will destroy critical river habitat.



I have the solution for our problem. Empower Denver Water to collect information about how many people are using water for each account. Establish a conservation standard for individual water use. Set modest rates for water consumption at or below that standard, but charge exponentially increasing rates for usage in excess of it which pay for the development of new supplies and any other capital expenditures. There is no need to ban lawn-watering, car-washing, or any other use of water; simply charge rates which constrain people to conserve (i.e. this is an instance in which the operation of market forces can achieve our goal). Watch interest in xeriscaping explode as the cost of profligate water use is brought home.

As for the depletion of the Fraser River, the demolition of the Moffat Tunnel would resolve that problem.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

That's an interesting proposal. Thanks for sharing it.


Another point to make is that Denver residents don't have to completely dig up their lawns or take radical steps to achieve water savings goals -- a modest reduction in turf, replaced by drought-tolerant landscaping, would deliver dramatic water savings over time. So would water-efficient appliances. We don't have to choose between nice-looking lawns and our rivers and fish -- with wise planning and proper incentives, we can have both.

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