Plagued by draughts since it was founded in 1876, Colorado’s dry environment was the focus this weekend as graduate students, state water experts and professors alike gathered to discuss water conservation at the fourth annual Water Tables event.
As beer and hors d’oeuvres were served on the second floor of Morgan Library, dozens of people came together to discuss water rights, conservation, conflicts and the future of water distribution, not only between Colorado and its neighbors, but across the nation.
“Water conservation is an absolute must,” said Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs.
“We can only consume one-third of our water run-off,” he said, referring to state water contracts that maintain that Colorado can only use a specified portion of water from snow melt and other sources.
The remaining two-thirds of Colorado run-off water, as well as our used water, is used to sustain several surrounding states.
Ultimately, if much of Colorado’s water is conserved — because Nebraska and Wyoming receive the state’s recycled water — both states are in turn left with a decreased supply.
Some water experts, however, said there was an upside to water conservation.
“In some circumstances conservation can be very constructive,” said David Freeman, a CSU sociology professor who works to restore water animal habitats. “But in other circumstances, conservation can keep water from returning to the river to support the ecosystem and other living things.”
Freeman’s proposed solution is to eliminate — or at least reduce — all privately owned lawns and instead build large, local parks for people of all ages to enjoy and to cut back on the amount of water necessary for up-keep.
CSU graduate student Carol Hutton Lucking voiced a similar plan and added that about 45 percent of residential water goes to lawns.
Other means for water conservation focus on educating people in Colorado about water and other resources.
The Colorado Foundation for Water Education, for example, is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about water conservation through a quarterly magazine as well as a series of citizens’ guides, which focus on Colorado’s climate and water history.
The main purpose of the Water Tables event on Saturday was not only to provide an opportunity for water industry leaders to meet and discuss, but it also helped raise money for the Water Resources Archive at CSU.
The archive is a similar means of water conservation promoted through education because it provides data, samples and water resources throughout Colorado’s history dating from 1870 to the present.
While strides are being made to reduce conflict over water distribution and a bill was recently passed to redirect the focus of water disputes to include only current issues, experts said conflict is inevitable.
“We will never be rid of conflict, though,” Hobbs said. “Water is too important a resource.”
Neil Grigg, a professor of civil engineering at CSU who spoke at the event, has worked to iron out water conflicts in Colorado since the 1960s. And while he said a perfect system is difficult to create, his vision is one where states work things out little by little until water law functions properly.
“Water is such a precious gift, it is a great resource,” he said. “We need to use it well, we need to keep it moving; we need to make sure there is enough.”
Staff Writer Ashley Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.