Colorado is experiencing a drought that affects nearly 3 million people, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As of May 3, two-thirds of the state was suffering some level of drought, including over 30% across the southern region that was suffering extreme or exceptional drought.
As of press time, snowpack is at 69% of average, the third lowest snowpack on record, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). Although reservoir storage is above average, especially in the Arkansas basin, the Surface Water Supply Index and streamflow forecasts are below average, CWCB noted, with warm and dry conditions likely to continue through spring.
“Dry and cool is one thing,” Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist for CWCB and co-chair of the Water Availability Task Force, said in an interview, but when conditions are “dry and warm, you increase evaporation, you dry out soils, you dry out plants — everything gets thirstier.”
On a positive note, reservoir supply across the state is 116% of average, according to CWCB’s March update. Unfortunately, if we don’t get more moisture, “we probably will see that decline pretty quickly once the demand season kicks up,” Finnessey said of the above-average storage levels.
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Every area of the country will experience drought at some point, according to Jeff Westphal, project manager at Rain Bird. “It’s unfortunate when it finally gets some press because at that point it’s typically into a more severe situation,” but a renewed focus on water availability can help irrigation professionals start a conversation with their customers about inefficiencies in their systems.
Ultimately, homeowners equate conserving water with saving money, Westphal said. Focusing the discussion on how upgrades can help homeowners save money is a useful way to start a conversation about conservation.
Replacing nozzles is sometimes one of the most inexpensive and effective enhancements professionals can make, Westphal suggested.
“From a manufacturers’ perspective,” he said, “we’ve seen significant increases in technology of how nozzles are designed and how efficiently they put out water.”
Professionals should reach out to their customers to do irrigation tune-ups to make sure there are no leaks or blockages.
“Any issues like that, or reduction in coverage or application area, can have a significant effect on how efficiently the water you have at your disposal is being used,” he said.
Wi-Fi controllers are an especially useful tool for contractors, he added, because they help them understand “what the weather influence is [and] make adjustments to our irrigation schedules that are really necessary all the time.”
They also help professionals with the service side of their business by giving them a way to show customers exactly what’s going on with their irrigation system, he said.
Go local for water partners
Local water agencies are a great resource for professionals who want to address water conservation at a higher level, Westphal said.
“Especially in Colorado, you’ve got some fairly progressive water agencies compared to those in other parts of the country,” he said.
Rain sensors and irrigation audits are effective ways of conserving water, CWCB’s Finnessey said. She recommended Resource Central, formerly the Center for Resource Conservation, which partners with several communities along the Front Range as well as Aspen to audit irrigation systems for homeowners.
A simple audit can help make sure water is being used where it should be.
“Everyone’s seen it where you’re walking down the street and the concrete’s getting irrigated. Usually, it’s pretty small adjustments that can be made to” make irrigation systems more efficient, Finnessey said.