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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

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Water Education Colorado

Pagosa Springs Gets Water Wise

By Christine Meyer

When Colorado entered its fifth year of drought in 2003, a small water district in Archuleta County decided to meet the challenge head on. Looking at alternatives for providing water to its growing population, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) launched its first water conservation program. Designed to reduce water demand and stretch existing supplies, the program incorporates education, restructured water-rates, advertising, rebates, and simple door-to-door outreach.

And when the first year results came in, the district was in for a pleasant surprise: residents of Pagosa Springs and its outlying communities had reduced their water consumption by 17 percent.

Established in 1971, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District provides water and wastewater services to a largely residential community within Archuleta County (population 11,000) in southwest Colorado. Twenty-one full-time personnel manage and operate approximately 290 miles of water lines and 80 miles of sewer lines. Some 75 percent of the PAWSD customer base is residential, and more than 50 percent of the water they consume (especially in the summer months) is used for outdoor irrigation.

Serving slightly more than 4,220 accounts today, total water demand within this district is some 538 million gallons. However, if projected growth rates continue, by 2040 the district estimates demand will rise to some 3,800 million gallons per year. With that sort of growth, PAWSD managers knew they would have to look at all alternatives and include conservation in their water supply planning.

In spring 2003, PAWSD named environmental consultant Denise Rue-Pastin as its first water conservation program director. With a background in environmental policy and analysis, she introduced PAWSD to the practice of ‘anticipatory public politics’—changing institutions and individual actions now to prevent anticipated crises in the future.

‘The consensus was that we needed to get ahead of the growth curve as opposed to chasing the problem,’ says PAWSD board president Karen Wessels. ‘This meant looking at time horizons of 20-40 years.’

One of PAWSD's first educational events was a standing-room-only workshop called ‘Responsible Landscaping.’ The program discussed seven principles of Xeriscape landscaping to create low-water-use lawns and gardens. Techniques for improving soil and grouping plants according to water needs were among the recommended measures.

The district placed displays on water saving technologies at local home shows and county fairs. It also launched an annual, four-month ‘Professor Drip’ advertising campaign, featuring a bespecled professor clad in a white lab coat. The character introduces new incentives and publicizes other water saving instructions in newspaper and radio spots.

In June 2003, PAWSD discontinued its flat fee rate in favor of a increasing tiered rate structure based on individual use. Conservation-oriented rates such as these reward customers for using less water.

Soon after, Rue-Pastin began to knock on doors and talk with customers about their concerns, issues, and needs for additional information. Establishing alliances with local trade groups--plumbers, plumbing equipment suppliers, nurseries, hardware stores--had an immediate payoff. Nursery representatives developed presentations for the landscaping workshop, and plumbers contributed practical input to the design of the toilet rebate program.

But a critical component of the district's conservation program was to integrate educational and marketing activities with community buy-in. In the fall, PAWSA, representatives from the town and county, and the local property owners association, convened the Archuleta County Water Wise Policy Task Force to develop a set of over-arching principles that could guide future conservation planning. The result was an unprecedented ‘Joint Water Waste Proclamation.’

Published in the local paper and posted in the library and PAWSD office, the proclamation provided evidence of the commitment on the part of elected officials, businesses, and the community to pursue water conservation measures.

The latest in Pagosa's portfolio of conservation incentives is a toilet rebate program introduced in the summer of 2004. From June 1 through November 30, residents who retrofit or replace high volume toilets with more efficient models are credited $75-125 on their water bill.
It's a win-win strategy, according to Rue-Pastin. ‘When you help your customers become more efficient, you help them save money. This money can be used for other purposes, which in turn gets recycled into the local economy.’

Looking to build on its first year successes, PAWSD is considering expanding its rebate program to include incentives for more efficient dish and clothes washers, and more information on the latest advances in irrigation system controls. In the commercial sector, PAWSD will begin to work with schools, hotels and other large commercial facilities, tying together efficient water use with reduced energy consumption.

‘All our programs and community initiatives work together to change patterns of water use—in times of drought or not,’ says Rue-Pastin. ‘That's the way it is in the 21st century, it's all about efficiency.’ ❑

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