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Bringing you the quality water information you crave, over Colorado's radio airwaves and online. Our regular programming will complement what you're reading in Headwaters magazine and in the news.

Economics of the Colorado River

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It's been almost a century since the Colorado River compact was created, divvying up the resources of this mighty waterway between seven states and Mexico—that's almost 40 million people who rely on the river in some way. Traditionally the economic value of the river was based on what the water could be used for...agriculture, mining, industry. But as Maeve Conran reports for Connecting the Drops, more people are pointing to the economic value of keeping water in the river itself.

 

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This new condo in Winter Park lists its proximity to the river as a selling point. "You'll fall asleep serenaded
by the lulling sound of softly flowing water." A study on real estate values in the Colorado River Basin, conducted
by Southwick Associates on behalf of Protect the Flows found that proximity to rivers raises home values.
In Grand County, homes that offer a river view are 24 percent higher in value than homes without a river view. 
Homes located on the banks of the river are 134 percent higher in value.
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 The town of Fraser and other mountain communities on the Colorado River and its tributaries are very dependent
on the river for their tourism economy.
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 The Fraser River in Grand County is a tributary of the Colorado River, which starts not far from here in Rocky
Mountain National Park. It runs through the heart of Fraser and neighboring Winter Park.
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Dennis Saffell has been a realtor in Grand and Summit counties for three decades. "All of these mountain towns 
are based on recreation—we have ski areas—they're second homes for the most part. People come to our towns to
spend money at restaurants, for homes, in my part it's to buy real estate, for the recreational aspects...The recreation
is all based around the river. The snow making water for all our ski areas comes out of a river...it's the absolute base
of the recreational system and it's the attractor." 
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 Craig Mackey is co-director of Protect the Flows, a network of about 1,100 businesses who all have an interest in 
keeping water in the Colorado River. 

"If you look back historically 100- 150-years, we've done a very good job of taking water out of the Colorado River
system—for cities, for industry, for agriculture, mining, for farms and ranches—all of which are very legitimate uses,
none of which are going away. But in the 21st century, we have an economic reason to have the river itself: the 
recreation economy, the tourism economy, and, I think the hardesy one to quantify, a quality of life economy."

Pricing the Priceless

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How to put a price on the priceless...That's something that water utilties grapple with as they figure out what to charge customers for this precious resource. As part of Connecting the Drops, our statewide radio series on water issues, Maeve Conran takes a look at how water is priced and whether we're paying enough.

 Marsha Holmes web

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Pair Sound with Sight 

David LaFrance 2016web

David LaFrancethe CEO at the American Water Works Association. The AWWA writes the authoritative manual
on how to set water prices. The manual is used by water providers around the country. "The value of water
is frequently considered to far exceed its cost," LaFrance says. "In part, that's because water is important to
life, to the economy, to our way of being, to our public health."

Melissa Elliotweb

Melissa Elliott with Denver Water says they chose the new three-tier price structure with conservation in mind. 
"We really felt like the structure that we picked really did encourage conservation and give our customers a lot
of information about the type of usage that they have by telling them, 'This is how much we think you're using
indoors, this is how you're using irrigating...'"

Marsha Holmes web

Marsha Holmes who lives in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver has seen only a slight increase in her
water bill compared to 2015, butt here are now two fewer people living in her house. "The price is staying
the same but we're using less water."

 

Take the Next Step: Read & Listen to More

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education wants to help you speak fluently and learn more about the economics of water. Check out the following: 

 

 

Charles Howe, professor emeritus in the Department of Economics, Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has written several articles and books on pricing water and how it might influence consumer behavior. 

"We don't charge enough for our urban water really, because a typical water utility being publicly owned, simply does not charge the customer for the value of the raw water that they're treating and then providing to the customer." He recently co-authored an (unpublished) report on water utilities not listing the value of the water rights as part of the assets on which they can earn a return. Some water providers like Boulder and Denver own senior water rights worth millions of dollars. Listen to this extended interview with Howe for more.

Chuck Howeweb 

Rain barrels and water conservation tools

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Rainwater harvesting through rain barrels is now legal in Colorado. This comes after several years of debate and opposition from those concerned about possible impacts on downstream water users. Now, conservationists are eyeing them and other water capture tools as a way to stretch the state's overburdened supply.

 

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Read more: Rain barrels and water conservation tools

Climate and Water: The Shifting Hydrograph

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Researchers say climate change is already effecting Colorado farms and ranches-but not necessarily in the way people might expect. Because the state is so dry, farmers here rely on irrigation to raise their crops. But they, and climate researchers, are less concerned about there being enough water than when that water will be available. As Maeve Conran reports for our Connecting the Drops series, climate change means spring runoff is coming earlier, and that creates new challenges for farmers.  

 

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Read more: Climate and Water: The Shifting Hydrograph

Water Conservation Statewide Call-In Show

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The 5th Connecting the Drops statewide call-in show focused on water conservation and aired live on Sunday June 5, 2016 with guests and hosts at KGNU and KDNK. Brent Gardner-Smith with Aspen Journalism was the host at KDNK in Carbondale with guest April Long, an engineer and the clean river program manager for the city of Aspen. Maeve Conran was the host at KGNU with guest Peter Mayer, a water conservation engineer who prepared water conservation plans for communities in the Roaring Fork Valley in 2014 including Carbondale, Aspen, and Glenwood Springs. He also co-authored a new study: "Residential End Uses of Water, Version 2." Hear about the connections between stormwater and water conservation, hot topics like rainwater capture, standards in water conservation and much more. 

 

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Read more: Water Conservation Statewide Call-In Show

Deep Cooperation on The People's Ditch

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Water rights can be a touchy topic for Colorado families whose livelihoods are tied to the resource's availability. But in the tight knight community of San Luis in southern Colorado, a group of farmers and ranchers uses old methods of cooperation to help ensure healthy livestock and a good harvest in the arid region.

 

 Joe Gallegoes 2

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Read more: Deep Cooperation on The People's Ditch

Marijuana Grow Operations' Water Use Explored

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With the legalization of marijuana in various states and forms, conservation groups and others are asking how much legal grow operations affect water consumption. In Colorado, water managers and researchers are working together to answer that question.

 Cullen 1web

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Read more: Marijuana Grow Operations' Water Use Explored

Endangered Fish Recovery on the Colorado River

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Some native fish in the Colorado River and its tributaries are struggling to stay afloat. Invasive species, dams and water diversions can complicate the recovery of endangered fish in those waterways. One long-standing program ties together federal and state agencies with regional groups to help these cold-blooded creatures make a comeback.

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Read more: Endangered Fish Recovery on the Colorado River

Winter Water for Dabbling Ducks

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Colorado's South Platte River basin is a powerhouse for crops and cattle. Massive reservoirs quench the region's thirst, with farm fields generally first in line. Wildlife? It's often last. But a small win-win is giving waterfowl a little more room at the watering hole. It's a program that creates warm winter ponds for migrating ducks—then gives the water back, in time for summer crops.

 Mallard Mother with Ducklings near  Ducks Unlimited HQ in Fort Collins

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Read more: Winter Water for Dabbling Ducks

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Connecting the Drops Partners

Connecting the Drops is a radio collaboration between the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and Colorado Community Radio Stations KGNU, KDNK and KRCC.

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 Support for 2016 programming comes from CoBank