If you’ve taken the recent spate of snowy days as a sign of drought relief, we have some bad news—it’s not nearly enough to counteract the years of low precipitation and excess heat in the West and in Colorado, where every part of the state is currently experiencing some level of drought. The 20-year dry spell, often referred to as a megadrought, has impacted the state in a multitude of ways, including setting the table for an onslaught of brutal wildfires, leaving trees susceptible to beetle damage, and forcing farmers to dramatically cut back on their water usage (the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s 7,700-acre farm, for example, could use only eight sprinklers out of the 110 for their fields the summer of 2021).
The downstream effects are just as dire. Snowmelt from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains feeds many waterways in the West, including the Colorado River, and flows to 18 other states and Mexico. When Colorado is dry, everyone south of us suffers. For example, Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, hit record-low water levels in the summer of 2021, causing the United States to declare a first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River, which feeds the reservoir. Now, Lake Powell is facing a critical shortage for the first time, dropping below 3,525 feet, a depth not far from halting some of the turbines that generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam.
Colorado’s responsibility as a headwater state is part of the reason Governor Jared Polis and other state leaders launched Water ’22 earlier this year. The statewide, year-long campaign is spearheaded by Water Education Colorado, a nonprofit created by the Colorado General Assembly to educate residents on the importance of water and ensure the longevity of the resource in Colorado. “Everything that we touch, everything that we use, water went into it, whether it happened here in Colorado or if it’s a product that was produced elsewhere and imported here,” says Jayla Poppleton, executive director of nonprofit Water Education Colorado. “Water is the key ingredient in energy production and power production. And so by saving water, you also save energy.”
This week, for World Water Day—an annual observance held by the United Nations on March 22 promoting water’s importance—the team is sharing household water usage tips that could help Coloradans save 22 gallons each day. That might not seem like much compared to the 4,700,000 acre-feet (one acre-foot, a unit of measurement often used in the water community, equals 325,851 gallons) used by the agricultural sector every year in the Centennial State. But one person saving 22 gallons a day adds up to over 8,000 gallons a year, and if every Coloradan participates, the state would save nearly 48 billion gallons in one year.
Most of the 22 water saving methods proposed by Water Education Colorado are pretty easy. Defrost foods in the fridge, instead of running cold water over them. Use a broom, not a hose, to clear debris from your driveway. Not fond of washing the dishes? Good, because running your dishwasher before it’s full means you’ll have to run it more, wasting anywhere between 15 to 30 gallons per load.
Other fixes might require more of a shift, but they’re surprisingly impactful changes. Take a leaking toilet, which can waste a shocking 200 gallons of water in a day. You can figure out if your commode is a culprit by adding some food dye to the back tank; if the color makes its way into the bowl, the flapper in the back tank might need to be fixed (a plumber can help if you’re not sure how). After a snowstorm rolls on through, clear the snow and scrape the ice, and lightly sprinkle sand instead of salt for better traction and to protect water quality, as de-icers have chemicals that could harm aquatic life. Just remember to sweep the sand after the ice melts to save storm drains the extra trouble.
The fact is, tracking your own water footprint doesn’t have to be a time-consuming task. Residents under Denver Water, or who use WaterSmart, can easily follow their usage through their monthly water bill, checking on how much was spent and how many gallons were used. In doing so, tracking water usage can become a friendly competition among households and further normalize saving water on a larger scale. “We can all do our part,” Poppleton says. “We need to think about the future, and what kind of Colorado we are leaving our children.”