CSU and CU researchers set course for innovations in conservation to protect Colorado’s water supply
Water is a key driver of the state’s economy and fostering collaboration is critical to addressing future challenges
As drought, climate change, wildfire and population growth threaten Colorado’s already strained water resources, a new report authored by researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Boulder is laying out a path for increasing innovation and improving statewide water conservation efforts.
The report, Emerging Technologies to Improve Water Resource Management in Colorado, was triggered by the passage of HB21-1268. This empowered experts at the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering at CU Boulder and CSU’s Colorado Water Center, in partnership with the Irrigation Innovation Consortium, also hosted at CSU, to address a critical question: How can we use tools to better understand and conserve our water resources to address the most pressing needs across the state?
An ongoing megadrought in the western United States is stressing Colorado’s water resources. In July 2021, Lake Powell, which is fed by the Colorado River, reached its lowest level since it was filled in 1969.
To help focus the conversation around water conservation, support the efforts of legislators and spur innovation, the research team interviewed dozens of water experts statewide and surveyed nearly one hundred stakeholders across industries. The researchers assessed technologies like remote sensing, telemetry, digital water transaction platforms including blockchain, and advanced aerial observation platforms, such as high-altitude balloons and drones.
Their findings not only provide valuable insights to water conservation professionals, legislators and industry professionals looking to overcome barriers to tech adoption, but the report also paints a picture of how people in communities across the state could benefit from understanding the challenges around water management.
“Public perceptions … are integral to water management projects and can influence which projects receive funding,” write the researchers. “Studies consistently find that policymakers’ actions reflect public preferences and opinion.”
Drawing from real world successes
Beyond learning from statewide experts, the researchers also looked across the West for success stories. Their collection of case studies ranged from CSU’s educational efforts promoting irrigation conservation to a watershed management dashboard that optimizes economic and agricultural decisions in Southern Colorado, as well as advanced aerial observations using micro-balloons, comprehensive snowpack monitoring and more.
“The expansion of the immersive educational programs covered in this report, such as the Master Irrigator and Testing Ag Performance Solutions programs, provide producers with the knowledge to better understand the science behind these advanced technologies, access to incentives to help them adopt these technologies, and the development of a peer network to help them operate these advanced water management systems in a cost effective manner,” said John Tracy, director of the Colorado Water Center.
“A consistent theme when discussing these challenges was a desire to promote community and statewide collaboration in water management throughout Colorado.”