Guest Blog by Gerry Horak, Former Mayor Pro-Tem, City of Fort Collins, CO
Infrastructure – especially water infrastructure – makes the good life possible in Colorado. This week is Infrastructure Week, where we remember the power of the many invisible water pipes and energy lines that allow our communities to prosper. Investing in sustainable infrastructure is essential to maintain and grow the systems that keep our communities strong and healthy.
Here in Colorado, where extreme weather, climate change and a rapidly growing population are putting more and more stress on our existing water supplies, we are especially focused on how to do more with less. On the Front Range, we know drought. We know flooding. We know that resilience is the name of the game.
We also know that buying new water supplies, building storage capacity, and treating and conveying more water to homes and businesses is costly, time-intensive and energy-intensive.
So it makes sense to invest in another kind of infrastructure: the local efficiency and conservation programs and incentives that allow us to get a lot smarter in how we use the water we have now. The innovative pathways here are already proven: double down on our investment in water use efficiency, particularly when it comes to encouraging efficient land use planning and development and low water use landscaping. Drop by drop, it adds up to big savings. Programs like the “Coloradoscape” low-water use landscapes, water metering, smart irrigation controllers and efficient appliances combine to prevent another dam, another reservoir, and the massive costs associated with traditional “gray” infrastructure.
You can think of every xeriscaped garden as a mini-reservoir, allowing local utilities to retain water in storage systems for drinking water and sanitation. Supplementing and integrated with our extensive built infrastructure, investments in these onsite and localized systems stretch existing supplies, restrict pumping and treatment expenses, and limit the impact of future droughts on homes and businesses. Moreover, this kind of “distributed” water infrastructure is one of the best ways for local water providers to hold down costs, keeping rates affordable for middle and lower income ratepayers.
The same goes for flooding: so may Colorado communities have experienced severe floods. But there are also localized solutions that keep rainwater onsite and prevent flooding. Smart investments like rain gardens, permeable pavements, and watershed management add up to safer communities.
Which brings us back to Infrastructure Week. Colorado’s Water Plan calls to increase water conservation by billions of gallons by 2050. This is a challenging goal that will require all of our utilities, businesses, and residents to make real changes in the way we use water. It’s also a smart goal, and one that will set up our state for resilience.
It can be achieved by seriously investing in - and scaling up – the great programs we already have.
Infrastructure Week is exactly the right time for Coloradans to support investing in resilient cities and towns through sustainable, affordable, localized water infrastructure solutions. We can do more with less, and create vibrant, prosperous communities as we do so.