Rushing Rivers Program Uses Water Savings to Boost Streamflow

Jorge Figueroa“Directly tying water conservation to keeping water flowing in our rivers and streams is successful. When people see the results of their conservation efforts are improving the health of their local river or stream, they are motivated to continue or even increase water conservation for the long term.”

– Jorge Figueroa, Senior Water Policy Analyst

Sadly, many rivers and streams have so much water taken from them for urban, industrial and agricultural water uses that they are dying and/or drying up. Fish, wildlife, and recreation that depend on flowing water in rivers suffer greatly.

Colorado Rushing Rivers Program Ensures Water Savings Help Keep Rivers Flowing

Western Resource Advocates’ Colorado Rushing Rivers program uses water conservation savings to keep water flowing in rivers and streams. Healthy, flowing rivers are enjoyed by communities throughout Colorado and are a vital part of the state’s economy and high quality of life.

Our Rushing Rivers program provides a direct answer to the question many people have when asked to conserve water: “What happens to the water I save?” When customers save water under our Rushing Rivers program, that water is pledged to stay in the river to help keep it flowing. This is different than most water conservation programs where utilities may choose to use the water savings to support more growth or other uses outside of the river. With Rushing Rivers, residents can literally see their conservation actions at work. They can go rafting on the community’s water savings, fish in it, tube it, or just walk along the bike path and admire their river flowing with more water.

Pagosa Springs Water Bills Show Each Customer How Much Water Saved in the San Juan River

I heart the san juan bumper stickerPagosa Springs, CO was the first community in the nation to adopt this type of innovative program in strong partnership with Western Resource Advocates. Water bills for Pagosa Springs residents now detail how much water was saved compared to the same month the previous year, with a note for customers to go enjoy their efforts on the San Juan River.

Our research has identified several other communities where this type of program could work, and we are hoping to continue adding more communities to the program.

“Healthy flows in the San Juan River are vital to our economy because the river – like our hot water, public lands, and ranch lands – is a big part of what makes Pagosa Springs a great place to live, work, and vacation. I wholeheartedly support this kind of program and am proud to see that we are setting a precedent for the entire country to follow.”

– Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting

Agricultural Efficiency Could Save Water for Rivers Too

Another approach Western Resource Advocates is exploring is working with cities that currently lease some of their water supplies to agriculture. Under this approach, conservation actions that free up water on the farm or ranch are dedicated to river flows. Because water diversions for farming and ranching operations are generally much larger in volume than for individuals and urban businesses, water conservation opportunities in agriculture have the potential to put much larger quantities of water back into in our rivers and streams.

We are currently working with Crested Butte, CO on a project that conserves some of the city’s irrigation water. The project involves piping a portion of an unlined water ditch. An unlined ditch results in water lost to evaporation and leaks; a pipe will decrease water loss. Crested Butte is committed to keeping the saved water for flows in Coal Creek.

Project Staff

Drew Beckwith

Water Policy Manager

Jorge Figueroa

Senior Water Policy Analyst