Drought lessons from Colorado

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Xeriscaping is the art of using plants that still look good in dry weather, like this cactus, which helps residents reduce how much water they use.
Flickr Creative Commons/Patrick Standish

In March 2016, the Obama administration released another piece of its plan to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Long-term Drought Resilience Plan outlines specific goals that a partnership between federal agencies will try to reach in the coming years. These goals range from improving how technology can increase the efficiency of irrigation to implementing market-based approaches to conserve water.

Ruth Quade, water conservation coordinator for the City of Greeley, says the plan has admirable goals, especially for places in the Midwest that might be unprepared for tough drought conditions. In Colorado though, she says, essentially all of the goals in the plan are old news. After the severe drought of 2002, which caught many water managers by surprise, Quade says Colorado towns got wise. They started to pay attention to how technologies like efficient irrigation heads and smartphone apps could help make it easier for residents and businesses to conserve water. They also started to pay closer attention to the kinds of information that the plan aims to make more available, including weather outlooks and what other water managers are doing.

So while the federal action plan may not revolutionize water management in Colorado, it might help bring the rest of the country up to speed.