Colorado Water Conservation Board

Luke Runyon / KUNC

A first-of-its-kind cloud seeding program has started in the mountains of southern Wyoming and could soon be coming to Colorado.

Both states already seed clouds from land-based towers. The practice of spraying silver iodide or other chemicals into winter storm clouds to get them to drop more snow isn’t new, but using aircraft is.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Rain barrels are now legal in Colorado. This comes after several years of debate and opposition from those concerned about possible impacts on downstream water users. Now, conservationists are eyeing them and other water capture tools as a way to stretch the state's overburdened supply.

McGuckin Hardware in Boulder stocks three different types of rain barrels.

"We have a lot of people looking at them," says Tom Stevens, who works in the plumbing department. "But not a lot of sales. Yet."

Lance Cheung / U.S. Department Of Agriculture

At Ollin Farms in Longmont, Mark Guttridge is transitioning from spring crops to vegetables that will ripen in late summer and early fall. Having water later in the summer is crucial for Guttridge, but he knows from experience that that's not guaranteed.

"In 2012, we were in a drought year and it got hot really early just like it did this year in June," he said.

Guttridge uses a combination of ditch and municipal sources to irrigate his 10 acres. The municipal tap is a partial safety net. The part of the farm that relies on water being available in the ditch... that's more vulnerable. Climate change means water from spring runoff is coming earlier, creating new challenges for farmers.

Ian Mackenzie / Flickr - Creative Commons

Update 5.13.2016: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation finally legalizing rain barrels. Our original story continues below.

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Colorado is the only state in the country where it is illegal to capture rainwater for use at a later time. State lawmakers are once again debating whether to allow residents to use rain barrels to collect precipitation that falls from their roofs.

"This is really straightforward," said Representative Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), one of the main sponsor's of House Bill 16-1005 [.pdf]. "You could use that water when you see fit, for your tomato plants or flower gardens."

buoybarrel / Flickr-Creative Commons

Colorado's statewide water plan has been criticized for failing to make tough decisions about the state's biggest water issues: how new growth uses water, a new transmountain diversion from the Western Slope, and how to balance urban needs for water with a desire to preserve agriculture, which uses the majority of the state's water.

In response, those involved with the plan say that's not the point. The plan, by gathering input from across the state, is bringing together people with very different perspectives on water. By getting them to discuss the biggest issues around water in the state, it lays the foundation for better water management.

Doc Searls / Flickr-Creative Commons

Colorado's water plan will probably include additional conservation measures from cities and industrial users. That's what members of the state's Interbasin Compact Committee agreed to at a meeting May 20.

The specifics are still being worked out, but the added conservation could save 400,000 acre-feet of water. That’s nearly three times the capacity of Horsetooth Reservoir, outside Fort Collins.

Maeve Conran / KGNU

Colorado has experienced massive population growth in the last few years, a that trend is projected to continue. Finding enough water to meet the demands of the booming Front Range has city planners closely looking at how new developments can be built with conservation as a key component.

"The 2040 forecast for Colorado is about 7.8 million people, increasing from about 5 million in 2010," said Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer. "How will we deal with it? Where will we put them? How will we provide water resources and other resources, whether it takes 20, 30, 40, 50 years to get there?"

Kate McIntire / RMCR

In his 2015 State of the State Address, Governor John Hickenlooper lauded the process that brought people together to create the state's water plan, saying that, "after the largest civic engagement process in the history of Colorado, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, at long last, achieved what many believed was impossible."

That achieved impossibility was a draft of Colorado's first-ever statewide Water Plan. But despite an extensive education and outreach campaign, just how involved is the general public in planning Colorado's water future?

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled a draft of the state's first ever water plan Wednesday. The goal of the plan - a decade in the making - is to create a comprehensive water strategy to protect rural farm economies and bring more water to millions of people along the Front Range.

"Water is too important for bickering and potential failure. It demands collaborations," said James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the proposal. "This plan sets the stage for us to take the necessary next steps."

Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr-Creative Commons

As Colorado plans for a future with more people and less water, some in the world of water are turning to the problem of lawns.

In the 2014 legislative session, state senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) introduced a bill [.pdf] that would limit lawns in new developments if they took water from farms.  Although the bill was changed dramatically before it passed, that proposal opened up a statewide conservation about how water from agriculture and the Western Slope is used – particularly when it is growing Front Range grass.

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