Can Our Community Be Sustainabile?
A Look at Water in our Communities.
Since 1960 the Boulder area has doubled in population and then doubled again, outpacing the global population explosion with high-impact development and growth. This tremendous growt has impacted the local environmental systems in ways we are only beginning to understand. Water resources have been key to this development, with European settlers digging ditches for agriculture within months after first arriving in the Boulder valley. The early drinking water systems were relatively small scale, but as population and industry began to accelerate and skyrocket after the 1950s, the need to import substantial amounts of water from the other side of the Continental Divide grew. Were it not for the large-scale water projects, such as the Colorado Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects, it is unlikely the population would have grown the way it has. (According to the Boulder County Health Communities Indicator Report of 1998, on average some 67,000 acre feet of water a year enters Boulder County from the Colorado Big Thompson project, a Federal "trans-basin" project begun in the 1950s.)The development also impacts the quality of the water in the region. Waste from municipal sewage and individual septic systems impacts the waterways, even with today's relatively high compliance standards. Car pollution ends up in the high mountain lakes and streams, ground water is contaminated by leaking storage tanks, and rivers are literally drained dry at times due to Colorado's prior appropriations doctrine which historically hasn't supported leaving water in the river to support the aquatic habitat.
The issues are complex, and solutions difficult. Yet there are signs of progress. The city of Boulder has led the way in leaving some water in Boulder creek at certain times of year in a practice called "in-stream flow" which can help protect the fish and macroinvertebrates. Water-conserving landscape design is becoming more popular in the region. And water education is now becoming an integral part of children's education in the region.
Yet the question remains: can our communities be sustainable? Many of the local communities are planning for a "build-out" date when no further building permits (and the crucial water taps that are needed for development int he first place) will be issued. Yet will growth be stopped? And even if the population is slowed to a trickle, will our water and energy consumption diminish to the point where we no longer need to import them from other parts of the state (in the case of water) and other parts of the world (in the case of energy)?
Taking a hard look at sustainability and our impact (or ecological footprint) on the environment reveals the difficult questions and tough choices we face in order to bring greater balance to our impact on the environment.
Pacific Institute: Water & Sustainability
EPA Links to Sustainability Websites
Al Bartlett's Sustainability Page