I find that when I'm trying to achieve a new goal in my life, I need to repeatedly beat that goal into my head. I call this the "jackhammer approach." We humans get old ideas stuck in our heads, and it's almost impossible to get them out. To achieve my new goals, I sometimes make a little mantra, and then I repeat that mantra day-in and day-out until it takes the place of the old dumb idea I had before.
This can work at the community level, too. Changing public policy often involves repeatedly jack-hammering new ideas forward, until we can all consider them on the same plane as our old dumb ideas.
Today's mantra is: "It's cheaper to conserve water than to build dams."
By "conserving water," I mean "using less." Indoors, we can use less water by buying appliances that are more water efficient. Outdoors, we can use less water by buying more efficient irrigation systems for our landscapes, or we can plant different landscapes that require less or no water. We can easily save up to one-third of our water through conservation.
Remember the mantra: "It's cheaper to conserve water than to build dams."
A few facts: The city of Fort Collins is planning to build a huge new dam at Halligan Reservoir. The cost will be $25 million, and will yield 12,000 acre-feet of water. That equals $2,100 per acre-foot of water. And that doesn't account for the ecological costs of the dam, like the flooding of the native landscape and the drying up of the Poudre River.
The mantra: "It's cheaper to conserve water than to build dams."
More facts: Over the past 20 years, the city has been charging us more for our water than it costs to deliver it. Right now, the city has roughly $20 million of our money saved up. The city is saving the money so it can build a huge new dam at Halligan Reservoir.
The mantra again: "It's cheaper to conserve water than to build dams."
More facts: In the drought of 2002, the city spent an extra $150,000 on a water conservation marketing campaign. We residents responded by conserving 3,000 acre-feet of water, which was 10 percent of our total annual use. That equals $50 per acre-foot. Stated differently, it costs $50 per acre-foot per year to conserve water, compared with $2,100 per acre-foot to build a huge new dam.
Here comes the mantra: "It's cheaper to conserve water than to build dams."
After the drought of 2002, the city went back to its old program, and spent only $45,000 per year on water conservation, which only saves maybe 1 percent or 2 percent of our total use.
In contrast, the city of Boulder always spends $450,000 per year (10 times more!). Boulder has myriad rebate programs, myriad landscaping programs and an aggressive marketing program. Boulder estimates it saves one-third of its total annual use through its conservation program. Thus, Boulder has not had to consider any new dams, the direct expense of those dams, or the ecological costs of drowning its native landscapes or drying up Boulder Creek. If Fort Collins saved one-third of its water, we'd never have to build a huge new dam at Halligan Reservoir.
One more time now: "It's cheaper to conserve water than to build dams."
It's just human nature to get old ideas stuck in our heads. It takes real work to change old habits. When you've been thinking about something for 20 years, and saving money for it, it's almost impossible not to do it. But you know what I'm starting to think? Just maybe, it might be cheaper to conserve water than to build dams.
Gary Wockner, Ph.D., (www.garywockner.com) is a writer and ecologist in Fort Collins.