Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has reached a huge conservation goal: reducing its overall annual water usage by nearly half. To offset its water usage, CMZoo also continued a commitment to Trout Unlimited’s water conservation efforts right here in Colorado.
You can’t make homes for hippos and penguins without a whole lot of water, but CMZoo’s previous aquatics building was never going to meet the Zoo’s long-term water saving goals, due to outdated life support system design. From 2009 to 2017, CMZoo used an average of 29 million gallons of water per year. Now, thanks to creative solutions throughout the Zoo and techniques and technologies in Water’s Edge: Africa, the Zoo uses around 16 million gallons per year. That’s a forty-five percent reduction in water use and a savings of 13 million gallons per year.
To offset the environmental impact and to reduce water usage, the team got creative and specific, by:
- Designing a new hippo habitat with more efficient methods of water filtration than the old aquatics building possessed.
- Improving animals’ water quality and reducing water used in animals’ habitats by fine-tuning water testing and filtration methods.
- Catching water that was previously drained when the hippo pools were vacuumed.
- Installing pumps to improve water pressure and reduce water volume on hoses used to clean animal areas.
- Reinforcing a ‘water aware’ culture throughout the Zoo, with leaks reported more often and repaired more quickly.
- Offsetting the 16-million-gallon annual usage by funding the release of equal annual amounts into the Rio Grande basin of southern Colorado.
“Water conservation really is about collectively saving every single drop we can,” said Nicole Chaney, CMZoo conservation and sustainability coordinator. “It’s wild to think that by making a minor adjustment to the hippo pool vacuum, we saved 1,883,400 gallons of water per year. I hope CMZoo guests and fans will look for opportunities in their own homes – even if they don’t have a huge river pool that houses four hippos – to look for small changes that can make big impacts.”
CMZoo guests also make a contribution to water conservation efforts by supporting the Zoo. Every visit to CMZoo is conservation in action. CMZoo recently continued its funding support for Trout Unlimited (TU), a CMZoo conservation partner and nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of habitat for animals that rely on our local rivers, which operates a program in the Rio Grande Basin of southern Colorado.
Under the program, TU arranges for releases of water from storage reservoirs to restore river flows for the benefit of fish populations and the riverine environment. From 2019 to 2021, the Zoo donated $45,000 to support the water releases. For 2022 usage, the Zoo donated $20,000 for Trout Unlimited to release 65 acre-feet of water (which translates to 21,180,315 gallons or 50 football fields one foot deep in water) from storage into the Rio Grande River or its tributaries.
Roughly ninety percent of Colorado’s water supply is used by farmers and ranchers, according to Trout Unlimited, and this agricultural water use drives rural economies. Rivers also support many important functions in our state: feeding diverse ecosystems of plants and animals; generating tourism and making an economic impact on local business through its fishing, hunting, camping and whitewater sports; and transporting water from reservoirs to those who need it.
CMZoo supports TU’s program to partner with water users and incentivize them to re-time portions of their water for delivery during the winter months when possible. Restoring stream flows below working reservoirs during the winter months, while simultaneously satisfying water-user needs, creates a better balance of water delivery for the environment, and the people who rely on it.
Water rights are complicated in Colorado, but the experts at TU have established partnerships with water rights holders so TU can lease and re-time water rights that are used to restore waterways while benefiting the San Luis Valley communities. The annual water use volume that CMZoo uses is purchased and then released back into streams in the winter months, helping to restore winter flows to the Upper Rio Grande Basin.
Every drop of water saved helps wildlife and wild places, so look around your own habitat to see what small changes you could make. Colorado Springs Utilities offers rebates and incentives for locals who install water-saving appliances, like high-efficiency toilets and showerheads. Find more information about how you could help save Colorado’s waterways by being water-wise at home at https://www.csu.org/Pages/WaterConservationEfficiency.aspx.