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This expert plans for Boise’s water future: ‘I expect the worst, hoping for the best.'

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City of Boise, Boise State Public Radio
John Roldan is the City of Boise's Strategic Water Resources Manager

Water, or the lack thereof, has become a hot topic across the region.

With severe drought becoming more of a reality with each passing season, City of Boise Strategic Water Resources Manager John Roldan and his colleagues talk about water – downpours and drought – every day of the year.

“We’re constantly looking at future demand projects,” said Roldan. “They may not be the same tomorrow as they are today.”

In fact, the City of Boise is about to host a series of neighborhood conversations about Boise’s recycled water program – at the Hillcrest Library on Tuesday, April 26; the Cole and Ustick Library on Thursday, April 28 and at the Main Library on Saturday, April 30.

Roldan visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about water, drought and everything in-between.

“I plan for the future. I expect the worst, hoping for the best.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I’m George Prentice. More than… well, just about any time in our collective history, we're talking a lot about water. In the winter, we see snowfall and we think snowpack. In the spring we talk continuously about runoff and irrigation. In the summer of course, well climate change has pushed drought to the front pages of nearly every newspaper in the world, and then in the fall in our region, we're still looking at extended wildfire seasons while wondering when the first snowfall of the season might come. John Roldan talks about water every day. It's his job. He is the Strategic Water Resources Manager for the City of Boise. Mr. Roldan, good morning.

JOHN ROLDAN: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Up top, I'd like to ask you a big picture question. So many of us look at last week's rain shower and we think, “Oh, that improves our outlook.” And we live in these very short windows of time, if you will. But I have to assume that the decisions that you and your colleagues make stretch out into years and possibly decades.

ROLDAN: Yeah, we definitely look at the long-range future of the city. We're constantly looking at future demand projections and looking at our existing supplies. And how are those supplies adequate to meet those future demands? And then we're also layering on top of that risks that impact those supplies. So, they may not be the same tomorrow as they are today. We have things like climate change. I think that's folks are becoming very acquainted with that. We're also experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in the Treasure Valley. So those are risks that that increased demand and also place and also risk on our supplies.

PRENTICE: When we talk about water resources in the city, could you give us a sense about some of the things we might be familiar with… and maybe some things that we don't as far as well, major users of water?

ROLDAN: Something that that most folks may not realize…we have a huge amount of water that's delivered through our irrigation systems. And those irrigation systems are getting water from over ten canal companies and irrigation districts. So the city is tied at the hip with these irrigation districts and canal companies to provide a substantial amount of our water. And that surface water that comes out of that comes from the snowpack and is delivered down to the city by gravity.

PRENTICE: And where do we use it most in the city?

ROLDAN: Oh, most of that is water that's delivered to landscaping at people's homes. But that's a considerable amount of water that if it wasn't delivered by these irrigation districts and canal companies, it would have to be provided by another source, which might be our potable supply, which majority of that water is actually provided by Veolia, which is that's a private water provider.

PRENTICE: How about public spaces, though?

ROLDAN: We have the same water supplies that our residents have. So we get we get surface water from our irrigation districts that many of our parks, about 50% of our parks, actually, and then about 50% of our parks are also are getting water from from groundwater, our own water rights that the city owns or from water from our from our municipal providers, which is about 70% groundwater in about 30% surface water.

PRENTICE: So I've heard that you and your colleagues are looking at possible spots in the city that may not necessarily need to have grass and therefore irrigation. And there might be some opportunities there, for instance, like islands that we see in roadways.

ROLDAN: Yeah, that's definitely something we're looking at. I think that's a concept that's gained a lot of traction in the Southwest. I know the State of Nevada banned nonfunctional turf. This is kind of the term that's being given to it and that's just turf that is not providing any recreational value, not being walked on plate on and recreated on. So like you mentioned, islands, there's also places in existing parks that as parks get revitalized. We're taking a look at those parks and seeing where we might be able to remove turf that's not really being used and not providing a recreational component.

PRENTICE: Our parks are well, I mean, let's be honest, they're magnets. When the weather gets nice and we count on them and realize how lucky we are to have them. But can I assume that we're adjusting watering schedules and those parks or our golf courses as the year goes forward?

ROLDAN: Oh, definitely, yes. We look at the demands of the turf. We actually look at the evapotranspiration needs of the turf. And we are we are providing just the right amount of water to keep that to keep that turf alive, keep the landscaping alive. We're always striving to do a better job in that. But we do have soil moisture sensors that we use to make sure we're not overwatering. We have weather stations that calculate the evapotranspiration needs of the plants. And and we're striving to just deliver that amount of water. So, yeah, that's a that's a big deal for us.

PRENTICE: I am certain that once people find out what you do for a living, they probably have dozens of questions for you. So I'm going to take this opportunity just as a layperson, are there any tips that the city can give us as we think, as we try to get smarter about this, about our use of water in our irrigation systems, the way we treat our landscape, etc.?

ROLDAN: Definitely. We are planning an education and awareness campaign this summer to help with that, that kind of information and direct folks to resources that they can use. Our Boise Watershed will be one hub of that information. Zamzows has provided a really great tutorial on how not to overwater and looking at the actual needs of your turf and how to drought stress it. And there are lots of great tips. So yeah, we will be engaging in an education campaign to try and get that information out.

PRENTICE: What do you tell a layperson what you do for a living?

ROLDAN: I plan for the future. I expect the worst, hoping for the best.

PRENTICE: That's a really good answer. Thank goodness that you do just that. And we're grateful for you and your colleagues of what you do every day and for this particular morning for giving us some time.

ROLDAN: Oh, thank you so much for the opportunity.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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