By Greg Peterson
While I was raised in Littleton, I grew up hearing stories from my family about their farm. They were farmers and ranchers along Bear Creek until their land was taken under eminent domain for the Bear Creek Reservoir. I have a hard time picturing an agricultural community in an area that is now suburbs, golf courses, and a park. To create a metropolitan area like Denver, the landscape has changed completely and will continue to change. Today, many other communities are concerned how much longer their way of life can persist in the wake of such change.
By 2050, Colorado’s population will almost double to 10 million, bringing with it a water shortage of more than 500,000 acre feet per year. Municipalities will look to agricultural water as a source of supply. In that same timeframe, the irrigated acreage in the South Platte Basin may decrease by half.
Much of the Colorado Water Plan directly and indirectly discusses agriculture, and the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) is hosting a series of meetings around the state to give agricultural producers the opportunity to take an active role in the implementation of the Water Plan. CAWA is comprised of leaders across the state representing major industries of production agriculture. Their goal is to preserve Colorado’s irrigated agriculture through education and constructive dialogue.
The most recent meeting was hosted in Brush for producers and ditch company representatives to discuss the future of irrigated agriculture in the South Platte Basin. The discussion covered the Colorado Water Plan, alternative transfer methods (ATMs) to “buy and dry,” how farmers can participate in such programs, and other topics.
ATMs include interruptible supply agreements, rotational fallowing, water leasing and banks, reduced crop consumptive use, and the purchase and leaseback of water rights. According to the Colorado Water Plan, ATMs are supposed to supply 50,000 acre feet per year by 2050. John Schweizer, a farmer in the Arkansas River Basin, described the effect “buy and dry” has had on the region and talked about the success of their rotational fallowing ATM project, the Super Ditch. A panel of various ATM projects in the South Platte Basin exchanged questions and comments with the audience on the opportunities and obstacles surrounding these projects.
However, future storage will still make up most of the future water supply. Joe Frank, of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, discussed how most of the water gap in the South Platte Basin will be mitigated with already Identified Projects and Processes (IPPs) outlined in the South Platte Basin Implementation Plan. Mike Applegate, of the Northern Water Board, discussed the status of current storage projects.
Other presentations discussed motivations among producers to conserve their water for other uses, the results of a survey on producers’ opinions of ag water leasing, and a presentation of the “use it or lose it” mentality toward water rights by the Colorado State Engineer, Dick Wolfe.
This workshop was only a part of a much larger conversation. These ideas take time and multiple discussions, but agricultural producers provide invaluable knowledge and necessary input if these ideas are to become more widespread.
Greg Peterson has recently been involved in water issues in Colorado after receiving a Masters in Political Economy of Resources from The Colorado School of Mines and working as a teacher before that. He has worked as a research associate at the Colorado Water Institute and is currently working with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and enjoys learning about economics, agriculture and rural Colorado.