Tag Archives: Agriculture

The Runoff Conundrum

When a summer storm crosses the eastern plains, drowning farmlands in a deluge, more than water ends up flowing into Colorado’s rivers, lakes and streams.

On April 13, 2017, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education was joined by Troy Bauder, with Colorado State University Extension, for a webinar in which part of the discussion centered on nonpoint source pollution. Bauder focuses on working with agricultural producers to reduce nutrient losses on their fields.

Runoff, a nonpoint source, occurs when there is more water than the soil can absorb. Agricultural runoff carries a bit of everything it touches—excess fertilizer, animal waste, soil and more. Water that is not absorbed into the ground moves across the land, picking up whatever it can carry, and drains into surface water and groundwater sources.

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Photo Credit: Lynn Betts

“Ag nutrients—nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)—are absolutely required for productive agriculture,” Bauder says. “Of course, we need good management to prevent the accumulation of too much N and P in our soils and to reduce the potential for movement to surface and ground water.”

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Photo Credit: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

When nitrogen and phosphorus—two nutrients found in agricultural runoff—are deposited in excess in water bodies, it leads to algal blooms, reduced dissolved oxygen content, which is harmful to aquatic plants and animals, and can compromise drinking water supplies.

If rain falls on 30 farms, with 20 of them using fertilizers to supplement nutrients in the soil, and the excess of these nutrients finds its way into the runoff, who is to blame for compromising water quality? Who is responsible for nutrient pollution? Since no one farm can be blamed for the degradation of water quality, agricultural runoff is a challenging nonpoint source pollutant to manage and regulate.

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Photo Credit: USDA

Colorado’s Regulation 85, a nutrient policy passed in 2012, regulates point sources of nitrogen, phosphorous and chlorophyll a in surface water, setting discharge limits and requiring monitoring; however, Regulation 85 currently allows for a voluntary, incentivized, approach for reducing nutrient pollution that originates in nonpoint source pollution.

“We’ve partnered with CDPHE [the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] to produce some resources and an outreach program called Colorado AG Water Quality,” Bauder continues. “The purpose of this outreach effort is to get the word out to growers about how Reg. 85 could potentially affect them.”

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Photo Credit: USDA

Taking ownership of nutrient pollution and implementing best management practices gives agriculture the opportunity to avoid stringent state regulations. In 2022, the current, voluntary, approach will be evaluated to determine if progress has been made with the implementation and adoption of best management practices (BMP) as they relate to nonpoint source pollution, agriculture and water quality. Additional regulations may be considered depending on the results.

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Conservation Tillage Photo Credit: USDA

Reducing nutrient pollution is achieved through the implementation of BMPs, including improvements in fertilizer management, conservation tillage, irrigation, manure handling and soil erosion. The adoption of BMPs by Colorado agricultural producers benefits agriculture, as well as water quality. When implemented successfully, not only will there be a reduction in nutrient pollution, but it will reduce the need for future regulation.

“We want to work with our growers on the agronomic and economic feasibility of these practices to help them understand how they can help their bottom line,” Bauder says.

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Nitrogen Application                              Photo Credit: Bob Nichols

BMP effectiveness depends on what is known as the 4 R’s: Growers need to use the right amount (rate), right placement, right timing and right source. Combined with improved irrigation management, these BMPs improve the efficacy of the nutrients and prevent the potential for movement, which often results in nonpoint source pollution. Irrigation management can include altering the method by which water is delivered with system upgrades, combined with scheduling watering at the right time of day and in the proper amounts to reduce runoff. Ultimately, implementing these BMPs will benefit the grower’s bottom line while simultaneously protecting water sources from being impacted by nutrients.

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Photo Credit: USDA

“It’s definitely important to engage growers early and often in the process,” Bauder concludes. “Not only the growers, but their representatives, commodity groups and the people who advise them.”

While nutrients are certainly necessary for successful and sustainable agriculture, the execution of BMPs will help mitigate nutrient loss and movement, and in turn, reduce nonpoint source pollution due to runoff. Providing incentives, tools and resources to growers is critical to BMP implementation and success, as well as keeping Colorado’s water sources clean and reducing the impact of nutrient pollution.

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Photo Credit: NOAA

Learn more about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water when you listen to the recording of this April 2017 webinar presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Hear about how municipal recreational lakes are monitoring and working to reduce algal blooms, discover how agricultural producers coming together and implementing best practices to minimize nutrient runoff and learn the basics of toxic algal blooms.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverFind further coverage about this topic in the Public Health Issue of Headwaters Magazine.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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Filed under Agriculture, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Environment, groundwater, Headwaters Magazine, Water Quality

Colorado Water Trust working to marry instream flow protection and ranch production on Little Cimarron River

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The San Juan Mountains backstop this valley, home of the Little Cimarron River, to the south.

By Zach Smith

When standing on the ranch, you can’t quite see the river. If it’s a good autumn, the snowy peaks of the San Juan Mountains within the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area backstop the narrow valley to the south, and the tops of the turning cottonwoods peek out of a ravine to the west. Just standing there among the cow pies you’d suspect, and be correct, that the river nearby but just out of sight is renewed by those melting snows each spring. The cottonwoods betray the river’s path below the ranch.

During most springs, runoff on the Little Cimarron River that meanders through those cottonwoods fills each water right’s claim to its flows to the brim and then some. Water taken out at the McKinley Ditch headgate upstream winds along the steep slopes and eventually to this tableland, where acres irrigated since federal government patent and first appropriation in 1886 produce hay and cattle. Back at the river, water flows down the Little Cimarron to the Cimarron and eventually to the Gunnison River, upstream of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and then, finally, to the Colorado River.

As the summer turns to fall, though, the Little Cimarron can often run dry for more than a mile as the mountains stop producing water and diversions from the river lap the very last drops from the stream. Fish, both upstream and down, lose passage or get trapped in pools in the middle.

The challenge is figuring out how to keep the cow pies fresh and the fish wet, the fields green and the rivers blue. Colorado is asking broad iterations of this question all over the state, boiled down to something short with no uniform answer: How can we get the most out of every drop of Colorado’s water?

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This 214-acre ranch in the Gunnison Country, after being offered for purchase in 35-acre lots and eventually being lost to Montrose Bank, was eventually purchased, intact and from the bank, by Western Rivers Conservancy in partnership with the Colorado Water Trust. With Western Rivers specializing in conservation purchases of riparian lands in the West, and the Trust working to restore and protect flows using voluntary, market-based tools in Colorado, the project constitutes an ideal land and water conservation partnership. Included with the ranch purchase was more than 18 percent of the water decreed to the McKinley Ditch. Western Rivers sold those water rights, some very senior, to the Trust.

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Western Rivers Conservancy bought this 214-acre ranch, then sold the attached water rights to the Colorado Water Trust. Under the arrangement the Trust is currently developing, the water rights will still be used to irrigate the ranch property but will also boost streamflows during dry parts of the year.

Now, with Western Rivers Conservancy and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Trust is using those water rights to build the first permanent agriculture and instream flow sharing agreement in Colorado. If successful, irrigation will occur on the ranch in most years until July or August, when the water use will switch to instream flow use by the CWCB. In Colorado, instream flows are the exclusive province of the CWCB, a state agency within the Department of Natural Resources.

In the driest of years, all the water may stay in the river for the duration of the season. In the biggest snow years, it may irrigate all season long. At the Gunnison, where flows are managed by releases from the Aspinall Unit’s Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs, upstream of the Black Canyon, the Trust plans to re-market the water to a third, downstream use.

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Instream flow projects of any kind do not happen in a vacuum. To add water to a river long-term, even under a shared contract as with this project, requires a two-meeting process with the CWCB’s board of directors. In September 2014, that board approved and agreed to pay for the inclusion of this water into its instream flow program under the sharing terms. The project then requires approval from Colorado’s water court system—an adversarial process designed to protect other water users from injury resulting from a new or changed water use. The Trust entered this process in 2014. There are also infrastructure challenges, such as measurement and delivery of flows. Additionally, the Trust is just one shareholder now among several. This year, for example, the ditch blew out and we paid our share of the repair cost like everyone else.

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A healthy section of the Little Cimarron River

The ecological benefits to the project are sizable, and will nearly connect two existing instream flows together. One stretches from just upstream of the McKinley headgate 16 miles up to the Little Cimarron’s headwaters—a reach managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as Wild Trout Water. The other protects flows on the Cimarron River from its confluence with the Little Cimarron to the Gunnison River. These environmental protections were secured in 1984, 101 years after the first pioneer diverted water from the Little Cimarron.

Little Cimarron reach downstream of the McKinley Ditch intake structure

A dry reach of the Little Cimarron downstream of the McKinley Ditch intake structure

When used in-stream, the project’s water will add several cubic feet per second of flow to the driest reaches, but benefits will accrue to almost ten miles of river. As part of building the most complete project possible, the Trust has studied flows, fish and bugs in the river for two years to gain a good picture of the baseline conditions. When the project is implemented, we can track how those populations respond. This tracking is part of a formal Stewardship Program attached to all projects the Trust completes.

But even with all the effort put in already, there are still many unanswered questions, particularly about how the yearly operation of the project and ranch will work. We can’t truly answer that question until we have the legal right to use the water for both instream flow and irrigation. As we move forward, we will try to build enough flexibility into each step so that by the end we can manage the project according to what works, rather than what we told ourselves would work.

At that September 2014 CWCB board meeting, one board member told the Trust, “It takes gumption to irrigate.” We believe him whole-heartedly. And most importantly, we’re learning, sharing water in Colorado will require it, too.

Zach Smith has been the staff attorney at the Colorado Water Trust since 2010. After college, he did a stint as a reporter in the newspaper business, writing for such publications as High Country News and the Santa Fe Reporter. A Denver native, Zach graduated from University of Denver Sturm College of Law where he focused on environmental and water law. During school, he interned with Denver Water and the Natural Resources and Environment Section of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.  After graduation, Zach worked briefly as a water policy analyst for a San Diego City Council member before coming back to Denver to work at the Trust. He is a 2013 Colorado Foundation for Water Education Water Leader Alum and Vice President of the Colorado Watershed Assembly.

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Filed under Agriculture, Environment, Instream Flow

View from the Grand Valley: Municipal and agricultural partnerships

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Part of Grand Junction as seen from the Colorado National Monument and sandwiched by the Book Cliffs on the northern horizon. Photo by Ed Fiske Photography

By Greg Trainor

“In times of change, the learners will inherit the earth while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” —Eric Hoffer

The search for pure water is a staple activity of Colorado municipalities. Historically and contemporaneously, this search has followed the trail directly to the door of agriculture. “Mountain water…at any price” was a directive of the City of Grand Junction in the late 1890s and resulted in the city acquiring, via its powers of eminent domain, the most paramount water right from ranchers along Grand Mesa’s Kannah Creek. Called the Paramount Water Right, it was only a sliver of each farm’s water right but the lesson was clear: When threatened with the absence of water, cities have the power to get it, by whatever means, even if by condemnation.

This raw power carries with it the responsibility for domestic providers to seek alternatives to “buy and dry” before turning to the use of the district courts (“buy and cry”).

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Grand Junction acquired water from the Kannah Creek diversion, west of the Grand Mesa, between 1907-1911 by condemnation.

By today’s arithmetic, new future population may represent the “have-nots” in terms of water supply. The numbers tell the tale: Estimated supply minus projected demand equals deficits. These deficits point to statewide supply gaps in Colorado that range between 538,000 and 813,000 acre-feet of water by the year 2050. New uses, population growth, political power, and climate change are pressuring the demand, and that demand is pressuring supply. With these deficit numbers, who or what will fill the gaps? Agriculture, some say. Assuredly Colorado’s draft state water plan is maintaining options to go to ag in the coming times of want.

At the West Slope four-basin roundtable meeting on December 18, 2014, in Grand Junction, preserving agriculture in the draft water plan was a recurrent theme of discussion. Why preserve agriculture? “We have to eat” goes without saying. Agriculture is also part of our economic foundation. Historically, it is an enterprise of small business. Basin water planners want to give the little guys a chance against the juggernaut of large cities, large oil shale and energy, and large recreation. Agricultural water use is not 100 percent consumptive and, as such, contributes to other important values, such as recreation, instream flows, and wildlife habitat. Agriculture accounts for more than 86 percent of the water used in the state and is the logical bank to meet future water demand. Finally and ironically, agriculture and cities share assets that are good for both enterprises, offering the use of water from the agricultural side and the use of financial capital from the municipal domestic side. It is a simple fact that cities can raise large amounts of money through their utility enterprises. This urban treasury can be used to insure the longevity of agriculture.

The Ute Water Conservancy District, servicing the greater part of the Grand Valley in western Colorado, is the state’s largest municipal water supplier west of the “Divide.” Although Ute Water has supplies from the Federal Collbran Project of the early 1960s, it is acquiring additional agricultural water rights from the slopes of the Grand Mesa. This is an essential insurance policy against projected “gaps” between growing demand and existing water supply. Ute’s agricultural program purchases ranch lands and leases properties back to ranchers until Ute needs the water. This same template is employed by the City of Grand Junction and has been in effect since the earliest decades of the last century. Although the demand for water has not overshot supply from the Kannah Creek area, the city maintains its option to share supply between its treated water system and the agricultural operations of its own ranch lands. Through physical interconnections between Ute Water and the city’s delivery systems, it is also possible for Ute to benefit from the city’s surplus ag resources.

In other cases, Ute acquires the ag water only, leasing water back to ranchers, and then, when Ute needs the water, it takes the water off the land. Both arrangements allow the rancher capital and operating funds to continue a ranch operation without immediately drying up the land and maintaining diligence on the agricultural water decrees without threat of abandonment. But these two methods beg the question: What happens when Ute’s demand becomes permanent and the transfers of water result in the “dry,” many years after the original “buy?”

“We need agriculture,” says Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water, referring to the many benefits agriculture brings to our communities. He continues, “Our buying needs to profit agriculture from now until 2050, and a hundred years beyond that! We have a long-term relationship with ag and we plan to maintain that.”

Others add that we need water for habitat and instream flows and we need a compatible relationship that takes what agriculture has to offer (water) and gives what a domestic water rate base has to give (money). With water and money in play, alternative agricultural transfers and assets can be developed. This is so that water is available for both agricultural and municipal uses through conservation on both sides of the equation: improved water delivery methods and alternative watering practices on the ag side, and demand-side reductions on the urban development side.

Leadership will be needed to visualize the complicated mechanisms that will preserve agriculture. Rather than simply paying money, taking water, and drying land, the municipals have the obligation to craft solutions that keeps water flowing through the system. Those in a similar position as Clever is at Ute Water may not like this, but the water utility manager becomes the urban land use manager, perhaps seen as a demotion by long-time utility managers who would rather leave the politics of land development to others. But water is politics.

This transition may have already happened in Ute’s case. Like its partnership with agriculture in the watershed, a second relationship has developed between Ute Water and the six major irrigation providers in the Grand Valley. The Grand Valley has a unique dual water system. As agricultural lands transition to urban development, the ag water is required to be used on the property for outdoor irrigation unless, of course, the development is xeric or absent water completely. If a developer does not have irrigation water shares, he has to go into the market and purchase those shares, a miniature “buy and dry.” This has the effect of causing development to ponder its costs and where it wants to invest its money. This ag irrigation water reduces the demand on Ute’s treated water system.

One wrinkle occurs when irrigation water is in short supply and the demand on Ute’s treated water system increases. People have less irrigation water for outdoor use, so increase their use of treated water to make up the difference. To suppress this rise in treated water demand, Ute increases charges for treated water: conservation via the water rate.

Ute is making use of the agricultural water without actually acquiring it. By taking advantage of water that is no longer being used for agriculture but, rather, is associated with land being purchased for development, Ute is able to maintain its domestic infrastructure without investing in expensive enlargements.

Each municipal/agricultural relationship requires a unique, local solution. Ute Water is an excellent example of crafting local solutions based on local characteristics. Each stream segment, drainage, canal system, and reservoir has its own distinct geographic fingerprint, its own water rights “genealogy,” its own historical water use, and, as a result, its own return flow characteristics. For example, some positive ideas to conserve agricultural water may result in reduced water availability to others downstream. The converse may also be true. “Preservation of agriculture” demands that suppliers and users mine their collective thinking for workable, local solutions.

hwcover29To learn more, see the annual “Water Course” sponsored by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, February 11, 18, and 25 6 to 9 p.m. This year’s focus is Water for Agriculture. And check out past coverage from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education in Headwaters magazine’s Fall 2012 issue, “Rooted in Colorado,” which explored agricultural efficiency, soil health, and the economics of ag.

City ID PhotosGreg Trainor retired as the public works/utility director for the City of Grand Junction in March 2014. He was actively engaged in many water issues relative to his work: utility construction, endangered species, parks and trail development, storm water and sanitary sewage discharges, use of compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel for public works vehicles, water rights development, kayak park development, and active engagement in Colorado’s State Water Plan (2015).

Greg has also been a member of the River Management Society for 15 years. He is the vice-president of the SW Chapter and has edited and authored submissions for the RMS Journal, organized and participated in the RMS Ranger Rendezvous, planned Chapter floats, and volunteered for the BLM in Desolation Canyon during the 2013 and 2014 river seasons.

Greg served as town manager of the Town of Rangely in the late 1970s, worked on the development plans for the Battlement Mesa New Town with ARCO Coal Company’s community development group, and was project manager with the Colorado River Water Conservation District for the Taylor Draw Dam and Hydroelectric Plant, located on the White River in western Rio Blanco County.

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Filed under Agriculture, Headwaters Magazine, Water Supply

NOW ON FILM: National Young Farmers Coalition focuses on building resilience, one farm at a time

Crucial to the success of Colorado’s Water Plan—released in draft form in December—will be our ability to use limited water resources more efficiently. Recently the Your Water Colorado Blog looked at municipal water conservation achievements, and now we turn to agriculture—the state’s largest water user—to explore how ag producers are shoring up to face scarcity now and into the future. Kate Greenberg of National Young Farmers Coalition guest blogs on their new film “RESILIENT,” and the water efficiency benefits gained when farms and ranchers focus on soil health.

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By Kate Greenberg

No one needs telling that water in the West is scarce: We breathe it everyday, the dry air so thin it cracks under the hot alpine sun. But as new pressures come down on our water—from population growth to climate variability and extended drought—what we need are more stories that share solutions. What are real people doing to turn scarcity into abundance?

The "RESILIENT" film premiered Oct. 27, 2014, at Powerhouse Science Center in Durango, Colo.

The “RESILIENT” film premiered Oct. 27, 2014, at Powerhouse Science Center in Durango, Colo.

A new short film recently released by the National Young Farmers Coalition sets out to tell such stories. The film, “RESILIENT: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West,” uses animation to illustrate the context of the Colorado River Basin. It then zooms in on farmers and ranchers across western Colorado who are saving water while enhancing productivity by refocusing on soil health and investing in stewardship practices. This requires a slight shift in mindset, from, as farmer Brendon Rockey puts it, focusing solely on yield (quantity) to focusing on the health of the land that grows the food (quality)—which usually brings the quantity along with it.

Among those interviewed in the film: Brendon Rockey, a third-generation potato grower in the San Luis Valley who saves water by rotating cover crops through his crop circles; Cynthia Houseweart, owner of Princess Beef in Hotchkiss who hasn’t tilled her fields in 20 years, keeping intact the microbes, nutrients, water and carbon that thrive in healthy soil; and Randy Meaker, a wheat and corn grower in Montrose who is integrating smart technology with soil health management and efficient irrigation. These farmers and ranchers integrate practices that uphold multiple values on their operations. They do it not only for the health and resilience of their farms today, but for the decades to come.

Farmers inspect dairy pasture at James Ranch in Durango, Colo.

Farmers inspect dairy pasture at James Ranch in Durango, Colo.

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) was founded in 2010 to ensure the success of the next generation of farmers. Since then, NYFC has grown to a network of more than 50,000 farmers, ranchers and supportive consumers and over 24 farmer-led chapters nationwide. NYFC has successfully advocated for Farm Bill funding for beginning farmers; collaborated with the USDA Farm Service Agency to start a microloan program; trained land trusts nationwide to protect working farmland; and recently launched a new campaign to add farmers to the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program. In addition, in the West we are elevating water stewardship that ensures young farmers will have the resources they need—and the incentives to be good stewards of those resources—well into the future. The film “RESILIENT” is one more means toward that end.

As more and more people move to western cities, the gap between our water supply and demand multiplies. Many cities and states are taking action to bridge that gap: Colorado is writing a state water plan; Las Vegas finished drilling a new intake pipe under Lake Mead; and Arizona farmers are voluntarily forgoing portions of their irrigation rights to help boost Colorado River storage upstream.

Most troubling is that many cities are looking to farmers to fill the gap. While agriculture is the largest water consumer in the West—and in the Colorado River system in particular—it is also an industry comprising some of our best land and water stewards. The more we drain the land of its water, the more people we lose who are most closely connected to it. And the fewer opportunities young western farmers will have to grow food and make a living off the land.

Young farmers visit Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch in Towaoc, Colo.

Young farmers visit Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch in Towaoc, Colo.

Young people across the country are striving to enter careers in farming. But the challenges they face are immense. According to the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census, the average age of the American farmer is now 58. With less than 6 percent of farmers under the age of 35, young people are not getting into agriculture fast enough to fill the gap older farmers will leave when they retire. Nearly 400 million acres of working lands are expected to change hands in the next couple of decades. Who will take on stewardship of that land if we are at risk of losing a generation of farmers? Who will produce our food? And if we continue pumping water off the land, with what water will we grow it?

We need farmers, ranchers and supportive consumers to band together and demand better ways to grow our food and manage our land and water, ways that support young people entering the field. Consumers have a huge role to play, first and foremost through conservation. Conserving water not only supports the environment, it helps keep farmers and ranchers on the land and Colorado mainstays like Palisade peaches rolling through our groceries and markets. Water connects us all, and we must all step up to steward it wisely.

Our farms and farmers, our conscious consumers, our ability to turn scarcity into abundance—and to do so together—this is our resilience.

“RESILIENT” runs at 10 minutes, 14 seconds. It was produced in partnership with the Lexicon of Sustainability and is a tool to spark discussion. The National Young Farmers Coalition encourages anyone to host a screening, either as its own event or paired with an existing event. If interested, please fill out this webform or email kate@youngfarmers.org. To find out more about NYFC or to get involved email kate@youngfarmers.org or visit youngfarmers.org.

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Kate Greenberg travels the West organizing networks of young farmers and ranchers as Western Organizer for the National Young Farmers Coalition. She also advocates for supportive policy and promotes land and water stewardship at the local and landscape scales. Her writing can be found in such works as Edible Santa Fe, and she recently helped publish the short film on water conservation titled “RESILIENT: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West.” Kate sits on the board of directors of the Quivira Coalition and lives in Durango, Colorado.

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Colorado's Water Plan

Climate and Cattle

Cattle ranching in Jackson County

Cattle ranching (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drought can devastate Colorado’s agricultural industry, as we’ve seen this year in the Arkansas River Basin. An article pulled from this blog for the Grand Junction Free Press’ Water Lines column begins to highlight the impacts southeastern Colorado is seeing:

Area producers are seeing economic impacts — the 2013 winter wheat crop was almost nonexistent, corn planting for 2013 was less than 5 percent of average and there’s been at least an 80 percent loss of rangeland — projected crop loss for the region is more than $72 million. The impact is wide ranging and producers worry that they haven’t seen the end of it.

“From an agricultural standpoint this is a big area of the state and agriculture is the state’s number one economic area,” Finnessy said. Economics in the Arkansas Basin can impact the state’s economy as a whole.

Lost rangeland and high feed prices have caused cattle ranching to take a beating. Many ranchers in that part of the state are selling off their herds, from a Colorado Public Radio story aired yesterday:

John Campbell runs the auction. He says that because of the drought he’s auctioned off 3 times the normal amount of cattle this summer. And though that may be good for business today, he’s worried about the future.“When you sell off the factory, we won’t have the natural increase that those cows would generate for upcoming years,” said Campbell, who added some ranchers have totally liquidated their herds.

There’s worry that the cattle sell-off won’t have an impact just on Campbell’s auction, or the one across the street, but whole region’s economy – from the hotels to the banks to the restaurants. Continue reading

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Headwaters Magazine, Staff

Fracking vs. Farming at Water Auction

While any good auction brings a fierce bidding war, and water auctions are probably more heated than most, today’s contenders for water in Colorado aren’t just farmers — now farmers have the oil and gas industry to bid against.

As the Denver Post reported yesterday, an auction hosted by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District for excess water diverted from the Colorado River Basin saw top bids coming from companies who work in hydraulic fracturing like A&W Water Service Inc., raising the average price paid for water at Northern Water’s auction from around $22 an acre-foor in 2010 to $28 this year.

It’s not just a matter of changing prices, water uses are changing– Continue reading

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Feeding the State with Water

-T. Wright Dickenson, Rancher and 2nd VP for Colorado Cattlemen’s Association

In Colorado there are many competing water uses and limited supply

Whiskey is for Drinking; Water is for Fighting. – While these words still ring true today, the fights that exist over water aren’t waged with six-guns or fists, but rather engineers and attorneys.  Colorado is essentially a high mountain desert where much of the West’s water originates via snowfall in the high Rocky Mountains.  Without water, agricultural production in Colorado and the down-river states would be limited–as would tourism, industrial production, cities, and more.

While water is a broad subject, let’s look at it through the lens of food production.  Everyone knows that it takes water to grow food.  Colorado’s annual precipitation averages 15-17 inches; not enough to sustain food crops that we grow in Colorado to feed ourselves and the nation- therefore we need irrigation water.  While we can all debate the merits of water use in food production, it isn’t a debatable point that humans require food to sustain life.  Without irrigation water, agricultural production in Colorado is severely hampered. Continue reading

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