Tag Archives: CAWA

Lessons in Ag Water

By Greg Peterson, the Colorado Ag Water Alliance

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Weld County farmer Dave Eckhardt at the crossing point of the Western Mutual and Union Ditches near La Salle, CO.

I could be wrong, but Longmont farmer Jerry Hergenreder is probably twice my age and can set a dozen siphon tubes while I’m still struggling with one. By the tenth attempt, I was gazing longingly at the center pivot sprinkler in the next field wondering how he does this at 6:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. to irrigate his sugar beet field. Despite seeming inefficient, this method of irrigation is ideal for certain crops, producing better yields than more “modern” irrigation methods. However, this revelation didn’t compare to when I learned that you only get one mature ear of sweet corn for each stalk or how to tell a bale of hay from a bale of alfalfa (one is greener, but be careful, sometimes they mix hay and alfalfa). These lessons are important, especially for a city slicker like me who consumes food every day but doesn’t really understand the infrastructure, work, and water necessary for the food I eat.

Jerry Hergenreder’s farm was just one stop on a recent tour by The Colorado Ag Water Alliance for people outside of agriculture to learn more about irrigation, conservation, how water is used in agriculture, and what problems farmers face. Water resource engineers, consultants, legislators, lobbyists, students, conservationists and congressional staff joined us on two tours: one in the Greeley area and another in Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton.

It was a great opportunity to meet farmers and ask them directly how they use water, the different types of irrigation they use and why they grow certain crops. Both tours began with a presentation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Division of Water Resources and an overview of the value chain of agriculture in Colorado. With this as the backdrop, we quickly got into the fields.

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Kendall DeJonge, USDA-ARS agricultural engineer, describes the drip irrigation system at the USDA testing site in Greeley, CO.

Up in Greeley, the tour explored several sites including the Eckhardt Farm and Fagerberg Farm, ditch diversions, recharge ponds, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture- Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) testing site. Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance and complexity of return flows and showed how farmers along the South Platte are interconnected through water and irrigation practices. In Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton, we also toured the Fulton and Brighton Ditches, spoke with ditch riders, and visited Sakata Farms and River Garden Vineyard, the only vineyard in Weld County. The programs also included presentations on ditch administration, soil health, and the state of young farmers in Colorado.

On the tours, the impact of Colorado’s growth is hard not to notice. Rapid urbanization, the transfer of water rights to municipalities, traffic and even trash, are now everyday obstacles farmers along the Front Range. With all of this growth and change, CAWA wants to emphasize that agriculture isn’t a relic of an older time that needs to make way for progress. These farming communities provide a lot of social, economic, aesthetic and environmental benefits that we may not be fully aware of.

CAWA is working with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and National Young Farmers to host a similar tour late September in Rocky Ford.  You can learn more about us and stay informed at coagwater.org.

CAWA relies on grants and sponsorships for most of our funding. These tours wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Metro Basin Roundtable, Agfinity, Colorado Corn, Northern Water, Denver Water, Aurora Water, Pawnee Buttes Seed, the City of Longmont and the West Adams and Boulder Valley Conservation Districts.

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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. 

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Preserving Water for Agriculture with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance

 

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.

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Agricultural producers come together with the Colorado Ag Alliance to discuss the future of irrigated agriculture in the South Platte Basin.

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.

CitizensGuideToColoradoWaterConservation2016 (1)Learn more about efficient water use in agriculture by reading CFWE’s new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation, now available to flip through or order here.

bio picGreg 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. 

 

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Filed under Agriculture, Colorado's Water Plan, Events