Tag Archives: CFWE

Water Challenges for Young Western Farmers

When you hear the word “farmer,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most people have a preconceived notion of what farming looks like, as well as what is involved in the actual practice of farming. While the average age of an American farmer is 58, and farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by a ratio of six-to-one, the next generation of farmers is emerging across the country. Their work is yielding joys and challenges previously not experienced, as young farmers face a future impacted by drought, climate change and increasing municipal demands on water supplies.

This recent crop of innovative young farmers is featured in the newly released short film Conservation Generation, presented by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), an organization that “represents, mobilizes, and engages young farmers to ensure their success.” The four young farmers featured in Conservation Generation are working hard to run successful farms in the arid West, with two of them farming on Colorado’s Western Slope; Harrison Topp of Topp Fruit in Paonia, and Tyler Hoyt of Green Table Farms in Mancos.

One of the major struggles for farmers in this part of the country is the ever-increasing scarcity of water. This challenge requires that farmers find innovative solutions to the water shortages that they face. In blog posts they’ve written for the National Young Farmers Coalition to accompany the video, Topp and Hoyt each explain that picking the right land to farm was a crucial component for ensuring that their farms will have access to water.

“Water needs to be at the forefront of how we operate because it will (hopefully) help to keep us in business,” Hoyt says in the film. Both farms are located close to the headwaters of the rivers and streams that Hoyt and Topp draw from, ensuring that the water used for irrigating their crops is less likely to be contaminated by pollutants than it might be if they were further downstream.

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Tyler Hoyt         Photo Credit: NYFC

The farmers employ irrigation techniques that allow them to conserve and make the best use of the water that they are able to use. For Topp, this involved improving the method for transferring the water they are allowed to take from the Fire Mountain Canal to the orchard.

“We had a beautiful (but totally inefficient) network of hand-dug ditches that delivered water across the orchard,” says Topp, in one of his blog posts about the original irrigation system on his farm. “Stones, dirt, shovels, tarps and metal fragments were used to get the water to flow where I wanted. It could take hours to get the right amount of water kind of close to where I needed it to go.”

According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 50 percent of water used for irrigation is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems. While Topp notes that their new method of irrigation—use of a gated pipe—is not as efficient as he would like, it works well for the orchard, and is an improvement.

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Photo Credit: NYFC

On Green Table Farms, Hoyt employs a host of methods that allow him to make the most of the water that he has access to. “I grow a lot of indigenous crops; those varieties that have been grown out here under dry land conditions for a very long time,” Hoyt explains in the film. “[The use of] drip tape is definitely a huge way that we manage our water so that in those years when we get very little, we can still irrigate.”

The face of farming in the United States is changing. With those changes come new challenges, some of which are the result of  climate change and increasing water scarcity. Young farmers across the country, like those featured in Conservation Generation are optimistic that by working hard, and applying their own creative ingenuity, they can find ways to overcome the issue of water scarcity and keep agriculture alive and growing in the arid West.

Additional information about the Conservation Generation can be found in NYFC’s report, Conservation Generation: How Young Farmers and Ranchers Are Essential to Tackling Water Scarcity in the Arid West; a survey of 379 young farmers in the arid West and recommendations on how their work can best be supported.

If are interested in learning more about managing agriculture and water in Colorado, check out Managing Agriculture and Water Scarcity in Colorado (and Beyond) , a report released by CFWE, in partnership with CoBank, last year.

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Environment, Water conservation, Water Supply

A Sustainable Water Future for South Metro Denver

Highlands Ranch, home to 93,000 people in south metro Denver, relies on a combination of South Platte River water and groundwater.

Highlands Ranch, home to 93,000 people in south metro Denver, relies on a combination of South Platte River water and groundwater. Photo used with permission from flickr, some rights reserved.

By Eric Hecox

In 2007, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education published its Citizen’s Guide to Denver Basin Groundwater, devoting particular attention to the south Denver metro region. The region had experienced rapid growth and was historically over-reliant on groundwater aquifers.

Water leaders throughout the South Metro area, which includes parts of Douglas and Arapahoe counties, recognized the need to secure a more sustainable water supply.

The South Metro Water Supply Authority had formed several years earlier, in 2004, bringing together water providers from throughout the region, and had begun to execute a plan to do just that. The pillars of the plan are efficiency, partnership and investment.

Fast-forward to 2015, and the water landscape of the South Metro region is vastly improved:

  • In little over a decade, we reduced per capita water demand across the region by 30 percent and are doing even more through regional conservation approaches.
  • Aquifer declines, although still occurring, have slowed significantly, from 30 feet per year to 5 feet per year, as we transition to a more sustainable water supply.
  • Under our current plan, we project the region’s water supply will be 55 percent renewable by 2020, a significant increase from just 10 years ago.

Despite this significant progress, there is more work to be done to put the region on a sustainable path.

Our Plan in Action: Efficiency and Reuse

Since 2004, South Metro Water Supply Authority and its 14 water provider members have followed the “all of the above” approach to maximizing existing supplies. The approach mirrors strategies in Colorado’s draft state water plan and continues to underpin our region’s approach to creating a secure water future.

Outdoor watering accounts for more than 50 percent of municipal water use in Colorado on average. Photo by Eric Sonstroem.

Outdoor watering accounts for 50 percent of single-family residential water use in Colorado on average. Photo by Eric Sonstroem, some rights reserved.

The approach begins with conservation. A few examples of efforts that have led to our 30 percent reduction in per capita water use since 2000 include:

  • Providers serving Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are two of only three in the state to put water customers on a water budget that tracks water use by household.
  • Sterling Ranch is conducting the state’s first rainwater harvesting pilot study.
  • Inverness provides rebates for replacing turf with low water-use landscaping.

Recognizing conservation alone is not enough to meet long-term needs, our plan calls for maximizing efficiency of existing resources.

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Reuter-Hess Reservoir in Parker will store reuse and other renewable water in Douglas County. Photo by Mikal Martinez. 

Most of our members are approaching full use of their reusable supplies thanks to infrastructure investments and collaboration. Two of our members, serving Inverness and Meridian, are among the state’s earliest adopters of water reuse and today reuse 100 percent of collected wastewater. Last year, Meridian was honored as the “Water Institution of the Year” by the national WaterReuse Association.

New state-of-the-art treatment plants have also come online in recent years that significantly increase our region’s ability to reuse water.

We also are investing in studying and implementing Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), which has great potential to convert our existing groundwater resources to a valuable drought supply, much like a savings account.

Collaboration and Investment

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The WISE Project is a collaborative project between Aurora Water, Denver Water and 10 members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority to share water supply and infrastructure.

Regional cooperation is another key tenet of the draft Colorado’s Water Plan that is playing out in the south Denver suburbs. Through local and regional partnerships, we are getting more use out of existing infrastructure and supplies.

The WISE Project is a first-of-its-kind partnership with Denver Water and Aurora Water that bolsters water supplies to the south Denver suburbs while maximizing existing water assets in Denver and Aurora. Similarly, Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority and East Cherry Creek Valley partnered to complete a state-of-the-art water treatment plant in 2012 and are working with several other South Metro Water Supply Authority members to share capacity on the East Cherry Creek Valley Northern Pipeline.

These are only a few of the innovative efforts underway in the south Denver metro area.

Learn more about our plan by visiting our newly revamped website, southmetrowater.org, where you can sign up for updates and engage with us on social media. Let us know what you think.

Eric_Hecox_1Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority comprised of 14 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines. Eric also serves on the board for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

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Filed under Colorado's Water Plan, groundwater, Water Supply

Call it a compact: Why examining the limits of Colorado River sharing is key to a successful state water plan

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The declining water level of Lake Powell, shown in April 2014, is evidenced by the white bathtub ring on rock walls that were once underwater. Photo by Mike Jones

By Greg Trainor

As Colorado’s Water Plan moves forward through a year of revisions, there remains in the background a larger, most-worrisome issue of diminishing supply across the wider Colorado River Basin. This is evident from the dropping water levels of lakes Powell and Mead during the last 13 years. In 2014, these two major water storage reservoirs for the arid West reached all-time lows.

Colorado’s Water Plan is partially made up of eight individual river basin plans that hope to settle water supply allocations among themselves for various uses. However, like the interstate compacts that govern the use of Colorado’s rivers crossing state lines (there are nine such compacts between Colorado and adjacent states), the Colorado River Compact, on a larger, river-basin scale, already divided the waters of the Colorado River in 1922 among seven states that share the Colorado River Basin, and, in doing so, set the limits of water usage that those states have to live with in times of drought and short supply.

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 is an agreement among the states whose boundaries lie within the Colorado River Basin in the western United States. The idea for the compact was to insure water would be available for states experiencing slow economic growth even as other states were experiencing strong economic development. The water of the Colorado River, less a portion of water for Mexico, was divided in half—half going to the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and parts of Arizona, and half to the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divides the flows of the Colorado River Basin between the four upper and three lower basin states.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divides the flows of the Colorado River Basin between the four upper and three lower basin states. The upper basin can not cause the annual flow measured at Lee Ferry, Ariz., to fall below 7.5 million acre-feet or 75 million acre-feet over a 10-year running average. 

Failure of the upper basin states to maintain the required volume of water to the lower basin could result in the lower basin states “calling” for their half of the water, with the upper basin being required to temporarily forego diversions. The volume required to reach the midpoint between the upper and lower basins at Lee Ferry, Arizona, is 7,500,000 acre-feet per year or 75,000,000 acre-feet over a 10-year rolling average.

To be more specific about the magnitude of the threat of little water, Colorado depletes about 2.5 million acre-feet annually from the Colorado River system, which equates to just under half the water used across the entire state. Of this amount, 1.1 million acre-feet is pre-1922 Compact water, while 1.4 million acre-feet, or 56 percent, is post-1922 Compact water. Post-1922 water would be the portion of Colorado’s water usage that would be most vulnerable in the event of a “call.” Ceasing those diversions would amount to a large reduction in use, not only on Colorado’s West Slope, but also along its Front Range, as water for transmountain diversions moving from west to east of the Continental Divide make up 43 percent of those post-1922 depletions.

It is certain that suspension of use would be mitigated or avoided if at all possible. However, long-term avoidance would have to be predicated on a rising supply and measurable reduction in demand across the entire upper Colorado River Basin, providing evidence that shortages would not be permanent.

In years of drought, the Compact minimum flow obligation poses a problem. A diminishing supply would have to be shared among not only upper basin users but also the lower basin users making the “call.” To thwart the contingency of the upper basin states having to cease or seriously curtail their water use, Lake Powell was constructed to store water in years of abundance and, then, in times of want, to supplement the 75,000,000 acre-foot requirement.

In the late 1990s, Colorado Basin water planners discussed the issue of how water surpluses could be shared and allocated. Then came the drought of 2002, and discussions changed focus to shortages. In 2005, the Secretary of the Interior directed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to develop additional strategies for improving coordinated management of the reservoirs of the Colorado River system. In response, Reclamation initiated a process to develop operational guidelines that can be used to address the operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead during drought and low reservoir conditions.

Signed by the Secretary of the Interior and representatives of the seven basin states, the agreements were designated as “Interim Operational Guidelines” and included water level targets in lakes Mead and Powell to insure that various activities could continue unabated, such as the production of hydroelectric power. The parties recognized that as time marched on, the guidelines and their underlying hydrologic assumptions would have to be re-examined to account for changing climate, supply and demand conditions, and shortages.

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Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam, is a major storage supply on the Colorado River for the lower basin states. Shown in Feb. 2014, it was on its way toward reaching a historically low water level.

Simple observation of water levels in lakes Powell and Mead show us that lake levels are not “filling or spilling” but continue to drop. A conclusion? Current supply to the lower basin, and therefore the upper basin, is at risk. To date, the winter of 2014-2015 has produced snowpack at below-average levels. Additionally, as one attempts to look into the future by using past evidentiary data (paleohydrology), the conclusion is that future water supplies could be at risk as well. The evidence shows that it was common for drought to extend for decades.

Further complications arise. Colorado’s Water Plan is being developed today, in 2015. Review and modification of the Interim Operational Guidelines for Powell and Mead, affecting the Compact, are targeted for 2026-2030, 11 years hence. So how does one plan the wedding when the guest list isn’t drawn up until right before the ceremony? Or said another way, the review of the guidelines will include discussion of how to handle shortages of water, water that Colorado’s Water Plan may have already divided up. Envision the state policy makers and the guideline negotiators with their fingers in the same pie, each at their own party.

Ironically, the lower Colorado River Basin is the most vexing part of Colorado’s state water plan. Discussion of Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and its conceptual criteria for the development of additional transmountain diversions from the state’s wetter West Slope to its urbanized East Slope addresses the Colorado River Compact in this way: “continued conversations and negotiations among the Basin States…are sensitive “ and “Colorado does not want to pre-judge the outcome of these discussions.” The developers of Colorado’s Water Plan know there could be sensitive interbasin outcomes in 2026 that are at cross purposes to the state water plan of 2015. The solution for now, it seems, is to kick the can down the road and hope that things “work out”—more water, less demand.

At least one basin roundtable has recognized the problem and is wrestling with the numbers, many numbers. This is a good sign that others are working on the problem. The 1922 Compact is not the only constraint on the Colorado River System. There are others that could restrict Colorado’s water usage. For example, how does Colorado measure up against the state’s percentage allocated in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948, which divides the upper basin’s share between the four upper basin states? How does Colorado reconcile the Bureau of Reclamation’s determination of a 6-million acre-foot limit for the upper basin (compared with what was once assumed to be 7.5 million acre-feet)? What about depletion caps for recovery of endangered fish?

If we believe the data that reveals a future gap in Colorado’s municipal water supply of up to 538,000 acre-feet, should we not be including in Colorado’s Water Plan the most aggressive solutions to closing the gap? These could include the talked-about “insurance policy” to avoid the risk of Lake Powell dropping below minimum levels that would trigger a “call,” moving up re-negotiations of the Interim Operational Guidelines to gain more clarity of future requirements, serious discussion of importation of Mississippi River Basin water from beyond the state, desalination for fulfilling the U.S. Colorado River water obligation to Mexico, and land use mandates to decrease domestic water consumption to a certain maximum gallons per capita per day. Even legislative integration of a water component in local land use planning and development codes ought not to be dismissed as we look for solutions.

Until we see Powell and Mead water levels increase, the success of Colorado’s Water Plan rests on reduced demand. Decisive action is needed to solidify this policy. Increasing supply only works when climate favors us and water is available. Decreasing demand works both ways. In times of increased supply, decreased demand is a dividend and maintains water in storage. The rest of the time, decreased demand is the only way of staying within our ever-decreasing water supply.

City ID Photos

Greg 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.

waterplancoverwebCheck out the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s newest issue of Headwaters magazine, covering the development of Colorado’s Water Plan, a roadmap for managing the state’s limited water resources in the face of drought, climate change and rapid population growth. And read up on the Colorado River Compact and the state’s other water-sharing agreements in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Interstate Compacts.

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Filed under Colorado River, Colorado's Water Plan, Headwaters Magazine, Water Supply

Colorado’s vulnerability and preparation for climate change

U.S. drought monitor from February 10, 2015 shows an increasingly dry Colorado.

Colorado’s record-breaking warm temperatures along with massive snow dumps on the East Coast, drought in California and the Pacific Northwest’s Pineapple Express rains have people across the country focusing on climate.  Globally, negotiators are working on a draft deal at the U.N. climate talks in Geneva to address climate change right now.

And here in Colorado a new report “The Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study” was just published, analyzing the challenges that state residents and leaders face as climate change continues to expose Colorado to various vulnerabilities.

The report looks at many state sectors individually and among other findings, a press release on the report points to the following:

  • Water: The state’s reservoirs can provide some buffering against some expected increases in water demand and decreases in flow, but entities with junior rights or little storage are especially vulnerable to future low flows.

  • Agriculture: Rising temperatures, heat waves and droughts can reduce crop yield and slow cattle weight gain. Colorado farmers and ranchers are already accustomed to large natural swings in weather and climate, but may find it especially challenging to deal with expected changes in water resources.

  • Recreation: Climate projections show that Colorado’s springtime mountain snowpack will likely decline by 2050, with potential impacts on late-season skiing. Spring runoff season may also be earlier and shorter, which could affect rafting. But the recreation industry and some Colorado communities are already making changes that could help them adapt to a warmer future. For example, Telluride ski area now markets itself as Telluride Ski & Golf.

 

Find the draft water plan at http://coloradowaterplan.com/ to read through and submit your input

Although Colorado is vulnerable to a changing climate in more ways than those listed, the state has been preparing for an uncertain future through various long-term planning undertakings. That planning includes the development of Colorado’s Water Plan, currently in draft form, to be completed in December 2015.  The water plan prepares the state for varying degrees of probable climate change, citing water supply availability as one of the primary drivers that decide how much water Colorado will need for the future. From the plan:

Water Supply Availability may similarly trend “lower” or “higher” depending on climate change, watershed hydrology, legal constraints associated with Colorado’s interstate compacts, water law, and environmental regulations. Water Supply Availability will also be assessed as trending lower or higher over time as compared to earlier versions of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative.

Learn more about climate at CFWE’s Climate and Colorado’s Water Future workshop March 13, 2015

On March 13, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s annual Climate and Colorado’s Water Future Workshop will take a look at climate in Colorado, global climate data tracked through ice core samples, future risks to Colorado’s watersheds, and water supply planning in the face of climate change. Participants will also hear about and receive access to tools to better teach and communicate about climate. Register for the workshop to learn more about climate in Colorado.

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

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.

Greenberg Farm2-2

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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Happy New Year from CFWE!

The staff and Board of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education were blessed to have a busy, productive and enjoyable 2014.  We wish you and your family the happiest of holidays, and a stellar 2015!  We are thankful for all of our members, supporters and friends.

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