From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):
Reagan Waskom is director of the Colorado Water Institute, an affiliate of Colorado State University, which was created for “the express purpose of focusing the water expertise of higher education on the evolving water concerns and problems being faced by Colorado citizens.” He spoke on water in the West and the future of irrigated agriculture recently during the fifth annual Colorado Ag Classic, the joint convention of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, the Colorado Corn Growers Association, Colorado Sunflower Administrative Committee, Colorado Sorghum Producers, Colorado Seed Growers Association and the Colorado Seed Industry Association.
Irrigated agriculture accounts for only 15 percent of total crop acres but 40-50 percent of all crop receipts, according to USDA. Since 2003, irrigated cropping has increased primarily in the Eastern U.S. and in Nebraska. (The average cost of irrigating from wells in Nebraska in 2008 was $42.89 an acre. In Texas, at the shallow end of the vast Ogallala Aquifer, the comparable figure was $105.10. In California, battling drought and increasing competition for water from urban residents, it was $114.27.) Meanwhile, states like California, Texas and Colorado are losing irrigated acreage. As of 2007, Nebraska had the highest number of irrigated acres at 8.5 million. Colorado has 2.9 million irrigated acres, and Kansas 2.8 million. The Ogallala Aquifer accounts for 25 percent of irrigated cropland. As of 2007, 8 percent of the aquifer was depleted. Texas and Kansas are seeing the biggest declines.
Use of water for irrigation peaked in 1980. The per-acre application rate has gradually declined since then, a story that has not always been successfully conveyed to the public, Waskom says. In addition, the value irrigated agriculture contributes to Colorado’s economy is a hefty $16 billion annually. Livestock production accounts for less than 1 percent of direct water use, but indirectly relies on the water-intensive production of feed. “A question that needs to be analyzed is what happens to livestock feeding in this state,” Waskom says. “I think we are working ourselves into a situation of off-shoring our livestock production just like our fruits and vegetables.”
In the South Platte basin, an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 acres have been lost as direct result of curtailment of water use, but that figure could be as high as 70,000, Waskom says. The Arkansas River basin is also experiencing significant declines. Waskom says the Arkansas Valley has already lost 20-25 percent of irrigated acreage. The population there is expected to increase 500,000 by 2030. There’s also pressure on the San Luis Valley to dry up about 65,000 acres over the long term. In sum, Colorado will likely lose 400,000-600,000 irrigated acres in the next 20 years, Waskom estimates.
More Colorado water coverage here.