Arkansas Valley: Current and potential movement of agricultural water to other uses

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Industrial and municipal water wonks plan far in advance to satisfy projected future water supply needs. In Colorado part of the planning often includes acquiring agricultural rights for a change of use. Regulations designed to protect senior rights holders and satisfy the numerous compacts that Colorado and the downstream states have put in place over the years also put pressure on irrigated land. Here’s an in-depth report from Chris Woodka writing for the The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

New actions in the state threaten to take more acreage. Woodmoor Water and Sanitation has signed contracts that would have the effect of drying up 1,500 acres. A state crackdown on seep-ditch rights could remove water from 6,500 acres, and new agriculture consumption rules could tie up more augmentation water that otherwise would be available for irrigation.

But events already have been set in motion to dry up far more farm ground. Transfers from 1950 to the present could take water off one-third of historically irrigated land in the Arkansas River basin — nearly 150,000 of 450,000 acres, according to information compiled by The Pueblo Chieftain. A recent state report — a draft document projecting potential agricultural demands to 2050 — shows that an additional, as yet unidentified, 63,000 acres could be taken out of production in the next 40 years to meet a municipal “gap” in water supply…

The state report also points to a need for 862,000 acre-feet of consumptive use water annually to fully irrigate land that is expected to remain in production by 2050. However, there would be a shortfall of nearly 400,000 acre-feet, because the full amount of water is not likely to be available in most years. The state estimates that between 350,000 and 400,000 acres of land could be irrigated, but there is rarely enough water available now to satisfy that demand.

In The Chieftain’s study, the 150,000 acres of land potentially removed since 1950 includes land that could be dried up either through direct sales of water rights to cities, towns, speculators or power companies; by loss of storage once used by irrigators; or by decreasing the use of well water either through shutdowns or augmentation.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

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