Basin Roundtable Summit: Alternative ag transfers

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Here’s a wrapup of the summit afternoon session dealing with alternative ag transfers, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

It turns out the Arkansas Valley provides front-row seats for a lot of the new ideas. The state is working on several fronts to keep the thirst of cities from drying up farmland in Colorado more than it already has. In some cases, such as the Rio Grande basin, farmers themselves are finding they need to throttle back their use of water to avoid tapping out the available supply. A panel talking about the issue of alternative transfers reached the conclusion that the solution to stretching the water supply differs in each of the state’s basins. However, most of the ideas presented Thursday are already beginning to play out in the Arkansas River basin…

[Engineer Louis Meyer] advocated for watershed protection through a utility fee for urban users, saying water users in cities could pay to keep farmland productive. He cited conservation easements as one method to achieve this, and he voiced the need to have local food sources as the primary reason. “We need surcharges to protect the watersheds,” Meyer said. “Why don’t we have a surcharge to help ranchers in the upper part of the basin?”[…]

The Greeley board is concerned both about providing enough water for the region — Weld and Larimer counties will have 1.2 million people by 2050 — and agriculture, which is a $1.4 billion industry in Weld County, the state’s top producing county. Greeley has purchased water from area farms and has been leasing it back to farms for 20 years already. “What we face in our area and statewide is how to maintain a sustainable economy,” Evans said.

Tied into all of the decisions being made in all of the state’s basin is the way rivers work. Shutting off water in one place often means consequences for downstream users. Return flows, the water applied to fields that is not used by crops to make its way back to the river, are part of the equation. In the South Platte, for instance, water is used and reused six times before reaching the Nebraska state line. “One person’s inefficiency is another person’s water right,” [Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District] said…

“One size doesn’t fit all,” observed Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Conservancy District. “But, maybe one size constrains all.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

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