South Platte basin groundwater irrigators are looking to the state legislature for some relief for strict augmentation requirements for wells

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High water tables and free river for much of the past couple of years have farmers crying foul over the shut down of 440 wells in the South Platte alluvium in 2006. The State Engineer shut the wells down to protect senior rights holders when the irrigators failed to acquire sufficient augmentation water under current rules. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

The affected wells have remained shut off since 2006 because those wells either don’t have augmentation plans — a way of later adding water to the South Platte River to make up for the depletions caused by well pumping — or they don’t have the water supply to fulfill their augmentation plans.

When the wells were ordered to be shut off a few years ago, augmentation requirements also became more stringent — requiring well pumpers to have augmentation plans in place that could meet the needs of a drought year. As noted by Randy Ray, executive director with the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District (CCWCD), many farmers can’t afford to have such a stringent plan in place. “It definitely puts them in a tough spot,” he said. The shutdown or curtailed wells lie within the augmentation subdistricts of the CCWCD…

Because of the hardships endured by the farmers, ag producers in the area — as well as various farmers organizations, such as the Weld County and Colorado farm bureaus — are asking for legislative changes. They’re specifically asking that the Colorado Division of Water Resources — also referred to as the Office of the State Engineer — be given more flexibility in controlling those wells — certainly during times like these, when the South Platte River Basin is full and senior water right holders aren’t at risk of being deprived of their water.

Giving the state engineer’s office more flexibility was a topic of discussion at the Colorado Farm Bureau’s Mid-Summer Meeting in Greeley back in July, and the Weld County Farm Bureau recently listed it as one of its top issues to bring up at the Colorado Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting in November. At the November meeting, the CFB will vote to adopt a set of policies, which will later be looked at by the CFB Board of Directors…

Gege Ellzey, president of the Weld County Farm Bureau, noted that the local bureau has brought up various water issues to the Annual Meeting before, but the issue concerning the state engineer’s office will be the only one concerning water this year. She said the water issues brought up in previous years have been Weld County-specific, and the policy of giving the state engineer’s office more flexibility would be more of a statewide issue — and hopefully looked at more closely by the CFB.

More coverage of the events in 2006 here. More South Platte River basin coverage here.

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