Colorado Ag Water Summit: Agriculture is the backbone…and water is the lifeblood


From Northern Colorado 5 (Tom Livingston):

“We have 13 AG organizations in the state of Colorado that really feel that there’s something that needs to be done as it relates to irrigated agriculture in the state,” said John Stencel.

Stencel is the Vice Chair of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and past president of Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union. Stencel says the group meets annually to discuss water resource management issues.

“We’ve got to find a way to provide more water. We’ve got to be able to conserve more water. We’ve got to a lot of things differently than we’re doing them now,” he said…

“And I think it’s necessary because we are a deficit basin, and I say deficit because as we look out toward the future in 2050, there’s not going to be adequate water for irrigated agriculture as we know it today, as well as for all the growth that’s taking place,” Stencel said.

More coverage from Chris Woodka Writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The state should take steps now to ensure farmers don’t run out of water, speakers at a conference said Thursday. “We don’t want to find ourselves at the cliff’s edge with no water and no food,” said Robert Sakata, a Brighton farmer…

[Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources [Mike King] said it is important for the state to continue to work at finding ways to avoid drying up farmland to meet future urban water supply. If the state’s population doubles by 2050, as expected, the people will need to be fed…

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance hosted the Ag Water Summit Thursday to discuss key issues in keeping Colorado farms supplied with water. The alliance is made up of the state’s leading farm and ranch organizations. For years, irrigation supplies have been cut into as growing cities have bought farm water to meet their needs. Other curtailment came as Colorado took measures to meet compact demands of neighboring states.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Water should not be a limiting factor of growth,” Salazar told the Colorado Ag Water Summit Thursday. “If we build up instead of out, and invest in technology, water can be used and reused to infinity. We need to plan for the future around how our population uses water.”

Salazar reached the conclusion during his first year as ag commissioner because of the growth in the agriculture economy.

Colorado agriculture exports are growing and topped $2.1 billion this year. Even more value is expected next year, [Colorado Secretary of Agriculture John Salazar] said. “China is moving more than 1 million people into the middle class every month, and they have more disposable income to buy food products from the United States,” Salazar said. “When you look at this country’s economy, agriculture remains the shining star.”

Salazar said the state’s water for agriculture needs to be preserved. “Agriculture is the cornerstone to this country,” he said. “It would be a sad day in America if we lose the ability to produce our own food.”

Instead of talking about moving any water into cities from farms, the state needs to encourage land-use policies that make better use of water. He said higher density development and more on-site recycling could stretch urban water supplies and eliminate the need to dry up more farms.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Cities and farms may join as business partners to stretch water resources, one of the state’s top water leaders suggested this week. “We were asked to come up with wild ideas. So, what if Aurora and Sakata farms worked together as a business unit,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water, the state’s third-largest municipal water provider.

“What’s your benefit package like?” joked Robert Sakata, a Brighton farmer.

The exchange was part of a panel presentation on new ways for agriculture and cities to partner at Thursday’s Colorado Ag Water Summit. The summit, which drew about 250 people with an equal number listening online, was sponsored by a coalition of the state’s major agricultural groups.

More coverage from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune via Windsor Now!. From the article:

…many among the roughly 250 farmers, agriculture officials, experts, lawmakers, environmentalists, and state and municipal leaders who attended the event at the Larimer County Fairgrounds do believe the all-day brainstorming session and sharing of information was another step in the right direction in deciding how to responsibly provide water to the state’s farmers trying to feed a rapidly growing population as the resource becomes more scarce. And they agreed that talks at the meeting, and other evidence, indicate more people — state policy makers and the general public alike — are becoming aware of the problem…

In efforts to solve the problem [ed. dry-up of agriculture to water Colorado’s projected population growth], water and agriculture experts from across the state discussed alternatives to cities buying farmers’ water rights, such as finding efficient ways for farmers to instead lease some of their water to municipalities. However, they also discussed the barriers of implementing such endeavors, like the great expense for the needed infrastructure, and farmers’ reluctancy to give water to cities at a time when commodity prices are high and there’s money to be made in growing crops.

The experts also discussed further researching and practicing farming methods in which less water is used to grow crops with satisfactory yields, as well as implementing new technologies, building more water storage facilities and putting forth more regional efforts to increase water supplies…

“Everyone at today’s meeting would agree that we don’t have an exact template in place yet to solve this very complex issue,” [Greeley Sewer and Water Director Jon Monson] said. “But more people are coming together and talking, more than ever before.

Meanwhile, here’s a report on a recent forum hosted by Southwest Basin Roundtable’s “Conserving Irrigated Agricultural Lands” grant project and the Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union held down in Cortez on November 12, from Jim McQuiggin writing for the Pagosa Daily Post. From the article:

Some sixty food producers, buyers, conservation groups and community leaders from the state’s southwest watershed basins strategized on how to secure the region’s food and farmland future…Colorado loses 30,000 acres of private agricultural lands every year and along with it, water rights. Between 2000 and 2005 alone, we lost 400,000 acres of irrigated croplands.

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