San Luis Valley: Area growers try to assess the potential impact of withdrawing acreage irrigated by groundwater pumping

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

…the commercial agriculture that built up the valley is large-scale and competitive, and relies on center-pivot irrigation devices that pump heavily from underground aquifers. Commercial production of potatoes and hay — using 6,000 wells and 2,700 center-pivots to irrigate 120-acre crop circles — exploded after the 1950s. The pumping has depleted aquifers by more than 1 million acre-feet since 1976 and now is affecting surface streams…

By May, center-pivot farmers must activate a plan to reduce the water pulled from the aquifer by about 30,000 acre-feet a year. “They’ve got to start to restore it,” state engineer Dick Wolfe said. To avoid state shutdowns of wells — as happened in 2009 in northeastern Colorado — commercial farmers propose to pay to pump or purchase new surface-water rights and use these to offset pumping from aquifers…

“These communities, and no doubt other communities around the world, are coming to the realization that business as usual has to change,” said Mike Gibson, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and chairman of the Rio Grande roundtable that participates in statewide planning…

But the time has come for commercial farms “to pay for the impacts they are causing to the river,” said Steve Vandiver, manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the leader of efforts to find water to replace water pumped from wells.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

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