LaSalle: Farmers and their supporters rally to pressure Governor Hickenlooper to allow pumping

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From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

A coalition of more than 100 Weld County farmers and agribusiness people — along with several Weld County commissioners and some of the area’s state lawmakers — met for a Wednesday morning rally at Glen Fritzler’s LaSalle-area farm at 20861 County Road to make their case for an emergency drought disaster declaration from the governor, who wasn’t present. Hickenlooper could issue an executive order to allow them to pump water to their fields from underground supplies, those farmers argued, for up to 30 days, with the possibility of renewing that permission by issuing subsequent orders for additional 30-day pumping permission periods, if they continue to be needed. The farmers, along with Weld County officials and members of the area’s legislative delegation, said they expect to present Hickenlooper and his staff with their plea for a disaster-emergency executive order during a more formal meeting in Denver, possibly as early as next week…

In many past drought years since the 1930s, farmers in the South Platte basin, all the from Weld County to the Sterling and Julesberg area, were able to tap into the underground water aquifer to supplement inadequate surface stream flows.

The state’s courts, however, found that that longstanding practice violated Colorado water law, because the farmers hadn’t been augmenting the well water with supplies they’d bought or leased from other sources, in order to ensure that the area’s rivers and streams were getting the equivalent of groundwater believed to be seeping naturally into those surface waterways. Local water users questioned the science behind that water-law decision, but the courts ordered that hundreds of wells be shut down completely and that pumping be curtailed from hundreds more.

On Wednesday, Fritzler was one of several people who questioned the rationale behind that 6-year-old court order. “Our wells have been curtailed for six years now,” he said, but even without the pumping, “the river has never run so low.”

More coverage from Lance Hernandez writing for TheDenverChannel.com. From the article:

“If we don’t get rain in 10 days, irrigated agriculture in this area will be over for the year,” said longtime farmer Gene Kammerzell. “Farmers will then have to decide which crops to sacrifice.”[…]

Weld County commissioners said they hope it doesn’t come to that. The commissioners plan to meet Monday to formally declare a drought disaster. “We’re going to pass an emergency declaration and send it on to the governor,” said commission Chairman Sean Conway. “We’ll ask him to declare one too.”

“We’ll also ask him to convene the drought task force,” said Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer…

Jim Yahn, who manages both North Sterling and Prewitt Reservoirs in Logan County, told 7NEWS that pumping ground water effects return flows. “When you pump, there’s an effect,” Yahn said. “It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow, but there will be an effect.”[…]

The governor’s water policy advisor, John Stulp, said the threshold for a disaster declaration is typically a 30 percent (crop) loss in a designated area. He said it doesn’t appear that there’s been that big of a crop loss yet.

The farmers said they want the governor to take action before they suffer that loss. “We want to close the barn doors before the horses get out,” Conway said.

More South Platte River basin coverage here and here.

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