Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: Hands off our agricultural water?

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If the Arkansas Basin Roundtable is successful in inserting one sentence in the upcoming state water plan, it would probably read: “Hands off our agricultural water.” Going around the room Wednesday, members voiced their concerns about the goals and objectives section of the basin water plan, which will be folded into a more sweeping document being pushed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“The biggest problem I have is all the water that’s been sold,” said John Schweizer, a Rocky Ford farmer who heads both the Catlin Canal and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. “The land where the water’s been sold is worthless weeds and junk. We need to stop taking water from agriculture and lease-fallowing is the first decent way I’ve seen to slow it down.”

Others took a harder line.

Crowley County’s representative Rick Kidd pointed out that farmers who are left on large canals where water has been sold, such as the Colorado Canal, can’t run water to their fields during dry years like this one.

In Huerfano County, which is seeing its water resources tighten, there is an even deeper feeling.

“We need to put some demands on our own water staying in our own place,” said Kent Mace, chairman of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District. “Is there a farmer or rancher who cannot grow a crop every year and stay in business?”

“I think a measurable outcome should be a zero net loss of agriculture production in the Lower Arkansas Valley,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

A majority of the roundtable members and visitors at the meeting voiced the need for more collaboration or efficiency in using water. Others wanted more emphasis on watershed management, recreation and environmental issues.

Nearly everyone agreed that storage should play a major role in the valley’s water future.

“I think the Lower Ark Valley found out that when reservoirs are gone, there was an economic impact,” said SeEtta Moss of the Audubon Society. “They lost a lot of fishermen and birders from the cities spending money in the rural areas.”

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