Irrigators working against time to get repairs in place for the growing season #COflood

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call
New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From the North Forty News (Jeff Thomas):

With as much as half a million acres of northeastern Colorado cropland left without adequate irrigation following the September floods, hopes are high in the water community that the federal government will open up access to Emergency Watershed Protection funds for repairing damage to ditches, reservoirs and diversion structures.

“If we aren’t able to repair this infrastructure, there is a good possibility that even if we have a good water year, it will still be a very bad year,” Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spokesman Brian Werner said.

The repair needs of both farming and municipal irrigation ditches and reservoirs are acute. Northern Water is administrating a $2.55 million program funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but that money has already been allocated to more than 100 agencies in amounts ranging between $20,000 and $25,000.

“This was really intended to be seed money, and many of these agencies are using that money for planning or engineering,” Northern Water’s resources engineer Amy Johnson said. “Some of them may be able to use CWCB emergency loans, but there are a lot of unmet needs.”

Northeastern Colorado is a huge part of the $40 billion agricultural economy in the state, but the effects from a lack of diversion infrastructure could be even more far reaching. Municipal storage is also impacted and all water rights would be further inhibited by inabilities to physically exchange water and augment those exchanges…

The Natural Resources Conservation Service understands the importance of these diversion and irrigation systems, said Eric Lane, the director of conservation services for the state Department of Agriculture, but it is also working diligently to educate other agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about their necessity.

“Typically, where FEMA is involved there is more concern with moving floodwaters away from communities,” Lane noted…

Though the EWP program may seem somewhat unsuited for irrigation restoration, there aren’t many federal-aid alternatives. For instance, the Conservation Stewardship Program does have a program for hazardous dams, but it is largely limited to dams initiated through the NRCS that pose an imminent threat to human life.

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