From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Farmers are as certain as farmers can be that this year will be better than the last. All indications at a still early point in the growing season are pointing toward more favorable conditions than farmers have seen in the last three years.
“It’s almost like we’ve been on an extended summer vacation,” mused Dale Mauch, a Lamar farmer and Fort Lyon Canal board member. “It would be so much fun to plant a corn crop again. You’ve got to stay optimistic in this business, if not just for your mental health.”
The Arkansas Valley’s three largest irrigation well-owner groups have submitted plans to the state with varying degrees of optimism, after they were limited in 2013. Pumping levels depend on the availability of surface supplies for augmentation.
The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association wants to pump its irrigation wells at 90 percent capacity, up from 10 percent last year. The group serves the eastern end of the valley.
“Everyone is looking forward to planting a crop,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA manager.
The Arkansas Groundwater Users Association, which augments wells on Fountain Creek and the area east of Pueblo, is a little more cautious. It plans an initial allocation of about 65 percent for farms, up from 30 percent last year. Municipal and domestic allocation will be 100 percent.
“There’s a good chance of a second allocation if snowpack is 100 percent on May 1,” said AGUA manager Scott Lorenz.
Colorado Water Protective and Development Association, which covers wells throughout the valley, is looking at something less than 65 percent, but better than 2013, when wells without an independent supply were shut down.
“Our numbers are not so good, but better than last year,” said Ann Lopkoff, CWPDA manager. “The Division of Water Resources is going to be able to work with us on a plan this year, and there is more water available. It’s not going to be zero percent again.”
If snowpack remains at high levels, ditches in the Arkansas Valley should see more normal years than the past three seasons, when flows dropped late in the year if they came at all. Commodity prices are down, and cattle herds have been thinned.
Farmers also are dealing with soil moisture deficit that affects crops like grass and alfalfa. Ample irrigation water throughout the season improves the conditions for vegetable crops and corn…
BETTER DAYS AHEAD?
Some indicators that 2014 will be an improvement for farmers:
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that chances are good for an El Nino forming over the Pacific Ocean in late summer. Such systems usually mean warmer temperatures and increased rainfall for the Southern United States, including Southern Colorado.
Snowpack was more than 125 percent in the Arkansas River headwaters, which feed the mainstem of the river.
Winter water storage, which runs Nov. 15-March 15, was almost 92,000 acre-feet at the end of February, nearly double last year’s total and 90 percent of the 20-year average
Additional water will be available from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, forecast at 40 percent above average as of March 1, and through leases by the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.