Interview with the Colorado Farm Bureau president from The Greeley Tribune #COWaterPlan

Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water
Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

The Colorado Farm Bureau gathered for its annual meeting and banquet last week at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. After four days of events with Colorado ranchers and farmers, CFB President Don Shawcroft discussed the issues he identified as most important for producers, including water and immigration policy.

Question ­— What were the main topics you heard producers discussing during the event?

Answer — There’s a lot of Colorado Farm Bureau producers that are worried about the statewide water plan and in particular that irrigated agriculture be recognized as valuable, and that the statewide water plan needs to recognize methods and means of keeping water in irrigated agriculture. The statewide water plan has been perceived to be a plan to supply municipal and industrial uses in the coming years through 2050. Statewide there is recognition that there are shortages given what supplies we have and identified and what projects we have identified, there is still shortage. Certainly the target is on agriculture to provide that water. … My concern is that Colorado citizens understand that this prior-appropriations system works. It’s reliable, in fact, for municipalities and for industrial uses. And certainly it’s reliable for agricultural uses.

Q — What does agriculture want to get out of the Colorado Water Plan?

A — We would certainly like to see more emphasis on storage of water. It’s very unfortunate that it is so difficult to store water in the state of Colorado. If we had built the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) when it was proposed or shortly there after, when the first environmental studies had been concluded, that could have been filled several times, in fact. There were several opportunities to fill that project and that would have supplied water during years of drought we’ve had since then. That’s unfortunate. I’ve mentioned before that the greatest thing that could happen in the Colorado Water Plan would be a unification of all of the interests in Colorado to say we recognize this as a semi-arid environment. To be prudent, we must store water in times of plenty in order to have enough, not ample, but enough during times of drought.

Q — Is agriculture worried about water transfers to municipalities?

A — Certainly. Right now, many of those cities and municipalities have adequate supplies identified for the near term. Many of them recognize that if the growth occurs that we anticipate, that there will be shortages farther down the road. Even some of those supplies that have been identified now, if those plans become effective, there is water that is now being used in agriculture that will be moved to municipalities.

Q — What about reports of rising groundwater levels in Weld County?

A — I think one of the things that I recognize and other professionals, and ‘water buffaloes,’ if you will, recognize is that the current process does not allow a specific citing of those artificial recharge ponds. I think there is absolutely a need to recognize that the hydrology is not the same from the beginning of the South Platte, from the Greeley/Kersey area to Sterling. The hydrology changes. … We don’t support a wholesale change in water law. We recognize the Colorado water court, because of decisions made by the Colorado Supreme Court, has to be the venue for any change that goes through. That’s expensive, costly, challenging, but I think there is a call for something to be done and really to be studied and understood.

Q — Will these water issues likely be addressed by the next Legislature?

A — Certainly the state Legislature will take this on in some fashion. There will definitely be some legislation that’s introduced. The specifics of the language will determine what Colorado Farm Bureau policy is and what our position will be. We are very pleased that those who are talking about those concepts are talking to us, and we hope that will continue. We recognize it’s important to sit at the table and understand what the language intends and what it may not say but could in fact be interpreted as in it’s implementation. We recognize that in Colorado water law, and the way it has evolved over time, individual basins can have their own peculiar and particular water law, and that’s a good thing. Just as hydrology isn’t the same from the beginning of the South Platte to the end, the South Platte isn’t the same as the Arkansas, isn’t the same as the Rio Grande or the Colorado, not only in the way things happen in those rivers but also in interstate commerce.

Q — What about our relationship with neighboring states? Are we sending too much water across the state line?

A — Certainly those compacts regarding the Arkansas and South Platte rivers are what they are. There is no doubt that they were in fact agreed upon during what we know now was a period of wet hydrology. We didn’t know that then and those founders certainly did not have a clear vision of what was coming, but they recognized that there was a need for certainty. In spite of whether you disagree or like the compact, it does provide certainty. There is, in fact, more water leaving the state of Colorado and going to Nebraska than what we are obligated to deliver. In order to change that, you have to have storage. … It may seem like a tired song but it’s one we will keep singing. I would love through the state water plan that the state unifies and says we’ve got to have storage in Colorado. It’s an emergency.

Q — What is your reaction to the president’s executive action on immigration?

A — The announcement was disappointing. Beyond the constitutional scholars debating whether he had the authority to do that or not, it’s disappointing because we felt like we were approaching what we believe was a political opportunity to have meaningful reform of the immigration system to provide ample, adequate and legal workers in agriculture. To provide the labor that Americans in the United States are not willing to provide. I think what will happen in the end is undetermined. Will there be adequate workforce for agriculture because of that action? Time will tell. Depending on what Congress does; we have a different kind of Congress come January. What will be their response?; what will legal scholars on both sides of the aisle say can, should, could, ought to be done? It will be an interesting discussion. Our position has always been to have an adequate workforce. The H-2A program really needs to be changed. It needs to be improved. It needs to be such that it’s more accessible for employers to have employees when they need them, where they need them, for the length of time they need them.

Q — Is the H-2A program one of the major causes of labor shortages in agriculture?

A — The difficulty of the H-2A program has been a challenge. Folks have to go through so much red tape to get it done, if they choose to do it for themselves individually. If they hire someone to go through the red tape, then they are going to pay extra. I have a problem that it’s difficult to get done. Livestock producers are in a unique situation. They need someone to go with the sheep or the cattle in the middle of the summer perhaps, work long hours, isolated hours or they may work during calving or lambing season when the hours are long and the work is hard. It’s difficult to find someone who is willing to work, even at the prices they are paying to do that.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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