“What we need now is for it to quit raining and warm up” — John Schweizer

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Water from this week’s rainfall is flowing into storage now, as farmers wait out the wet spell to get back into fields.

“What we need now is for it to quit raining and warm up,” said Rocky Ford farmer John Schweizer. “We’re happy for the rain, but it’s so wet we can’t do anything.”

Most canals were shut off during this week’s rains, and flows from Lake Pueblo were cut as the Arkansas River reached flood stage at Avondale. Flows at Avondale topped 10,000 cubic feet per second overnight Wednesday, more than 4,000 cfs above flood stage. Avondale remained above 6,000 cfs for most of the day Wednesday.

For farmers, there is still a lot of planting to do, particularly corn, which is grown for feed and a major cash crop in the Arkansas Valley.

“We got most of our stuff planted when it should be planted,” said Joe Mauro, who farms on the Bessemer Ditch in Pueblo County. “We put the corn and chiles in before this rain, and they’ll do well if the crust from this moisture isn’t too thick. We will put in pinto beans and pumpkins by June.”

In other parts of the valley, most crops are delayed.

“The stuff planted earlier hasn’t gotten up yet, and corn planting is delayed,” said Mike Bartolo, of the Colorado State University Research Center at Rocky Ford. “There was a window to get stuff in last weekend, but most of it should be planted. It’s a mixed bag, but it’s generally delayed.”

Even alfalfa — plants that winter over — has been problematic, Schweizer said.

Warm weather this year got it started early if it hadn’t been knocked back by dry, cold weather over the winter. But that brought out bugs, too. Farmers who have already sprayed for bugs have to spray again once temperatures warm up.

Because corn prices have dropped, some farmers in the Lamar area are planting milo, or sorghum, and even soybeans, crops that use less water and have a longer planting window, said Dale Mauch, who farms near Lamar.

“We’ve been dry for so long. Everything changed after May 1,” Mauch said. “This is the first time in a long time that you’ll be able to plant all your acres on all your land. It’s sure nice to see green country.”

Grasslands also are coming back, so those who nursed their cattle herds through the drought should be in good shape. Because of the shortage of cows, it will be expensive to rebuild herds that were culled, however.

The Colorado Canal, which is mostly owned by Colorado Springs and Aurora, and the Fort Lyon Canal were the only large ditches taking water Wednesday, because they can store it. Colorado Springs and Aurora were releasing water from Lake Meredith and leasing it to the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said.

Combined, the ditches took about 1,280 cfs of water.

The rest is being stored in John Martin Reservoir under conservation storage, or in the Amity Canal account in lieu of flowing into the Great Plains reservoirs via the Fort Lyon storage canal. John Martin storage has increased from about 6,300 acrefeet in November to 80,000 acre-feet. Water in conservation storage is used for later release in Colorado and to satisfy Kansas demands for water at the state line, so any water stored by Colorado farmers carries a 35 percent surcharge.

Witte couldn’t say how much water will be contributed to John Martin during this event, since there were delayed flows yet to come from the Purgatoire and Huerfano Rivers, as well as Fountain Creek. More rainfall is expected through the weekend throughout the area.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon/Matt Hildner):

Water levels at the reservoir have risen significantly, leading to changes that will impact guests and those planning on visiting in the near future. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Abbie Walls, most areas on the south side of the reservoir are under water, so areas where trailers can be parked will be limited…

John Martin Reservoir gained almost 27,000 acre feet of water in the past week due to storms. As of Monday, the reservoir had 77,600 acre feet of water and was still rising, compared to about 31,000 acre feet and dropping last year at this time.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

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