“It may take some of us my age dying off before we finally catch on that we can figure this out” — Mary Lou Smith

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From KUNC (Maeve Conran):

Weld County is the epicenter of urban growth and changing land use in Colorado. One of the fastest growing counties in the nation, its population grew by 40 percent since 2000 and it’s projected to double in the next 25 years. At the same time, 75 percent of its 2.5 million acres is devoted to agriculture as Colorado’s leading producer of sugar beet, grain, and beef cattle.

The dichotomy of urban growth and increasingly valuable agricultural land and water, has led many farmers in Weld to sell both resources. Kent Peppler, president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said he’s seen this happen time after time.

“Money rules and some of this water is awfully valuable,” he said.

Weld County is working hard to preserve its agricultural roots. Its county code has a specific Right to Farm Statement. Farmers, water managers, land planners and policy makers are looking for alternatives to the traditional buy and dry process, where cities buy ag water rights shifting them to municipal use. Some cities are buying land and water then leasing them back to farmers. Some say that just delays the inevitable.

“That land can stay in production for a certain number of years, but eventually, the City of Greeley for instance, will need that water,” said MaryLou Smith of The Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “That’s when the land will be dried up.”

The Colorado Water Institute has been working with the Keystone Institute to get land planners and water managers together and throughout Colorado some solutions are emerging. In the Arkansas Valley some farmers practice rotational fallowing, so they can lease, but not sell, water not being used. But a bill that would have allowed other types of temporary transfers of irrigation water failed in the state Legislature. Smith said solutions to water problems can look good on paper, but it’s hard to get everyone on the same page.

“The devil is in the details,” she points out. “So even those who are trying to develop ag and urban water sharing don’t necessarily agree on the way to do it.”

Smith sees solutions to our water problems coming with the next generation in agriculture who are moving away from the win-lose paradigm so prevalent in water discussions.

“It may take a new generation. It may take some of us my age dying off before we finally catch on that we can figure this out and we can incorporate all of these values. I really believe it.”

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