#AnimasRiver: How Are Farms Affected? — Modern Farmer

Animas River photo via EPA
Animas River photo via EPA

From Modern Farmer (Gabrielle Saulsbery and Andrew Amelinckx):

Joe Wheeling, a co-owner of the James Ranch in Durango, Colorado, tells Modern Farmer that they rely almost exclusively on water from the Animas River for their irrigation needs. Their crops went without water for “three or four days” before the EPA agreed to provide them with water from Durango, but he says “it’s not a huge amount.”

Wheeling runs the The Gardens at the 400-acre ranch, along with his wife Jenn. They grow organic produce, flowers, and herbs. There’s also a dairy and grass-fed beef cattle operation there. He says that because they had ponds at the ranch they were able to water the cattle from there, but that “it’s impacted our irrigation and grazing cycle.”[…]

Trying to get an exact number on the farms and ranches impacted by the spill hasn’t been an easy task since information is still coming in from the various agencies…

A contact at the United States Department of Agriculture tells Modern Farmer that it’s still gathering information and doesn’t have any final data on what farms are affected, or how many, but that its county field offices are “communicating with producers in the interim to assess local conditions.”

The agency is “monitoring conditions closely to gather information on potential agricultural needs. That will let us know what might be necessary, or possible,” the source said.

What we do know is that in Colorado, there was a period of between three and seven days when irrigation water was shut down to an estimated 2,500 acres of land, and while that’s tough on crops, it’s the potential residual effects from the heavy metals that are more worrisome. And as of now there’s no way to quantify those effects…

Wheeling says they are taking it slowly when it comes to returning to using the river for irrigation purposes and will be looking for a variety of indicators before they do. Until then they’ll continue to use the water that’s being driven over from Durango to water their crops. He says the ranch invested in a sand filtering system for the farm a couple of years ago, which should help with providing clean water when they do return to using the Animas River.

“We’re pretty confident that that will filter out whatever remaining sediment might be there. We’re not just jumping into things. We’re being cautious,” he says by phone. “At the end of the day it’s the trust our customers have in us and we take that trust very seriously.

2 thoughts on “#AnimasRiver: How Are Farms Affected? — Modern Farmer

    • Good question. He could drill a well(s) in the Animas alluvium and use his ditch rights to augment the depletions, after a trip to water court for an augmentation plan decree. I don’t know if the Animas alluvium would yield enough water or what the water quality in the alluvium is after all these years of acid mine drainage into the river. I don’t know the geology of the area well enough to know whether there are unconfined aquifers with sufficient water quality available to him.

      It depends. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting.

      John Orr

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