The Unexpected Downside Of Ag Water Efficiency — KUNC

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

Until about 10 years ago, rancher Jim Yahn would water his hilly hayfield near Sterling by flooding the land. But as Yahn, who heads North Sterling Irrigation District, points out, about half of that water didn’t even stay on his field.

“A lot of it just ran quickly to the bottom, and then ran back to the creek, and ran back to the river.”

Flooding is how most farmers out here used to water their fields — some still do. Yahn, however, has changed watering strategies. He, and about three-quarters of the farmers around him, have installed center pivot sprinklers. Think of them as long arms that sit in the middle of the field and rotate in a giant circle, like the second hand of a clock, sprinkling the crops underneath. This has made Yahn a lot more efficient.

“I just apply a little bit of water, really nothing runs off,” he says.

To be more precise, only about 15 percent runs off. Compared to the 50 percent he was losing before, that’s a big savings. It’s certainly increased his hay yields. And that’s the catch: Yahn is using more water.

Remember, half the water Yahn was entitled to used to run off his field and back to the river. Now, only a trickle runs back off. So by changing how he irrigates, Yahn is actually using more. In the arid West, that means someone else is getting less.

That someone is Larry Frame, and the farmers he represents as head of the Julesberg Irrigation District, just downstream of North Sterling and Jim Yahn.

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Adrian D. Garcia):

Hundreds of homes sprung up from the land [Ronald] Ruff and his neighbors once farmed south of Harmony Road. By 2006, new construction encircled the five acres where he lived and operated his cattle feedlot.

The longtime Fort Collins resident wasn’t the first to experience the sweeping effects growth can have on a place. With more than 1 million residents projected for Northern Colorado by 2040, he won’t be the last.

Taller projects are planned for Old Town Fort Collins, development is creeping farther north in Loveland, and residents are flocking to small towns in Larimer County. To the east, Weld County and Greeley are seeing similar changes.

For Ruff, growth was embodied in new houses, schools — Fossil Ridge High School in 2004, Kinard Middle School in 2006 and Zach Elementary in 2002 — and streets that were expanded in the southeast portion of the city.

“The money got to be pretty big,” Ruff said. “We all joke about a farmer when he sells his farm — the last crop you sell is the best and that’s houses. That’s the best return you ever get off of farm ground.”

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