Water stakeholders discuss best practices — La Junta Tribune-Democrat

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

A very thoughtful and knowledgeable group of water stakeholders met Wednesday at Otero Junior College with representatives from the Colorado Water Conservation Board subcommittee on the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative. The hope is that interests of southeastern Colorado and agriculture, somewhat synonymous, and those of the rest of the state can be worked out to the mutual advantage of all parties. Behind the meeting were Jay Winner of the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, Caitlin Hansen of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the CWCB and Arkansas Basin Roundtable. Assisting Deb Phenicie as moderator of the group was Mark Shea of Colorado Springs. Phenicie works under Carol Ekarius, executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte and Coalitions & Collaboratives Inc…

The water quality issue and the flood control projects dovetail with the issue of junior water rights, which depend on water captured from flood events. Winner and other farmers and conservationists hope that some solution can be worked out that will benefit both southeastern Colorado/agricultural interests and water quality, without the disastrous buy and dry witnessed in Crowley County, now overcome by tumbleweeds and dust after its irrigation water was sold to interests in metropolitan Colorado.

The situation has been intensified by a 10-year drought, said one speaker. The past two years of adequate rainfall have not yet overcome the damage of the drought. Farmers and ranchers have sold off their livestock and are now reluctant to buy it back until they see the direction the market will take. Some have been good stewards of their land by replanting with cover crops and native grasses, but some have allowed weeds to take over. Weeds hold down the dust, said one speaker, but also lead to the scourge of tumbleweeds, which block roads and pastures and pile up against houses and barns. Tumbleweeds, along with salinity, were identified as major problems of the area.

District Forester Donna Davis of the Colorado State Forest Service saw diversified revegetation as a helpful improver of water quality by the slowing of sediment deposited in primary streams and also the filtering effect of roots.

Schweizer pointed out that the problem of fertilizer nutrients contaminating the watershed will be widely erased by the increased use of sprinklers rather than flood irrigation. Several of the stakeholders agreed that rotational fallowing, with or without the Super Ditch plan, was the best practical answer to prevent disastrous buy and dry projects.

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Leave a Reply