From The Fort Morgan Times (Stephanie Alderton):
During the Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop in Brush on Wednesday, speakers encouraged eastern plains farmers to think outside the box when using water.
MaryLou Smith, a Colorado State University professor and member of the university’s Colorado Water Institute, gave a talk about why farmers should think about using their water differently in order to prevent shortages. Several other speakers spoke about practical ways to do that, as well as some projects that have already begun. Part of the workshop’s goal was to introduce producers to the opportunities for alternative transfer methods under the new Colorado Water Plan.
The Plan encourages farmers to conserve water, but Smith said that’s only part of the equation.
“We recognize that ag water conservation can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” she said. “So we actually talk more about, ‘How might ag producers use their water differently?'”
She said Colorado often faces water shortages between agricultural and urban uses, and urban policy makers often blame ag producers for not conserving enough water. Her organization works with farmers to find a solution to these problems, although she said “there is no easy answer.” A few problem-solving steps she put forward included improving irrigation efficiency, using updated equipment like soil moisture sensors and trying new farming methods like split-season fallowing. These methods, Smith said, might help “take the target off farmers’ backs” when it comes to disputes about water shortages.
Dick Wolfe, [State Engineer] for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, addressed the “use it or lose it” mentality farmers often have toward their water rights, saying they should focus on finding beneficial uses for water instead of just using it up at any cost.
“How much water do you need to put to beneficial use for that crop, if you need to do it without waste?” Wolfe asked farmers.
Like many speakers throughout the day, he said he wanted to encourage dialogue between his organization and the producers who have to deal with water regulations on the ground.
At the end of the workshop, a panel of producers presented water-saving projects that are already underway. Chris Kraft, a Morgan County dairy farmer and member of the Fort Morgan Ditch Company, spoke about the longstanding ag and energy lease that exists between Fort Morgan farmers and the Pawnee Power Plant (now Xcel Energy). Agricultural producers have found a way to share water with the power plant instead of instituting a “buy and dry,” by selling all their water rights.
The other panelists mentioned several similar ongoing projects. Greg Kernohan, from the company Ducks Unlimited, talked about the Colorado Ag Water Protection Act, which he helped promote; Todd Doherty, of Western Water Partnerships, presented the South Platte Ag/Urban Pilot Project, an attempt to share water between farmers and the city; and Gerry Knapp, of the City of Aurora, talked about ag and urban partnership concepts as well.