Click here to read the summary. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Partners for Western Conservation (PWC) initiated the Ag Water Network in late 2015 with the objective of helping to ‘keep ag water connected with ag land.’ The Ag Water Network is partially funded by a Walton Family Foundation grant.
The state water plan, released in November, 2015, estimated Colorado’s population could swell to 10 million people by 2050, nearly doubling our current population of 5.4 million. The plan projects that the demand for water driven by the increasing population could result in a municipal and industrial water supply gap of 560,000 acre-feet. Statewide, this could result in the loss of 700,000 irrigated acres by 2050 through the purchase and transfer of water rights from irrigated agriculture to urban areas. Such large-scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture would have permanent adverse economic, environmental and food security impacts.
The water plan acknowledges the economic, environmental and cultural value of Colorado’s agriculture industry. To minimize ‘buy and dry’ of irrigated farmland, the plan emphasizes water conservation, increased storage, and alternative agricultural transfer methods (ag water leases) as the primary means for closing the projected water supply-demand gap.
Rotational fallowing, deficit irrigation, and planting lower consumptive use crops are the main practices being used and/or tested for “creating” consumptive use water that would otherwise have been used by crops. Consumptive use (CU) water is water retained by the growing plant plus the amount lost through evapotranspiration.
The consumptive use (CU) water can be leased to municipal, industrial, recreational, environmental or agricultural interests provided the lease complies with state water law. All alternative ag transfers, or “ag water sharing” agreements must be voluntary, temporary and compensated. A variety of state laws have been passed over the last decade to ensure that a participating landowner’s water right(s) are not negatively impacted as long as the terms of the lease agreement comply with state law. Ag water leasing represents a sustainable approach that enables irrigated land to stay in production, albeit at a reduced output level, while helping supply water for other uses.
Ag water leasing is a new concept to most Colorado ag producers. The purpose of the ag water survey was to assess the level of knowledge of ag water right holders throughout the state regarding water leasing terms and concepts, and determine ag water right holder perspectives, concerns and interest related to leasing.
The survey was initiated February 26th, 2016 and closed on July 15, 2016, and received more than 300 responses. The first question – “do you own or lease ag water rights?” – was answered “no” by 51 respondents, leaving 266 respondents that said they own or lease agricultural water rights. The survey contained 25 background and water-related questions as well as a section at the conclusion which allowed respondents to leave comments or ask questions. All 25 survey questions are listed in the Appendix .