A new short film highlights the joys and challenges of being a young farmer in the arid West — NYFC

From the National Young Farmers Coalition (Chelsey Simpson) via Alternet:

A new short film, Conservation Generation, offers a look into the lives of four young farmers and ranchers in Colorado and New Mexico who are following their passion for agriculture amidst historic drought, climate change, development, and heightened competition for water.

Fifteen percent of all U.S. crops are grown with irrigation water that originates in the Colorado River Basin, making Western agriculture an issue that is crucial to the lives and dinner plates of all Americans. Many of the holiday meals consumed in the coming weeks will include produce grown by farmers in the arid West.

Despite the importance of Western agriculture, farmers are in increasingly short supply. The average age of the American farmer is 58, and farmers over 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by a ratio of six-to-one. According to the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), the nonprofit organization that produced Conservation Generation as well as a report by the same name, lack of access to affordable land and water are two of the biggest issues preventing more young people from succeeding in agriculture.

“There are a number of challenges faced by young farmers, but in the West, all of those issues are compounded by the increasing demands on water,” says Kate Greenberg, western water program director for NYFC. “As the film shows, young farmers face these challenges with a spirit of innovation and a deep commitment to conservation and place. A good sense of humor helps, too.”

According to the report produced by NYFC, 97 percent of young farmers surveyed considered water conservation important and 94 percent reported using some form of conservation on their farms.

Conservation Generation features four young farmers in Colorado and New Mexico:

  • Harrison Topp of Topp Fruits in Paonia, Colorado and Fields Livestock in Montrose, Colorado
  • Tyler Hoyt of Green Table Farm in Mancos, Colorado
  • Nery Martinez of Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses in Espanola, New Mexico
  • Casey Holland of Red Tractor Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Each of the farmers has also been blogging about the joys and challenges of farming in the arid West; view the film and read their stories at http://youngfarmers.org/conservationgeneration.

    Grand Valley farmers participate in drought planning — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent

    West Drought Monitor November 29, 2016.
    West Drought Monitor November 29, 2016.

    From the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University (Hannah Holm) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    It’s been very dry in Colorado’s mountains this fall. It’s still early, and the snowpack could catch up to “normal,” but when I flew over those mountains on Nov. 15, they were brown. Just the barest dusting of white covered the highest ridges and north-facing slopes.

    This delayed onset of winter provided a sobering backdrop to ongoing discussions about what to do if the Colorado River Basin slips back into severe drought with Lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs in the basin, already half-empty.

    If Lake Mead drops too low, farms and cities in the lower basin that have become accustomed to steady water supplies will have to drastically cut back. If Powell drops too low, Glen Canyon Dam will be unable to keep generating power or maintain sufficient releases to honor the 1922 agreement between the states that share the river.

    No one knows exactly how upstream water users would be affected in that scenario, but if it’s a crisis reaction, it’s unlikely to be pretty. The environment could take a hit as well because low lake levels would make it impossible to conduct periodic high releases designed to mimic historical floods in order to benefit habitat conditions in the Grand Canyon.

    In the lower Colorado River Basin, discussions among Arizona, California and Nevada have centered on who will cut their water use, by how much, and at what “trigger” levels in Lake Mead. This is necessary even without an intensified drought, because lake levels keep falling even with normal water deliveries from Lake Powell. The degree of drought just ratchets the urgency up or down.

    In the upper Colorado River Basin, which straddles Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, there is no single outlet at the top of the system that can be cranked up or down. Instead, there are thousands of drainages feeding into the Colorado River, with widely dispersed ranches, farms and communities taking sips and gulps along the way, including some sizeable straws pulling water across the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.

    A recent modeling effort coordinated by the Colorado River District concluded that if we were to experience another drought like the one of the early 2000s, with the reservoirs levels as low as they are now and without any additional conservation, Lake Powell could essentially be drained in just a few years.

    Efforts are underway to figure out how to craft a demand management system that can entice upper basin water users to voluntarily dial back their consumption and get paid for it, in order to keep Powell from falling to critically low levels.

    That’s complicated. For an agricultural demand management system to work for farmers, it needs to provide adequate compensation, not impede long-term operations, have simple paperwork and not put water rights at risk. For irrigation providers, it needs to pay its own way, be easy to manage, and not put water rights at risk. And for such a system to work for communities, you can’t have large swaths of fields left brown and unkempt, supply dealers left without customers and farmworkers left jobless.

    GRAND VALLEY ACTIVITIES

    A pilot project in Western Colorado’s Grand Valley is testing an approach to cutting back agricultural water use that seeks to work for everyone.

    The location, just east of the Utah state line, is significant. About half of the water that flows into Lake Powell flows through Colorado’s Grand Valley first, some of it flowing through the river, and some detouring through irrigation ditches and farm fields before returning. Much of the water diverted does not return, of course, instead getting transpired through leaves of alfalfa, corn or grass, or plumping up peaches and wine grapes.

    The Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA), the biggest irrigation provider in the valley, is managing the pilot project to reduce that water consumption. At an October meeting to explain the pilot program to other regional water managers and irrigators, GVWUA manager Mark Harris said that the potential for future water shortages is driving the organization’s participation in the pilot.

    For the 2017 irrigation season, GVWUA will conduct the $1 million pilot with funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Nature Conservancy and the Water Bank Work Group.

    In 2017, 10 farm operators dispersed across the valley, each with 120 or more acres under irrigated cultivation, will participate in the GVWUA program.

    The total reduction in water consumption achieved by the GVWUA pilot is predicted to be 3,200 acre feet, only a drop, but an important first drop to test the system. So far, the project appears to be on course work well for the participating farmers and the GVWUA. There is adequate compensation, management isn’t too complicated and water rights are protected.

    Making the program acceptable for the rest of the community isn’t too complicated at this small scale, although some eyebrows may be raised at the odd brown field in the spring. If brought to sufficient scale to meaningfully benefit Lake Powell, however, this would become a more significant consideration.

    In the meeting about the GVWUA program, several people voiced concern that agriculture was being expected to shoulder the burden of bringing supply and demand back into balance in the Colorado River Basin. Some cities are, in fact, also participating in programs to cut diversions to protect the reservoirs, and most have made large strides in conservation in recent decades. However, there is still a feeling that they can do more, particularly in the area of integrating land use and water planning.

    If snow piles up in the mountains at reasonable levels over the next few years, it will buy time to fine tune and gradually scale up programs like the one GVWUA is testing, as well as experiments underway in other settings and on other crops, like high mountain hay meadows. Bolstering administrative capacity to coordinate a broad suite of such programs and developing legal mechanisms to ensure that conserved water reaches Lake Powell without being intercepted by other users must occur before such programs can be effective at a large scale.

    If a moderate amount of conserved water is sent to Lake Powell each year or retained in upstream reservoirs, it will reduce the chances that more drastic cuts will be needed in any one year – avoiding the deepest impacts to agriculture and communities.

    If the mountains keep staying brown late into the fall, however, the upper basin’s demand management efforts will have to accelerate significantly. Under that scenario, it will be harder to keep everyone happy.

    Hannah Holm is coordinator at the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

    November Election Recap — Colorado Central Magazine

    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org
    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

    Here’s my column from the latest issue of Colorado Central Magazine:

    November Election Recap

    Normally this column deals with water issues and water folks in Central Colorado, but in the aftermath of the weirdest election season in my lifetime this iteration will take on a statewide and national flavor.

    Del Norte rancher Travis Smith, currently serving on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, likes to remind folks in the water business, that “We are more connected than we’d like to admit.”

    With all the uncertainty before us, is it possible to glean some idea of the effects the voters have wrought upon themselves?

    President-elect Trump is rumored to be about to install a non-scientist, Myron Ebell, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Ebell has spoken out against the “hoax” of global warming, and many hail his ascension as necessary to clip the wings of a federal government run wild under President Obama.

    Martha Henriques writes in The International Business Times, “Climate deniers have been on the sidelines for years. What will happen now they’re in charge?”

    A lot will happen no matter who is in power. Chris Mooney writes in The Washington Post:

    “It’s polar night there now – the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken.

    “But in fall of 2016 – which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice – something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia.”

    Local Environmental Protection Agency Projects

    The Arkansas headwaters up at Leadville were an acid mine drainage collection system in the days before the EPA’s California Gulch Superfund designation. Now there is a treatment plant run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the mouth of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel and a gold medal trout stream below the site.

    There was a massive fish kill in the Alamosa River downstream from the gold cyanidation operation at Summitville.

    Some folks blame their cancer and loss of friends and family down the Arkansas River at Cañon City where the Cotter Mill uranium processing operation polluted the groundwater.

    These are Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites, all of them. The Feds are the only organization capable of this type of cleanup. Colorado can’t afford projects of this magnitude due to the restraints of TABOR, and most counties are clipping off workers or freezing payroll just to keep plowing snow and managing roads.

    The EPA took a beating from Republicans after the Gold King Mine Spill into the Animas River in 2015. The agency always admitted that opening up the mine was a mistake and they’ve steadily worked on mitigation planning and water quality control.

    “San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey, too, heaped praise on the EPA for reimbursing the more than $349,000 the county spent in response to the spill, as well as contributing to the local economy,” – The Durango Herald.

    The recreation economy has benefitted from EPA projects and the Clean Water Act, so a dismantling of the regulations adds to business uncertainty and environmental angst.

    State Control of Water Resources

    Every candidate from the top of the Colorado ballot to the bottom stood firm regarding water resource administration. Colorado water rights law and administration should be continued as controlling over federal water rights, they say.

    Amendment 71 and Power to the People

    There may some certainty with respect to Amendment 71. Colorado may not see another citizen initiative due to it. The oil and gas industry and Denver politicians hoodwinked Coloradans into giving up power. Here’s what the Colorado Legislative Council had to say before the election:

    “Amendment 71 adds a requirement that signatures be collected statewide for the citizen-initiative process and increases the percentage of votes required to adopt changes to the constitution in most situations …

    “Of the total required signatures, some must be collected from each of the state’s 35 senate districts in an amount of at least two percent of the registered voters in each district.”

    The new signature requirement will be quite a trick to pull off. The last time that many registered voters agreed on something was while voting down Referendum A in 2003. The referendum would have established a two billion dollar fund for water projects to ease some of the pain incurred during the historic 2002 drought. Proponents didn’t have a project list and the referendum failed in all 64 counties.

    The opponents of the oil and gas industry could have roped in the entire industry with their 5,000-foot setback requirement initiative and they may be back. I wonder if two percent of Weld, Routt, or Moffat will sign on?

    Watershed Health and Fire Sharing

    The U.S. Forest Service budget has been taking a beating with the massive wildfires in the West over the past few seasons. As we go to press the new administration has not named their choice for Interior Secretary.

    State governors are stepping up to advocate against “fire borrowing” in the new administration. The Western Governors’ Association recently wrote:

    “Western governors have urged timely action by Congress to end the practice of ‘fire borrowing’ used by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to fund wildfire suppression activities.

    “We strongly urge Congress to resolve this enduring issue as among its highest priorities when it returns to complete the business of the 114th Congress.

    “Fire borrowing is a budgetary practice that occurs when federal agencies divert funds from forest health and fire prevention programs to fight wildfires.”

    John Orr lives in Denver. He became interested in writing the “rough” history of Colorado water after the failure of Referendum A during the November 2003 election. No one was aggregating water news for Coloradans so John stepped into the void. He works as a water resources administrator for a Front Range utility when he isn’t linking and writing. http://www.coyotegulch.net.

    Support Colorado independent media, please click here to subscribe to Colorado Central.

    2016 Colorado Ag Water Summit recap

    longspeak

    From the Community Agriculture Alliance (Todd Hagenbuch) via Steamboat Today:

    On Tuesday, people from across the state convened for the 2016 Colorado Ag Water Summit at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds near Denver. Northwest Colorado was well-represented by folks who live and work in both the Yampa and White River basins.

    The subject of this year’s summit was ATMs. No, not the machines that dole out cash, but Alternative Transfer Methods. ATMs are creative ways to work within the confines of Colorado water law to enable water rights to be used temporarily for uses other than what they are decreed for.

    You might remember that there are specific uses attached to an individual’s water right in Colorado – an irrigation right can only be used to grow crops, and a municipal right can only be used to provide water for a specific, set-area of residences, business, etc. If a water right is purchased for a use other than the decreed use, the owner must go to Water Court to get the decreed use changed.

    When approved, these change cases typically take agricultural uses and turn them into municipal uses, enabling thirsty cities to provide water for an ever-increasing number of customers. This ‘Buy and Dry’ approach takes irrigated farm land out of production. Because these rural areas are losing agricultural productivity, they also lose farmers, farm implement dealers, local bankers, the local grocery store, etc. Eventually, entire communities disappear.

    Landscapes also change from an environmental and scenic perspective when they are no longer irrigated. John McKenzie, who represented the Ditch and Reservoir [Company] Alliance at the summit, summarized it well when he said, “We’ve created a constructed landscape and environment we all really like.” That change was because we started irrigating otherwise arid lands.

    ATMs aim to let one user (usually a municipality) use another’s right (usually a farmer’s) temporarily. Legislation passed recently allows for these arrangements three out of every ten years.

    Since the legislation was passed, several new ATMs have been created. The Ag Water Summit featured panels of speakers who shared their experiences of participating in ATM projects. Ag producers, municipality and industrial, and environmental and recreational interests were represented.

    Most of the panelists were pleased with their ATM experiences, although panelists also talked about the challenges that need addressed if this type of water sharing is to succeed in the intermountain west. Some of those challenges include: cost, risk and uncertainty, lack of infrastructure to store and convey water from one user to another and the need for all parties to have a long-term agreement in order to make plans for the future (investments, contracts, etc.).

    Regarding those challenges, Andy Jones, a lawyer specializing in water law out of northern Colorado, said “Think of ATMs as a big water supply project: they will need the same infrastructure, investment, etc. as any ‘new source’ project.”

    Colorado will continue to be challenged by more demand for water than we have supply to accommodate, but thinking of new ways to share it will help us to meet more of those needs. And continuing to bring people together to discuss it will help, too.

    Todd Hagenbuch is the agriculture extension agent for Colorado State University Routt County Extension.

    @ColoradoStateU: Winter watering, keep those hoses ready #drought

    From Colorado State University (Jason Kosovski):

    When Colorado weather is especially dry in the fall and early winter, watering season may not end just because your sprinklers are turned off. This year has seen relatively little moisture throughout the fall, and despite some snow in mid-November, the ground remains fairly dry.

    Tips for fall and winter watering

    As part of the Planttalk Colorado program offered through Colorado State University Extension, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and the Green Industries of Colorado, tips for fall and winter watering can be found online and through a short YouTube video. CSU Extension also offers a fact sheet on fall and winter watering.

    Mike Landers, a certified arborist for Tagawa Gardens in Centennial, Colo., says that winter watering is “hand watering your trees throughout your landscapes starting around mid-October and could stretch into March, depending on how much moisture we get.”

    Ensure optimal watering

    Although most people have turned in-ground sprinkler systems off by this time, there are a number of tools that can be used to ensure optimal watering. One option is a frog type sprinkler which sits above ground and can be moved to different areas around and under trees to make sure that enough water gets to the roots, which are alive even during the winter. Deep root fork and needles are also options – these devices are inserted into the ground and inject water below the surface, getting closer to tree roots. Experts suggest watering about once a month during the fall and winter.

    “Winter watering is especially critical for newly planted evergreen and deciduous woody plants, which are the most susceptible to winter drought injury,” said James Klett, a professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and Extension landscape horticulturist. “You should water only when air and soil temperature are above 40 degrees with no snow cover.”

    About Planttalk

    Winter watering is just one of the more than 600 horticultural topics explained by the Planttalk Colorado program. Planttalk provides reliable information on a number of topics – from annual and perennials to vegetables and houseplants to insects and diseases. Much of the information comes in the form of research-based fact sheets, which provide gardeners with the basic details plus, in many instances, additional links for related information. Planttalk also has dedicated YouTube channel with instructional and demonstration videos and can be found on Pinterest.

    For more information visit the website.

    @USGS: Characterization and relation of precipitation, streamflow, and water-quality data at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado, water years 2013–14

    fortcarsonpinoncanyonusgs

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract:

    To evaluate the influence of military training activities on streamflow and water quality, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Army, began a hydrologic data collection network on the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson in 1978 and on the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in 1983. This report is a summary and characterization of the precipitation, streamflow, and water-quality data collected at 43 sites between October 1, 2012, and September 30, 2014 (water years 2013 and 2014).

    Variations in the frequency of daily precipitation, seasonal distribution, and seasonal and annual precipitation at 5 stations at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and 18 stations at or near the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site were evaluated. Isohyetal diagrams indicated a general pattern of increase in total annual precipitation from east to west at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Between about 54 and 79 percent of daily precipitation was 0.1 inch or less in magnitude. Precipitation events were larger and more frequent between July and September.

    Daily streamflow data from 16 sites were used to evaluate temporal and spatial variations in streamflow for the water years 2013 and 2014. At all sites, median daily mean streamflow for the 2-year period ranged from 0.0 to 9.60 cubic feet per second. Daily mean streamflow hydrographs are included in this report. Five sites on the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site were monitored for peak stage using crest-stage gages.

    At the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, five sites had a stage recorder and precipitation gage, providing a paired streamflow-precipitation dataset. There was a statistically significant correlation between precipitation and streamflow based on Spearman’s rho correlation (rho values ranged from 0.17 to 0.35).

    Suspended-sediment samples were collected in April through October for water years 2013–14 at one site at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and five sites at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Suspended-sediment-transport curves were used to illustrate the relation between streamflow and suspended-sediment concentration. All these sediment-transport curves showed a streamflow dependent suspended-sediment concentration relation except for the U.S. Geological Survey station Bent Canyon Creek at mouth near Timpas, CO.

    Water-quality data were collected and reported from seven sites on the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site during water years 2013–14. Sample results exceeding an established water-quality standard were identified. Selected water-quality properties and constituents were stratified to compare spatial variation among selected characteristics using boxplots.

    Trilinear diagrams were used to classify water type based on ionic concentrations of water-quality samples collected during the study period.

    At the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, 27 samples were classified as very hard or brackish. Seven samples had a lower hardness character relative to the other samples. Four of those nine samples were collected at two U.S. Geological Survey stations (Turkey Creek near Fountain, CO, and Little Fountain Creek above Highway 115 at Fort Carson, CO), which have different geologic makeup. Three samples collected at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site had a markedly lower hardness likely because of dilution from an increase in streamflow.

    McElmo Flume Overlook dedication Dec. 5 — Cortez Journal

    Triad Western Constructors restored the foundation McElmo Flume historical site. The structure was stabilized with new concrete footers and the metal was restored. A pullout off U.S. Highway 160 east of Cortez allows travelers to view a piece of pioneer history. Photo credit the Cortez Journal.
    Triad Western Constructors restored the foundation McElmo Flume historical site. The structure was stabilized with new concrete footers and the metal was restored. A pullout off U.S. Highway 160 east of Cortez allows travelers to view a piece of pioneer history. Photo credit the Cortez Journal.

    From Montezuma County via The Cortez Journal:

    Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway, Montezuma County and the Colorado Department of Transportation will host a dedication of the McElmo Flume Overlook at 11 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 5.

    Transportation to the site is by shuttle bus from the Montezuma County Fairgrounds.

    Visitors are asked to park north of the indoor arena no later than 10:45 a.m. on Dec. 5, to meet the bus. RSVP’s to James Dietrich (970)565-7402, jdietrich@co.montezuma.co.us, for planning purposes, please.

    A local landmark from the last century, the flume can now be seen from viewing platform at a new highway rest stop off U.S. Highway 160 east of Cortez. The turnout includes informational panels about water and irrigation in our county.

    There will be numerous speakers at the dedication. Susan Thomas, of the Trail of the Ancients Byway, will give welcoming remarks; Terry Knight of the Ute Mountain Historic Preservation Office, will conduct a blessing of the site; Les Nunn, of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. (retired), and Linda Towle, of the Cortez Historic Preservation board, will tell the history of local irrigation; Mike Preston, of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, will tell the modern irrigation story; and James Dietrich, federal lands coordinator for Montezuma County, will discuss the next preservation steps for the 125-year irrigation structure.

    The many sponsors of the McElmo Flume Project include: Ballantine Family Fund, Colorado State Historical Fund, Colorado Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Mesa Verde Country, Montezuma County, Montezuma County Historical Society, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Southwest Basin Roundtable, Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe.