From The Greeley Gazette (Jack Minor):
After the county commissioners issued a disaster declaration for the county, governor John Hickenlooper told them that based on the advice of a staffer in Attorney General John Suthers office, he did not have the authority to allow farmers to pump using local wells and that the state could face potential lawsuits if he did. Suthers was away at a conference in Alaska at the time.
Colorado Secretary of Agriculture John Salazar, brother of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar essentially said the same thing. His office told the Gazette that if the attorney general’s office could find a way to turn the wells on legally he would support it.
The commissioners subsequently sent a letter to Suthers asking him to personally review the decision. “We feel that for a decision of this magnitude that has the potential to gravely affect us here in Weld County the least the attorney general can do is look at it himself,” commissioner chairman Sean Conway said.
After 10 days with no response, despite every day being critical, Suthers office finally responded this week telling the commissioners he would not bother considering the request to provide a formal opinion on the issue.
The farmers and the county have been asking for permission to use the wells for only 30 days, which would use less than half of one percent of the water in the aquifer…
In announcing his refusal to allow farmers to use the wells, Hickenlooper instead told locals to find a way to solve the problem. One solution would be to obtain water from local municipalities who as senior right holders have often had excess capacity. However, this year cities have said they have no water to spare…
With the government apparently turning a deaf ear to their pleas for water, the commissioners have now sent a letter to senior water right holders asking them for assistance. The letter was sent to 28 different entities representing some 159 senior water rights holders along the South Platte River. The letter acknowledges the prior appropriations system, however it proposes an agreement from senior surface rights owners to subordinate their water rights to any depletion this summer. [Harry Strohauer] said those opposed to allowing them to pump are being short sighted. “If we were allowed to pump, the water we would use would actually increase water flow. Pumping would help everybody, including those downstream.”
From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:
Weld County is making another attempt to help farmers struggling because of the drought. County commissioners mailed letters to about 30 holders of senior water rights on Tuesday asking them to allow farmers with more junior rights to pump their groundwater wells. Use of those wells has been restricted for about a decade because the state found that the pumping them was reducing flows in the South Platte River.
From the High Country News (Cally Carswell):
Forecasters are optimistic about a productive monsoon season in the southwest this year. New Mexico is eagerly awaiting rain as we speak. “We are seeing a circulation setting up like an early monsoon,” says [Klaus Wolter], with southerly flows coming into the region from Mexico. “When you have those monsoon patterns set up, it doesn’t stay like that all summer. You need to milk those situations.”
Wolter says he’s “concerned but not convinced” that the haze and particles in the air from the spate of early fires could temper the efficiency of the monsoon patterns, causing them to produce some rain, but not the good soaking we so desperately need.
From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack notified Gov. John Hickenlooper that farmers and ranchers in parched counties are qualified for federal emergency loans, based on the extent of their individual losses.
“We are very grateful for Secretary Vilsack’s speedy review of our request,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “This federal disaster declaration will give farmers and ranchers in Weld County and nearly every other part of the state much-needed relief.”
Those in eligible counties have eight months from Tuesday to apply for aid. The governor, the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the local USDA Farm Service Agency office worked together to attain the disaster designations.
Colorado’s relentless drought began with a weak snowpack that drove river basins across the state into single-digit percentages of their 30-year averages this spring. Since then, much of the state has continued to wither under some of the hottest and driest conditions on record, feeding the worst wildfire season in a decade this year.