‘Holding back water would happen regardless of the amount of snowpack’ — Donnie Dustin #CODrought

cachelapoudrehighparkpollutionusdaseptember2012.jpg

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The problem: soot, sediment and debris washing from burned forests have made the Cache la Poudre River less reliable as Fort Collins’ main water supply for urban households. Particles clog treatment facilities. So, city officials say, they must heavily tap their secondary supply — water piped under mountains from the Western Slope. That water typically has been leased to farmers…

In the big picture, this intensifying water crunch reflects a shifting balance of power between cities and the agriculture that traditionally has anchored life along Colorado’s northern Front Range. Drought and the oil-and-gas industry’s appetite for drilling water already have weakened farmers’ position. Cities in recent years have purchased interests in irrigation-ditch companies. Farmers have sold their water rights, taking advantage of high prices. Financial stress and low commodity prices forced some to sell. Others simply sought profit. The result is that city interests increasingly dominate decision-making…

“We’ve got this twofold issue of drought complicated by fire, and the issue of more fires. What that will do to our water yields is very unknown,” said John Stulp, a Colorado agriculture leader serving as a special water adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper…

For farmers, the trouble is hitting five months after the High Park fire, just as they prepare to make business decisions for the coming year. Given the uncertainties of sediment polluting the Poudre, Fort Collins “is extremely unlikely to make any water rentals” next year, city water-resources manager Donnie Dustin told farmers in a Nov. 14 e-mail. Holding back water would happen “regardless of the amount of snowpack,” Dustin wrote. “The ability to consistently treat Poudre River water is likely to be an ongoing concern for the next few years.”

Cities cannot be blamed for holding back water they now control, said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler. “Their first priority has to be domestic use, and if they think runoff from the fire is going to pollute their supplies, they have to do this,” he said. But agriculture “isn’t going to get any easier if these fires continue…

“We’ve been under stress this whole decade,” said Grant Family Farms owner Lewis Grant, 89, who serves on advisory boards for Larimer County and Fort Collins and is involved in efforts to preserve farms amid spreading subdivisions. “It’s almost hopeless for younger farmers. Land is so expensive. Water is so expensive.”

On the sprawling farm northwest of Wellington, Grant produces eggs that end up in Whole Foods Markets. The farm’s produce — including squash, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, kale and cabbage — is sold by King Soopers and other markets. Water rented from Fort Collins irrigates about 25 percent of his crops, he said. One solution may be for Fort Collins to install extra sediment-control tanks to enable consistent use of the Poudre. “That would seem reasonable to me,” Grant said.

City officials say they’re considering costs. Such facilities likely would force higher water bills for city dwellers and higher prices for farmers and energy companies that vie for city water.

More Cache La Poudre watershed coverage here.

One Response to ‘Holding back water would happen regardless of the amount of snowpack’ — Donnie Dustin #CODrought

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