The Wineinger-Davis ranch in Lincoln and Crowley counties receives the 2012 Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado

June 4, 2012

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Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:

Sand County Foundation, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. and Peabody Energy, is proud to name the Wineinger-Davis Ranch as the recipient of the 2012 Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado.

“The Davis family views conservation as a lifestyle, going the extra mile to educate those on and off of their ranch about the importance of sustainable agriculture,” said Dr. Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation President. “Russell, Tricia and their family are true representatives of a land ethic and their commitment to sharing their story through a remarkable amount of agricultural education and outreach is exceptional and important.”

Russell and Tricia Davis’ Wineinger-Davis Ranch was established in 1938. It currently consists of over 12,000 acres and is located in Lincoln and Crowley Counties. The ranch successfully integrates not only the needs of a successful and productive beef operation, but also the habitat needs of a suite of shortgrass prairie wildlife species. Among other conservation achievements, in 2004, Russell and Tricia placed perpetual conservation easements on the ranch through the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Colorado Species Conservation partnership program. This easement protects 12,245 acres of intact native shortgrass prairie and riparian ecosystems. This agreement focuses on proper livestock grazing to benefit all short grass prairie and plains riparian wildlife species.

The $10,000 Leopold Conservation Award will be presented to the Davis family on June 12 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in Loveland.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is sponsored by Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Peabody Energy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Credit.

Thanks to the La Junta Tribune-Democrat for the heads up.

More conservation coverage here.


Colorado Public Radio series — ‘Thirsty Cities, Dry Farms’

August 3, 2011

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Here’s the link to the transcript Part 1: Buy and Dry of Megan Verlee’s series. Here’s an excerpt:

REPORTER: [Orville] Tomky still mourns the changes to his county. But John Stulp, the governor’s water advisor, and a farmer himself, says it would be a mistake to see the farmers as victims in this story; for many, being able to sell their water rights is a godsend.

JOHN STULP: “If you do not have sons or daughters who are willing to come back to the farming operation, oftentimes a farmer’s irrigated water rights become their 401K, their retirement fund.”

REPORTER: We’re talking about some big money here. Rights to the most desirable agricultural water can go for more than $10,000 dollars an acre-foot, and farmers often own hundreds of those. Cities are always looking to buy. It’s hard to pin down exactly how much of the state has gone back to grass, or is on its way. because of urban water buys. But best guesses put the number at hundreds of square miles. State Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs is an expert in Colorado water law. He says what happened in places like Crowley county made Colorado officials more cautious about water deals between cities and farmers.

HOBBS: “People realized that the tax base was being affected by these transfers. So the legislature basically adopted what I’m going to call mitigation.”

REPORTER: Now the cities can’t just buy the water and walk away, they’ve got a lot to do before they ever see a drop of it.

HOBBS: “The legislature has provided there must be re-vegetation when water is permanently removed. There are in leiu taxes that must be paid to support the local library and fire district and town, for thirty years.”

Here’s the link to Part 2: Super Ditch of Megan Verlee’s series. Here’s an excerpt:

[John] SCHWEIZER: “I always got tickled at my mother. She didn’t think you should ever gamble. But she and my father farmed all their married life, and if that’s not a gamble, I don’t know what is.”

REPORTER: It’s not farming’s perpetual gamble but its potential one-time payout that has Schweizer worried these days. Over the past few decades, a lot of his neighbors have cashed in their water rights, selling to cities and retiring, along with their farms. We’re not on the road long before we see the effects of that transfer. The land changes from green to brown, weedy fields crisscrossed with the remains of old irrigation systems.

SCHWEIZER: “See, there’s an irrigation canal right there, that indentation.”

REPORTER: Schweizer doesn’t want to see any more farmland dry up around here, so he and other farmers here are working on a different way to meet cities’ water needs. He’s president of what’s called the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

SCHWEIZER: “The Superditch is a not a ditch at all. It’s just a combination of the ditches in the valley. I just like the idea of it: leasing part of your water and continuing to own it.”

REPORTER: So instead of individual farmers selling off water rights, irrigators in the valley band together to lease up to a quarter of their total water to cities. The farmers take turns leaving some of their fields bare for a few years, but they all get to stay in business. Schweizer says it might even make it easier for people like his son to continue the family farm.

SCHWEIZER: “If the water’s sold, it’s impossible to ever pursue and fulfil that dream. And with the Superditch concept, and if it becomes a reality, then most of the water stays on the land and they continue to do what they’ve dreamed about doing for generations to come.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.


Lower Arkansas Valley: Aurora leases nearly 5,000 acre-feet of water to the Holbrook and Highline canals along with allocating 713 acre-feet to the Colorado Canal for revegetation efforts in Crowley County

August 2, 2011

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From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

Since March, Aurora has been providing what will amount to almost 5,000 acre- feet (af) to both Holbrook and Highline Canals, systems with which the city has payment agreements. The exchange of water for normal cash payments from Aurora resulted in an extremely favorable exchange rate for the farmers of $15 per af. The city also provided the Colorado Canal with 713 af at no cost to help with continuing revegetation efforts in Crowley County.

Bob Barnhart, Superintendant of the Holbrook Mutual Ditch Company, as well as a farmer on the Holbrook ditch, welcomed this opportunity. “This water comes at a time when we were in great need for supplemental water for irrigation,” Barnhart stated. “With the drought the way that it is in southeastern Colorado this has been a great help to us to keep our corn and alfalfa growing and healthy. This water will keep our yields high and increase our net profit for this year. Before we got Aurora water this year we were hurting and scrambling trying to find some source of water to keep our crops alive.”

More Aurora coverage here and here.


The Arkansas Basin Roundtable gets ‘tipping point’ study pitch

July 25, 2010

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From Wikipedia:

In sociology, a tipping point or angle of repose is the event of a previously rare phenomenon becoming rapidly and dramatically more common. The phrase was coined in its sociological use by Morton Grodzins, by analogy with the fact in physics that adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object can cause it to suddenly and completely topple.

Here’s a report about the proposed tipping point study of dry-ups in the Arkansas Valley, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

At the roundtable meeting, economists Richard Gardner and George Oamek stressed they are doing preliminary work, and could not readily answer questions about deeper economic impacts. Roundtable members wanted to know if the study would look at the relative wealth of the people who remain in an area, and whether they would be newly affluent sellers of water or welfare recipients. The economists said that could vary by community, and they were unwilling to draw a broad conclusion.

Turns out, the answers — for Crowley County, at least — were already detailed in a background paper for the study.

Gardner, Oamek, David Kracman and Ken Weber prepared a community economic profile for Crowley County that weighs the gains and losses to the county, factoring in the development of prisons to replace the agricultural jobs lost.

The result is a distressing template for other communities, showing that population growth has come only in the form of prison inmates, that new jobs went to people in other counties and that poverty is increasing.

“Crowley County is a testament to the negative externalities that communities bear when large amounts of water rights are sold out of the region,” the report states. “The loss of an important basic industry can ripple through Main Street and take down communities.”

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.


Crowley County sues Ordway over sale of Twin Lakes water

May 8, 2009

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The county says Ordway is bound by a 1980 agreement to provide water to a county water system that provides a wholesale raw water supply to several districts in the county that serve more than 5,000 people, including two prisons. “For nearly three decades, the county water system has supplied an abundant, safe and affordable water supply for the residents of Crowley and Ordway and the rural customers of the 96 Pipeline Co. and Crowley County Water Association,” Commissioner Matt Heimerich said at a news conference last month. “The cement that has held this system together has been the 1980 water system.” The county filed the lawsuit on behalf of the other partners in the lawsuit following a letter from Ordway Mayor Randal Haynes on March 30 that indicated Ordway wants to pursue long-term leases with some of its water and apply for Fryingpan-Arkansas water on its own, rather than jointly with the other partners, as outlined in the 1980 agreement…

Heimerich countered that Ordway’s interests are intertwined with the county’s, and in fact the county system is the only way it’s Fry-Ark water can be delivered. The 1980 agreement is a legal, binding contract hammered out between communities at a time when most of the county’s agricultural water was being sold off to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo West. What’s left has to provide for the people who remain in the county, he said. “The county wants to make sure the system can produce water,” Heimerich said.


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