Fall is always a hectic time of the year for Randy Knutson, but the LaSallearea farmer has spent more time away from home during this harvesting season than probably any other.
In addition to rounding up matured crops in his fields and also managing operations for Zabka Farms near Greeley, Knutson in recent weeks has been trekking across the area to convince fellow producers and other residents that approving a $60 million bond issue is in their best interest.
￼His long hours are well worth it, as far as he’s concerned.
Without the bond issue and the water that would be purchased with the millions of dollars, harvests of future autumns could be minimal in Weld County, he says, with the local economy suffering as a result.
Knutson and others are asking taxpayers of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District to approve Measure 4A — the $60 million bond issue that would be used for more water storage and buying water rights.
Residents in Central’s district will vote on that measure as part of next week’s election. “Without the water, you’re going to see agriculture go away in Weld County,” said Knutson, who serves on the board of directors for Central and serves as chairman of the voluntary Yes For Water group that’s been promoting and raising funds for Measure 4A. “And now is the time we need to be going out to get the water we need.”
Central oversees two subdistricts that provide augmentation water to farmers in the LaSalle and Gilcrest areas and other parts of southern Weld County. The two subdistricts — the Groundwater Management Subdistrict (GMS) and the Well Augmentation Subdistrict (WAS) — also stretch into Adams and Morgan counties.
Augmentation water is needed to make up for depletions to the aquifer caused by pumping water out of the ground. All together, Central’s two subdistricts provide augmentation water for more than 100,000 acres of irrigated farmground, according to Randy Ray, executive director of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District. The additional augmentation water is needed since many of the wells in Central’s subdistricts were either curtailed or shut down back in 2006, when the state determined the pumping of those wells was depleting stream flows in the South Platte River Basin. As part of those decisions, the state made augmentation requirements more stringent. Many farmers haven’t been able to use their wells since then because they haven’t had the necessary amount of augmentation water to do so.
Knutson, himself, has three wells he still can’t use. Those wells are needed in dry years like this one, when flows in the rivers are low, bringing little water to irrigation ditches, Knutson said.
Also, Knutson said, cities in the region are growing rapidly and need more water, causing supplies to get tighter and more much expensive. For example, one unit of water from the ColoradoBig Thompson project, one of the largest water projects in the region that supplies supplemental water for municipal and agricultural uses all over northern Colorado, now costs about $10,000. It was only about $7,500 three years ago, according to Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
“It’s only gong to get more expensive the longer we wait,” Knutson said. Knutson, Ray and others say the additional water and the bond measure are needed because Central Water relies heavily on leased water from cities to supply its farmers, and, as Front Range cities grow, those cities will lease out less water.
The $60 million in bonds would pay for three of Central Water’s endeavors.
The district is one of 15 water providers looking to take part in the proposed Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, a $184 million undertaking that would raise the Denverarea lake by as much as 12 feet and provide an additional 2,849 acrefeet of water to Central Water. Central Water officials also are considering the construction of gravel pits for an additional 8,0009,000 acrefeet of storage, and buying 1,000 acrefeet of senior water rights.
If the bond measure is approved, taxpayers within Central Water’s boundaries would pay an additional $1.13 each month per $100,000 in property value for the next 25 years, Knutson said.
The district recently sent out a survey to about 18,000 residents, which it said showed about 75 percent of respondents favored the bond issue. The district encompasses nearly 20,000 households.
There’s no organized group opposing the project, but some have questioned why they need to pay additional taxes for water they couldn’t personally use.
“To be completely honest, I still don’t know which way I’m going to vote,” said Dave Dechant, a Weld County farmer.
Public meetings on the bond issue held this summer grew heated at times.
In response to those residents, Ray said he hopes they’ll still support the project, since the additional water would go toward strengthening the local agriculture economy, which benefits the entire area. Ray said Central Water also might lease some of the water to residential or other users.
Some who would benefit directly from the additional water also expressed frustration at the meetings because they’ve been paying taxes to the district for several years and have yet to see any additional water. Ray said those previous taxes have paid for the legal and engineering fees that have now given Central rights to 68,000 acrefeet of additional water.
The $60 million bond issue would pay for the infrastructure to finally put some of those water rights to use, Ray explained.