2015 Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year Award awarded to Eaton farmer Rod Weimer

Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM
Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

From The Greeley Tribune (Bridgett Weaver):

Before installing a drip irrigation system at Fagerberg Produce, Rod Weimer said he didn’t know anything about computers.

More than 15 years later, Weimer is a whiz with the smartphone app that controls the irrigation in 850 acres of Fagerberg Produce fields, which he manages.

“My first thought was, ‘I don’t even know how to turn on a computer. How am I going to be able to do this?’ ” he said. “With the help of my daughters, I learned how to work the computers. Today, it’s like I knew it all my life.”

The Netafim subsurface drip irrigation system was installed at Fagerberg Produce in 1998, and it was the first of its kind in the state.

It still draws many visitors who want to learn more about the irrigation method, including an annual visit by some of Colorado State University’s agriculture studies students.

For his efforts in introducing Fagerberg Produce and the rest of Colorado to the drip irrigation system, Weimer last month was awarded the 2015 Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year Award at the InfoAg Conference held in St. Louis, Mo.

Weimer, who lives in Eaton, was chosen out of farmers nominated from all over the country to receive the award from the PrecisionAg Institute.

PrecisionAg is described on its website as a diversified, independent media enterprise serving the global community using precision agriculture techniques — adjusting production inputs and practices based on in-field variability, typically through use of geographic positioning systems and other technologies

The Farmer of the Year award was won in partnership with Fagerberg Produce, a fact Weimer is always sure to highlight.

“Without the company, I wouldn’t have the resources to do what we did,” he said.

Fagerberg Produce owner Lynn Fagerberg has been extremely supportive of the whole project, he said.

“It’s so important to have an owner who allows you the resources and then it’s up to us to work,” Weimer said. “They give us those resources and trust us to do our jobs.”

The drip irrigation job wasn’t a short or simple undertaking, Weimer said.

In Colorado and westward — where farms fight for every drop of water to grow good produce — that water saving is important.

The Netafim system saves about 40 percent of the water output for the fields in which it sits, and it’s easy to manage.

“We’re running five farms in the 850 acres off my phone,” he said. “I can travel anywhere in the world and still access it.”

The system allows for more fields planted in drought years. Fields with drip irrigation typically see high yields and better crop quality, Weimer said.

He first heard of the systems at a Colorado State University event more than 17 years ago.

“From that point on I started researching drip, and I flew across the United States trying to find a system that would fit our needs,” he said.

In the late ’90s, it wasn’t easy to find such a technologically advanced system. In a time before a smart phone could be found in every pocket, the irrigation system relied on GPS and remote signals.

In the beginning, the innovation was taking place in Fresno, Calif., and most of the companies driving the technology didn’t want to set them up in Colorado because there was no service team nearby.

“Finally, after being very persistent I had a company that supported me and flew out and did a training on GPS so we could support it ourselves,” Weimer said.

He said it was scary, of course, but worth the effort.

Technology has improved through the years, and Weimer was able to evolve from running the system only from his personal computer to his smart phone today.

“It keeps changing and we keep adding,” Weimer said. “Every time there is a change, something new, something better, we add it.”

Weimer grew up in Kersey, and he’s been on a farm since birth, so he knew the importance of water conservation from a young age.

“I’ve always loved it,” he said. “I love playing in the dirt. I love seeing Mother Nature let you grow something fantastic.”

He’s been with Fagerberg Produce for nearly 28 years, and he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I really want to stress that, yeah, it’s my name on the award and I won Farmer of the Year, but it’s a company involvement,” he said.

Those first few years of adjusting to the drip irrigation were a bit scary, but ultimately, Weimer said they made the right choice.

He said the first time they turned it on, there were leaks everywhere thanks to some hungry field mice.

“I think my neighbors thought we were crazy,” he said. “There was a learning curve.”

But they quickly worked out the kinks, and the system has been smooth sailing since.

“Lynn Fagerberg and myself, we’ve always been excited for change,” he said. “If you don’t keep up with the time — with the technology that’s available — it’s going to be hard to survive.”

“This is a means of survival for us.”

Reservoirs Are Dead. Long Live Reservoirs: Water Bosses Eye The Cache La Poudre — CPR

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Colorado’s water planners…see the Cache la Poudre as an opportunity to help quench Colorado’s seemingly endless growth and thirst for water. That’s why Northern Water has proposed building two large reservoirs on behalf of 11 cities. It’s a project that sets them in emblematic conflict with environmentalists and other groups.

Resolving environmental disputes on large-scale water projects takes time. So does the federal permitting process. Water managers say that even without the conflict, projects take years–sometimes decades–to acquire the necessary permits.

“We would not look to short circuit the diligence and the rigor associated with environmental permitting processes. That’s really important,” said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water. “That having been said, the permitting process if you look at it in total between federal and state, and everything else we need to do is broken.”

The Northern Integrated Supply Project

To quench Northern Colorado’s growing thirst for more water, the local agency Northern Water has proposed the Northern Integrated Supply Project. The effort would build one reservoir north of Fort Collins, and another near Greeley. Once both reservoirs are filled, about 40,000 acre feet of additional water supply would be released every year from storage. Households typically use between one-half to 1 acre-foot of water annually.

We can’t conserve our way to future supply. No matter how we phrase it, you just can’t do it,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

Northern Water is pursuing the project on behalf of 11 cities along the Front Range. Werner said his agency wants an “all of the above strategy” to meet growing water demand. So it’s eyeing more conservation and the exchange of water rights from agricultural land. Agriculture uses about 80 percent of the state’s water supply.

There were environmental studies done on the river to evaluate problems and propose solutions. Mark Easter with the environmental group Save The Poudre said the measures don’t go far enough.

“I think there’s a new conversation that’s starting around this, asking the question, do we really need these reservoirs?” said Mark Easter, board chair of Save The Poudre.

A swinging pendulum

A century of dam projects across the West have caused ecological harm to some Western rivers. Today the federal permitting process to build a dam or a reservoir is far stricter compared to the early 1900s. But some water managers fear the pendulum has swung too far.

Take Denver Water. It decided in 2002 it needed to expand the reservoir outside Boulder. The agency won’t find out whether it can do this until later this year.

For large-scale projects, it’s up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide whether a project gets built. But you need permits from other federal agencies. And there are state permits. Meantime, Denver Water has employees devoted full-time to moving the reservoir expansion forward.

“If we look at a future with climate change and rapidly evolving conditions in terms of climate, and weather and drought, we need to be a lot more nimble in our ability to build critical infrastructure in this country,” said Lochhead.

Water managers like Lochhead say a rigorous environmental assessment is needed for projects. What slows the process down is that each permit has unique requirements…

These two proposed reservoirs in Northern Colorado will take time and money before they get off the ground. The environmental group Save the Poudre says it will continue to fight these efforts. Meanwhile a final decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on whether these reservoirs can be built won’t happen until 2017 at the earliest.

“Allegations and lawsuit against [Robert Lembke] ‘are not supported by the actual facts'” — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Steve Raabe):

Silver Peaks Holdings LLC last week filed a statement saying its 2012 allegations and lawsuit against Lembke “are not supported by the actual facts.”

Weld County District Court Judge Julie Christine Hoskins earlier this week granted a motion by Lembke’s company to dismiss the lawsuit against him.

The suit claimed Lembke and two of his associates used land for the Silver Peaks real estate development as collateral to finance water-delivery systems for other real estate projects along the Front Range through Lembke’s United Water and Sanitation District.

Silver Peaks contributed 550 acres of land near Lochbuie to a partnership with Lembke for a proposed 2,300-home development. Silver Peaks subsequently claimed that Lembke and his partners used the land to secure financing for a $14 million water system to fulfill contracts with other water districts instead of providing water for the Lochbuie development.

However, Silver Peaks manager L. Kelley Carson said in her statement that “further investigation has determined that none of the defendants … engaged in any wrongdoing.”[…]

A spokeswoman for Lembke said a settlement also was filed in the case. Settlement terms are confidential, although Carson’s agreement to submit a retraction was part of the agreement, the spokeswoman said.

K.C. Groves, an attorney for Silver Peaks, acknowledged Thursday that his client and the Lembke partnerships have reached a “global settlement of their disputes” that involves dismissal of the lawsuit and two related cases.

Here’s the Coyote Gulch post when the lawsuit was filed.

Denver Water’s August 2015 ‘Water News’ is hot off the presses

Marston water level during construction
Marston water level during construction

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Major project in southwest Denver wraps up

Denver Water is wrapping up a major project to improve water quality and dam safety at Marston Forebay, the reservoir that feeds into Marston Treatment Plant.

The $12.5 million project, which began in mid-2014, included building a new outlet works on the north side of the forebay. The new outlet is a tower structure designed to draw water from various levels of the reservoir instead of just one, which will allow operators to send the highest-quality water to the treatment plant.

The project also included:

  • Constructing a platform for the outlet, connected to the dam by a new access bridge.
  • Excavating an underwater channel for moving water to the base of the outlet.
  • Removing outlet towers and aging pipes that passed through the north dam.
  • Reconstructing the north dam’s embankment.
  • Installing upgraded electrical systems and measurement devices.
  • Improving the site by installing new pipes, connections and a drain line.
  • To access the site, crews had to lower Marston’s level by 25 feet, which also allowed us to make improvements to the south dam before we began refilling the reservoir in June 2015. Learn more about the project.

    More Denver Water coverage here.

    Castlewood Canyon Flood August 3, 1933 — Mark Afman

    Click here to go to the History Colorado website for “Where were you when the dam broke?”: Castlewood Canyon Booklet Collects Flood of Memories. Here’s an excerpt:

    On the evening of August 3, 1933, Elsie Henderson’s urgent voice raced down the Sullivan Telephone Exchange’s wires, outpacing Cherry Creek’s northbound floodwaters. Notified by a Douglas County sheriff that Castlewood Dam had burst and that everything along the stream’s path from Franktown to Denver was in danger, the operator told farmers and ranchers to gather their families and head for higher ground.

    At that time, rural telephone customers often shared single wires called “party lines.” The telephone company assigned phone numbers made up of unique ring patterns to each customer (for example, one short ring followed by two long rings). Elsie, one of only two people available to operate the Sullivan switchboard that night, alerted people with one long ring, the universally recognized sound for an emergency. She and fellow Sullivan Exchange employee Ingrid Mosher worked through the night and into the following afternoon, saving lives, livestock, and property. Though five thousand fled the lowlands, only two people died in one of the worst floods in Colorado history.

    In time, Elsie’s deeds might have been washed downriver and forgotten. The story survives thanks to George Madsen, a friend who took the time to answer a 1994 letter from Castlewood Canyon State Park staff requesting personal reminiscences about the flood. Madsen, a former telephone company employee, wrote down his own memories, along with the stories told to him by Elsie and Ingrid years earlier. Dozens of other Coloradans answered the call too, typing their recollections on legal-sized sheets of paper headed by the question, “Where Were You When the Dam Broke?” In 1997 Castlewood Canyon State Park staff members assembled these memories into a compelling book called, The Night the Dam Gave Way: A Diary of Personal Accounts.

    More Cherry Creek watershed coverage here.

    Duggan: Fort Collins still has deep concerns about NISP — Coloradan

    From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

    In 2008, the City Council passed a resolution stating its opposition to the project, which would draw water from the Poudre River and store it in a new facility — Glade Reservoir — that would be built northwest of the city. Another reservoir, Galeton, would be built near Greeley and draw from the South Platte River.

    The council at that time cited a variety of concerns raised by city staff members and consultants after reviewing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, for the project. Issues included potential negative impacts to the river’s water quality, riparian areas and wildlife habitat as a result of substantially reduced flows through Fort Collins.

    Here we are seven years later and a Supplemental DEIS for the project has been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which took a deeper dive into the project in response to comments made by Fort Collins and other stakeholders.

    Don’t be surprised if the same concerns about NISP are raised this time around when the city submits comments to the Corps. Time and some tweaking of plans for the massive project haven’t made it any more palatable, according an early analysis of the SDEIS by city staff.

    The document is improved, city staff say, but in the end, cutting the Poudre’s flow through the city by as much as 66 percent in May, 25 percent in June and 54 percent in July during years of average precipitation and river flows would have significant impacts.

    Water quality would suffer — potentially raising the city’s costs for treating drinking water and wastewater — the number of “boatable” days on the river would drop, and the river’s ecology and overall health would be diminished, staff told council members Tuesday.

    More Northern Integrate Supply Project coverage here and here.

    Town of Kassler supplied water for a thirsty, growing Denver — The Colorado Statesman

    A rusted sign at the bottom of Waterton Canyon tells the story of what was once the hub of Denver Water’s treatment -- via Denver Water
    A rusted sign at the bottom of Waterton Canyon tells the story of what was once the hub of Denver Water’s treatment — via Denver Water

    From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Woodland):

    Kassler was a company town, and the company was Denver Water.

    The town, named for Edwin Stebbins Kassler, one of the board members of the private company that preceded Denver Water, was established in 1901 as one of the first filtration plants for water coming from the South Platte River through Waterton Canyon.

    When Denver was founded, along the banks of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, residents got their water directly from the river or from riverside wells. But that wasn’t the best, or cleanest way to get water. People bathed in it and washed their clothes in it and, as the city grew, the river began to fill with industrial waste. In addition, as more and more residents moved to Denver, the river could no longer provide enough water for residents, especially during a drought.

    The solution came at the turn of the 20th Century: go upstream on the Platte, into Platte Canyon, now known as Waterton Canyon. To clean the water, the private company that eventually became Denver Water built the first “English slow-sand treatment system” west of the Mississippi, at Kassler, which could filter up to 50 million gallons of water a day.

    Construction on the Kassler system began in 1901. But its distance from Denver, and the fact it had to be in operation around the clock, meant workers needed to be close by. Thus was born the town of Kassler. Workers built a boarding house, a bunkhouse, and eight single-family rental cottages, since it wasn’t only single men who worked at Kassler. They also built an administration building, a barn for the horses and a blacksmith, a schoolhouse with room for eight grades, and something called a measuring house, where engineers governed how much water was pouring down the pipes.

    Water was filtered through four sand “beds,” or “cribs,” totaling a bit more than 10 acres. The sand was layered on top of gravel, with pipes beneath. There were cast-iron pipes, still in use today, and wood-stave pipes, which looked barrels, but without ends. Water would flow through the sand, removing particulates, then through gravel and into perforated pipes and then on to Denver in ditches.

    Workers had to manually remove silt that emerged from the water and into the sand, labor Geist described as “back-breaking,” though by the 1950s, tractors had taken over cleaning the silt.

    Working at Kassler was sometimes a family affair, according to Geist. Generations worked there, with jobs passing down from one generation to the next. One family, the Swans, were among the first to live at the town and also among the last to live there, when the plant was decommissioned in 1985. The last house still standing in Kassler was once their home.

    Today, what remains of Kassler is the administration building, the Swan House, and the barn, all used for educational tours. Geist said Denver Water is putting together a plan, based on input from the community, to determine whether the buildings will be restored, set up as a museum, or used some other way.

    The final presentation in the series “Colorado’s Water Stories” is 7-8 p.m. Aug. 18 at the History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway, in Denver. It’s a chance to meet the people behind the Living West exhibit and hear their stories about water and its importance to the state. The event is free.

    More Denver Water coverage here