Attendees of the Poudre River forum learn about water law, conflict, resolutions and more for projects like NISP and other conservation efforts
Poudre River: By the numbers
Sugar Beets 5,956
Dryland irrigated 41,138
Where to learn more about water
Poudre Learning Center
Poudre Heritage Alliance
Colorado water law
Amelia Whiting’s lessons for NISP negotiations
» Figure out what you need, not what you want
» Find common ground to get to your goal
» Define what you need upfront
» Ask for it, don’t position
» Develop trust
» Be prepared to give something up
» Be transparent with the public
Competition between agricultural, urban, recreational and energy uses for water in Colorado will only increase as population continues to grow.
Farmers and ranchers are left to answer the question of how to do more with less.
That was the conclusion reached at the third annual Poudre River forum Feb. 4 at The Ranch Event Center in Loveland, Colo., where water experts and users talked challenges and solutions for river management. The consensus? To manage a growing need and limited supply, it’s going to trickle down to cooperation and education.
Rod Weimer, farm manager at Fagerberg Produce near Eaton, Colo., spoke on a panel.
“I feel ag is going in the right direction,” Weimer said. “I think municipalities neeed to get on board. How do we make our lawns look nice without all the green?”
Another panel, focused on water project and initiative challenges, highlighted how in water negotiation, it’s important to collaborate rather than conflict.
Amelia Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited, worked on the Windy Gap Firming Project. The project consisted of a diversion dam on the Colorado River. a pump plant and a 6-mile pipeline to Lake Granby. It’s the largest storage reservoir in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project system, according to northernwater.org.
“Windy Gap was possible because of mutual trust,” Whiting said. “We came up with creative solutions when we sat down and checked our egos at the door.”
The fight, Whiting said. lasted 10 years. When everyone decided to sit down and actually hash things out, solutions came within days.
Nicole Reese, 26, drove from Fort Collins to attend the forum. She recently started a nonprofit called Crowd Conservation aimed at facilitating negotiations, like those going on with NISP.
“It’s great to hear about the success stories,” Reese said on the Windy Gap project. “I hope to see more events like this — more conversations between stakeholder groups. I hope I can help bring these people together.”
Reese came to the forum to learn and network.
“This started when I was a researcher in ecology,” Reese said. “It was my frustration with the gap between research and management.”
A panel focused on the current realties and planning for the future of the Poudre, composed of farmers, ranchers and an engineer, agreed the responsibility for conservation shouldn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the agriculture industry. They also agreed even though about 75 percent of Colorado’s water is used in agriculture, very little water is wasted, Furthermore, the question remained, where will the water go if it doesn’t go into agriculture?
Tom Trout, an agriculture engineer specializing in irigation water management, weighed in.
“Conservation and efficiency are good but it won’t solve all our problems,” Trout said. “More efficiency on our end means less water downstream.”
Luke Lind, president and CEO for J&F Oklahoma Holdings Inc., which owns the livestock within JBS’ Five Rivers’ feedlots, is uneasy about the hyper-focus on efficiency. The shrinking allotment for agricultural space and continued expanse of sprawling development leaves industry veterans nervous.
“Our focus is trying to do more with less but what is that water then going to be used for?” Lind said. “In Lamar and Pueblo, what were once vibrant agricultural communities, they aren’t anymore. Is this conservation effort going to be bad long-term?”
Many operations have transitioned to drip irrigation, which significantly reduces water waste by catering to specific crop’s needs. However, it’s an expensive, impractical system for many.
Audience members questioned whether Americans should consider cutting back on meat, since livestock operations use large amounts of water.
“Ultimately, consumers drive the system,” Trout said. “As long as they continue to want high protein meat, it will stay. While people can survive using less water and eating fruits and vegetables, I think people will always want more variety.”
About 300 hundred people attended the forum.
“I really loved the conversations this afternoon,” Reese said. “It was a great validation of the work I want to do and I think it’s necessary.” ❖
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I want to address a couple of issues in this week’s editor’s note.