Governor, water experts: No single silver bullet in addressing issues; ag must be protected | TheFencePost.com

Governor, water experts: No single silver bullet in addressing issues; ag must be protected

Eric Brown
Greeley, Colo.

BROOMFIELD – Gov. John Hickenlooper, state officials and water experts from all corners of Colorado stressed Thursday that the state’s water plans for the future – whatever they may be – must find ways to avoid drying up agricultural land.

Preserving future water for the state’s farmers and ranchers was a topic that came up as much as any during the discussions at the all-day Statewide Roundtable Summit.

At that event, representatives of each of Colorado’s river basins convened to discuss plans and ideas for solving the water-supply gap that’s expected because of the state’s rapid population growth. The Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, compiled by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, estimates the South Platte River Basin alone will face a water-supply gap of between 36,000 and 170,000 acre-feet by 2050. One acre-foot of water serves 21/2 families of four for one year.

Thursday’s event served as an opportunity to refine those ideas before a May meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee – a 27-member committee established to address statewide water issues.

During the discussions in Broomfield, all parties agreed there isn’t one silver bullet to solve future water issues, that new water supplies and water conservation will both be needed, and the depleting of the state’s agriculture production should be minimized as municipalities and industries search for their future water supplies.

Everyone at the event, including the governor, said the unanimous conclusions reached Thursday marked a milestone for water talks, as the state’s water providers – representing diverse interests and regions – couldn’t come to any agreements as recently as last year.

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Hickenlooper said that protecting agriculture’s water will be one of his highest priorities.

For decades, Front Range municipalities, because of their rapid growth, have been buying agricultural water rights from producers who don’t have children or others coming back to the farm.

Municipalities buying agricultural water rights and piping that water back to the cities is far cheaper than building entirely new water-supply projects. Furthermore, farmers’ water rights are valuable, and selling them to municipalities can help with retirement for farmers and ranchers.

However, the ongoing “buy and dry” trend is expected to dry up about 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland by 2050.

Hickenlooper said municipalities and urban residents have a responsibility in implementing water-conservation practices – such as planting lawns with less bluegrass – in order to help keep Colorado cities from buying water rights from farmers and ranchers.