Weld County dairymen express concerns over water-surcharge increases; water board expected to reduce charges
LUCERNE – Dairy operators packed a Northern Weld County Water District meeting room Monday to express concerns about a huge increase – more than 1,000 percent – in water surcharges they said could drive up their costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
District directors said the increase, which was approved earlier this month and would take effect Nov. 1, was needed to buy more water and to secure future supplies amid greater competition from municipalities. Directors assured dairymen that the increase wouldn’t be used just to cover operating costs.
After hearing concerns from 17 dairymen, bankers and others, the directors made a motion to reconsider their earlier vote and to set the surcharges lower, said Don Posselt, the water district’s manager. But Posselt said the board won’t release that lower figure until all details are finalized and approved, which should be some time next week.
Last week, dairymen who operate within Northern Weld Water’s boundaries were notified that the water entity’s board had increased its surcharges from 15 cents per 1,000 gallons of water to $2 – about a 1,335 percent increase.
As the meeting began at the water district’s office in Lucerne, producers told board members Monday they didn’t understand the reasons behind the increase. They also expressed frustration that they weren’t contacted by board members before they set the high surcharges.
Dairymen said they were worried that – since dairies use millions of gallons of water annually – the added costs would harm their operations at a time of low milk prices and hinder the dairy expansion needed to meet the milk demands of Greeley’s growing Leprino Foods cheese plant.
Directors said they’re concerned that dairymen who are customers of Northern Weld Water don’t own very much of the water they use. Collectively, the 20 largest dairies in the district own only about 7 percent of the water they use, the board noted, and they depend heavily on leasing water.
However, during dry times like now, rental water could be hard to come by, leaving those dairies scrambling to obtain enough water to operate.
Under the new system, the surcharge-paying customer would have more water purchased for their specific operations. Down the road, if those customers decided to shut down their dairy and sell their water rights, Northern Weld Water will pay them 50 percent of what the water rights are worth.
Currently, the 15 cent surcharges assessed by Northern Weld Water doesn’t provide it with enough money to buy significant water supplies for its users.
Dairies use a lot of water. The average dairy cow – when factoring in what it drinks, the water needed to grow its feed, the water needed to clean the milking equipment, among other functions – consumes between 50-75 gallons of water per day.
For a 1,000-head dairy at 50 gallons per cow, that amounts to 50,000 gallons of water per day and more than 18 million gallons annually.