Weld County groundwater stirs debate at state Capitol
Food-to-schools bill passes first hurtle
A Colorado bill to spend about $5 million to put more local produce in school cafeterias passed its first test Wednesday at the Legislature.
The bill sets up a grant program to make Colorado the 17th state to chip in grant money in addition to federal programs to help get more locally grown foods on cafeteria plates.
Colorado’s measure would spend about $1 million a year for five years to help farmers make safety upgrades so they can sell directly to schools.
“We have no shortage of fruit and vegetable producers” ready to sell to schools, said Jeremy West, director of Nutrition Services for Greeley Schools.
Republicans on the Education Committee lauded the goals of the bill but they had lots of questions about how the program will work, pointing out that the grant program would rely on money that would otherwise fund classroom instruction.
Additional groundwater testimony
The House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee will reconvene at the Capitol to discuss HB 15-1178 at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
To view the bill, click here.
DENVER — While debate at the Capitol Wednesday over Weld County’s ongoing groundwater woes provoked little consensus, a crowd gathered for the House agriculture committee hearing appeared to agree on at least one thing: the community of Gilcrest , Colo., remains in an emergency situation over its continually rising aquifer.
With groundwater levels still doing damage to homes and cropland around Gilcrest, LaSalle and Eaton, testimony poured in from area farmers urging consideration of House Bill 1178. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Lori Saine and Rep. Steve Humphrey, represents a repeat attempt to resolve the situation and would permit the state engineer to approve out-of-priority pumping in situations such as Gilcrest’s.
The end goal would be to lower the water table to a non-damaging level, although opponents to the bill feared such pumping could rob them of their own priority water rights.
Discussion will resume in committee Monday.
LaSalle farmer Glen Fritzler opened public comment with several video testimonies from area residents who find their hands tied in preventing additional water damage to their homes, septic tanks and land.
Gilcrest’s Jay Holms provided one of the more personal testimonies of the day, reminding the committee that while users downstream may fear future damage to senior water rights, the damage in Gilcrest is already here and known.
Holms said his family home, built in Gilcrest in 1915, has lost almost all of its market value due to the impact of groundwater. Repairs to the home, furnace, hot water heater, basement and foundation have already cost the family $88,000, he said. As the committee debated the anticipated $250,000 price tag for the bill, including dewatering and an impact study, Holms questioned why families should, in turn, bear the cost of indecision by the Legislature.
“All of this has been stolen from them (my family) by a man-made problem,” Holms said, pointing to the shift in water management in 2005 that curtailed much of the area’s well pumping.
Opposing testimony provided a reminder that while Gilcrest’s problems are very real, there will be no easy solutions.
Donna Brosemer, representing the city of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Board, spoke against the bill on grounds that it would provide only a temporary solution to a permanent problem.
“It’s very difficult to oppose a bill of this nature without seeming insensitive to very real issues,” she said.
Brosemer called for a long-term solution and criticized the bill for the costs it would entail to implement an accompanying study and to continue pumping water that would inevitably accumulate again around Gilcrest.
A major question revolved around where water pumped out of Gilcrest would go and who it would benefit.
Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, voiced concern that improperly managed well pumping could compromise senior water rights and the prior-appropriation system.
“Any increased pumping put to beneficial use would definitely hurt downstream users,” he said. ❖
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