Just because the land is dormant, doesn't mean farmers are.
While they look to the skies praying for moisture, they're also looking at the state Legislature to ensure that moisture is conserved and not allocated to other interests.
Members of the Tri-county Farmer's Union met Monday night to discuss pending water legislation.
Of the nearly 70 bills constituents thought this legislative session would birth, about 20 have actually been introduced.
"With water being the topic or crisis of the day, Colorado Counties Incorporated decided not to sit back," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger told the group.
Colorado Counties Incorporated (CCI) has partnered with the Western Colorado Congress and other organizations that represent counties and have 58 of the 64 Colorado counties backing a set of water principals they hope will guide legislation. Counties surrounding the Denver metro area are the only ones who have not joined the effort.
"This is a means to set a foundation to deal, not necessarily with this drought this year, but with a drought that's bound to happen again in 10 years," Monger said. "We've doubled in population on the Front Range with the same amount of water. We have exorbitant demands on our water resources."
Principals outlined in the Colorado 58 include:
- All Colorado water users must share in solving Colorado's resource problems.
- The state of Colorado should provide assistance, when requested, for local water supply planning and assist in the implementation of consensus-based water resource solutions that respect local authorities, private property and water rights.
- Development of existing local water supplies should be fully explored prior to consideration of new water transfers.
- Additional water storage should be pursued through the improvement and rehabilitation of existing structures and the development of new structures. These activities should be accomplished with local consensus.
- The right of water rights owners to market their water rights must be protected. This means industry and municipalities should lease, rather than purchase, agricultural water so that the water can revert to agricultural use if conditions in the future warrant. In the event that agricultural water is transferred, the transaction must adequately address the need for maintaining the existing tax base, protecting the remaining water rights in the area, and maintaining the proper stewardship of the land,
including re-vegetation and weed control.
- A balance must be maintained between the development of water for beneficial consumptive uses and the preservation of the flows necessary to support recreational, hydroelectric, and environmental needs.
- Adverse economic, environmental, and social impacts of future water projects and water transfers must be minimized, unavoidable adverse impacts must be mitigated, including both the immediate and long-term impacts attributable to water transfers. Locally affected communities must have the opportunity to assist in defining appropriate mitigation for each project.
- Future water supply solutions must benefit both the area of origin and the area of use.
- Water conservation measures that do not injure other water rights should be aggressively pursued.
Meeting attendees said legislation should not weight the municipal need for water over the agricultural need. Gov. Bill Owens is advocating statewide water conservation, especially in the agricultural sector, which "uses 85 percent of the state's water resources," he said.
The legislative trend is to take water from agriculture and give it to municipalities.
"What he's not considering is that 85 percent of the water agriculture uses goes right back into the stream after it's used," said Jim Satterwhite, a Routt County farmer.
Monger said agricultural conservation may have its own negative impacts on the groundwater table, wildlife habitat and wetlands, and those impacts need to be investigated before full-scale conservation is put into effect.
That's not the only impact the Legislature needs to study, Rio Blanco County resident and Farm Bureau Vice President Bob McKune said.
"Every since they started cloud seeding in Utah, it's snowed less and less here," he said. "I think when they disturb those clouds, they changed our weather patterns and I think the state should regulate that or ban it. It's sure messing us up."
Monger said he'd like to see science-based information on whether cloud seeding impacts
snowfall before making a recommendation.
"Drought is a statewide problem and we're trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution, but out there, they're not all the same problems and they're not the same solutions," Monger said.
Christi Ruppe with Western Colorado Congress spoke Monday night about the need for public participation.
"We're looking for people to explore options that are in their own locality," she said.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.