Farmers discuss resource leases

Keeping water in the hands of family farmers will continue to be an important issue in rural communities, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union said Saturday in Craig.

In a meeting with area farmers and ranchers and state Senator Jack Taylor, Farmers Union director Lee Swenson said growth on the Front Range would continue to put pressure on water supplies in rural areas, including those on the Western Slope.

"As the water problems continue to grow on the Front Range, the tentacles are going to reach so far," Swenson said.

Municipalities in metro-Denver have purchased farms in eastern Colorado so they can use the water from the farms, Swenson said.

The city of Parker has purchased 12 farms near Sterling, said Jimmie Dean, communications director for the Farmers Union.

When municipalities buy the farms or the water rights, they can dry up the farms, Dean said.

But with gas prices and the cost to run family farms on the rise, selling water is one of the last options some farmers feel they have, Dean said.

The Farmers Union would like to see farmers lease their water to municipalities instead of selling it, Dean said. That way, farmers can maintain their water rights and preserve their farms, he said.

Dean and Swenson were in Craig on Saturday meeting with local farmers and Sen. Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, to discuss some of the bills before the legislature.

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union lobbies on behalf of family ranchers and farmers in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Saturday's meeting at the Craig Holiday Inn was the ninth meeting of its kind the Farmers Union has hosted in the state in recent months.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, Dean and Swenson discussed bills concerning surface rights and mineral leasing.

A bill proposed in the Senate by Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, would require drilling companies to provide advance notice to landowners of their intention to drill before they receive a permit. It also would set a minimum compensation standard for surface damage.

"It's a constant battle," Taylor said of negotiations between surface owners and those who lease minerals below the surface.

Taylor said he supports Curry's bill in its current form, but he expects it to change significantly before going to the floor for a vote. He isn't sure whether he will support the final version of the bill, he said.

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