Will the West figure out how to share water?

Farmer Matt Heimerich opens the head gate to allow water to flow from the Colorado Canal into his irrigation ditch lateral to his winter wheat crops in Crowley County outside the town of Olney Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Heimerich, originally from New York, moved to Crowley County in 1987 and purchased his irrigated farm. Heimerich is one of few farmers left after water sales that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

Farmer Matt Heimerich opens the head gate to allow water to flow from the Colorado Canal into his irrigation ditch lateral to his winter wheat crops in Crowley County outside the town of Olney Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Heimerich, originally from New York, moved to Crowley County in 1987 and purchased his irrigated farm. Heimerich is one of few farmers left after water sales that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. | Chancey Bush, for the Desert News

Can farmers stop cities from buying their water rights and drying out agricultural land?

In Crowley County, Colorado, sugar beets and alfalfa used to line the fields. It’s cantaloupes were famous.

But that all changed about three decades ago when most of the farmers sold their water rights to rapidly growing cities on the Front Range.

“I guess it was hard for farmers to pass up on what seemed back then like a windfall,” said Matt Heimerich, one of the few people who still farms in Crowley.

Crowley County relied on water from the nearby Arkansas River, and had over 50,000 acres of irrigated farmland until a spate of water sales took place in the ’70s and ’80s. (An acre-foot of water is enough to meet the needs for two families in a year.)

By 2002, only about 6,000 irrigated acres remained, and by 2017, the number had dropped to roughly 4,600.

In the dry and arid West, where little rain falls, irrigation is the life blood of farming.

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As droughts become more persistent and urban growth across the Mountain West continues to skyrocket, agricultural communities are increasingly worried about losing their water to far away cities — turning the towns into dust bowls with few job prospects.

Chancey Bush, for the Desert News
Farmer Matt Heimerich walks through one of his winter wheat crop fields in Crowley County outside the town of Olney Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Heimerich, originally from New York, moved to Crowley County in 1987 and purchased his irrigated farm. Heimerich is one of few farmers left in the area after water sales that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

Since 2010, the West’s large cities and small towns have seen an average population growth of 9.1% and 13.3%, respectively. From 2018-2019, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado were the top three fastest growing states in terms of new housing.

At the same time, the West is experiencing one of its worst droughts in years. More than a third of the West is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, and 72.5 million people are living in areas “affected by drought,” The Washington Post recently reported.

According to Colorado’s 2015 Water Plan between 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated land in the state could disappear by 2050 due to urbanization.

While places like Colorado’s Front Range, home to a corridor of the state’s largest cities from Denver to Boulder, continues to grow and climate change exacerbates …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Business News

      

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