Report: Water needs will dry up farms
GUNNISON – About 10 percent of irrigated farmland statewide is expected to disappear by 2030 as thirsty cities try to buy their water, according to a new state study.That amounts to as much as 300,000 acres, an area bigger than Rocky Mountain National Park, the study said.”This is our prime land. It’s alarming,” said Jim Miller, deputy director of policy and communications at the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “Do we have to give up farmers every time we go to expand municipal water supply?”The findings come from the $2.7 million Statewide Water Supply Initiative, sponsored by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.The study, launched 14 months ago in response to the drought, is to be completed in November. It is designed to show policymakers how much water the state uses, how much it will need and where supplies will come from.Early findings suggest Coloradans should begin debating how best to use and protect water supplies, said Cortez rancher Don Schwindt, who sits on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.”The accepted wisdom that agriculture is a dinosaur and that it’s OK to dry it up is a fallacy,” he said.Roughly 80 percent of Colorado’s water is used by agriculture.Colorado farmers irrigate more than 3.1 million acres, according to the state Department of Agriculture.While cities may pay farmers more than $10,000 for rights to an acre-foot of water, an acre of corn grown with the same amount of water brings farmers about $422, Miller said. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, or enough to serve two homes for one year.Even with plans for cities to expand reservoirs, conserve water, and build water projects, the state report forecasts at least a 66,600 acre-foot shortfall in water supplies by 2030.Growth in cities from Thornton to Grand Junction will accelerate the buy-up of agricultural land as cities hunt for more water, the report says.Researchers gathered data for the report from dozens of water utilities who were asked how they planned to supply their communities, said Rick Brown, who managed the study for the water conservation board.Reeves Brown, executive director of the Western Slope economic development group Club 20, said the report may understate changes ahead. “But we don’t think lawmakers should take this report as a (mandate) to go out and build a new water project,” he said.Cities such as Parker and Aurora have already purchased water from dozens of farms in the Arkansas and South Platte river basins, often paying millions of dollars to local governments to help offset the loss in tax revenues and jobs tied to farming.Miller said that’s not enough to make up for the loss of farms.”The money will soften the blow, but it won’t diminish the size of the bruise,” Miller said.
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