by Matt Lacy –
Glen Fritzler, who runs the popular and nationally known Fritzler Corn Maze will be hosting a meeting of farmers and local officials this Thursday to discuss the concerns of rising groundwater and government restrictions on its usage to water their crops in the midst of an historic drought.
The meeting will be held at the Fritzler farm located at 20861 CR 33 in LaSalle this Thursday, June 7 at 10:00 a.m. Organizers are encouraging anyone affected by the issue to attend the meeting.
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Eaton are expected to attend, along with water experts and local producers and residents.
Fritzler said they have also sent out invitations to Governor John Hickenlooper’s staff and John Salazar, Colorado Agriculture Commissioner.
Many farmers in the area are facing the real possibility they could lose their crops this year due to a lack of available water from the South Platte following a lower than average snowpack last year. Some fields remain dry and farmers are having difficulty getting their crops to sprout to due to the water shortage.
Under long established Colorado water doctrine, water is distributed under the principle of first in use, first in right whereby prior users have senior rights to junior users. Following another drought period in the early 2000’s, the Colorado Supreme court ordered 440 wells shut down and curtailed the pumping of another 1,000 in 2006.
The decision came about after senior right holders such as the cities of Boulder, Centennial, Highlands Ranch and Sterling, which had experienced phenomenal growth in the 1990’s became concerned their water supply in the river basin was being depleted by junior water right well owners who were pumping water from the Alluvium Aquifer which flows into the South Platte River Basin.
Because of the order many farmers are now forced to rely on water solely from the river despite having wells operating on their site that are capable of pumping water to water their crops.
Fritzler told the Gazette that without operating his wells he only has enough water for two or three weeks. “The only way we could go beyond that would be for Denver to get significant rainfall every three to five days and that isn’t going to happen.”
He said despite the water shortages, the Fritzler Corn maze will still be open for business this year, but it will come at a cost.
“We will probably have to let some other fields such as our onion crop dry up, but unfortunately we like other farmers in the area have to make decisions as to which crops we want to keep and what we will have to lose,” he said. “The maze may not be as pretty this year compared to previous years, but it is too important to us and the area to simply let it go.”
Dennis Hoshiko, a local onion farmer and former chairman of the State Agricultural Commission said he has entire fields that have been planted but have not received any water yet. “We have entire sections where the seeds were planted a month ago in dry earth and they have not sprouted yet because they have not been watered. We can only do a few rows at a time.”
Fritzler said what is so maddening is while the crops are suffering from a lack of water, the solution is literally right beneath their feet.
In the years following the shutdown of the wells, the groundwater has since risen to where basements are now being flooded, septic systems are overflowing and there is a real danger to fields being destroyed because of high salt content.
The volume of water discharged into the artificial recharge systems in the South Platte basin has since increased, reaching over 350,000 acre feet in 2009.
Fritzler said over the past two years he has spent over $50,000 in basement repairs because of the water damage.
When he noticed several of the leach fields on houses he owns on his farm were beginning to overflow, he contacted Northern Colorado Geotech, which conducts soil and percolation testing. Doug Leafgren, president of the organization sent Fritzler a letter advising him they had been observing higher groundwater levels during their subsurface investigations in the county over the past 4 or 5 years.
While the farmers have been trying to get relief for years, their efforts have often been stymied by the large cities such as Boulder and Denver who often have high paid lawyers at taxpayer expense who have vigorously fought any attempt to even study the issue.
“These lawyers are paid for by the taxpayer and we as farmers are fighting them by having to pay out of our own pocket for our legal expenses. There is no way we can compete with that,” Hoshiko said.
Last week the governor signed a bill that could someday provide some relief, but right now the best they can hope for is a government study of the issue. The bill provides no provision for getting the wells turned on this season, but simply commissions a study of the groundwater problem to be conducted no later than June 1, 2013.
Sen. Scott Renfroe, one of the bill’s sponsors said the legislation originally had such a provision but it was stripped form the final bill.
“It was not stripped by Democrats, because in Colorado water knows no party lines. The opposition came from those who have senior water rights which are generally the big cities such as Denver and Boulder.”
Renfroe said he agrees the wells need to be turned on now, however he says the study is at least a step in the right direction.
“We have farmers who are hurting from both a lack of water and rising water table. Some have said the salt content is so high their soil only has two years of productive use left.”
“This study should have been done five years ago when the wells were first turned off. I know it’s a baby step but it’s a huge accomplishment when you consider the environment at the capital,” Renfroe said. “There are many people who want to maintain the status quo. I understand the concerns of senior water holders, and this legislation has a lot of protections for them, but we need to find a way to benefit everybody.”
Hoshiko said prohibiting them from turning on the wells is idiotic, because the reason the wells were built in the first place was for dire situations like this.
“Last night I saw a 14 year old boy shoveling ditches and getting ready to do flood irrigation after the sun went down and right beside him is a well that is capable of producing 1,200 gallons a minute, but they can’t touch it,” Hoshiko said. “The crops are sitting in dry dirt because we are in one of the worst droughts in Colorado history and we can’t use the water that is right under our feet.”
“Our predecessors built these wells years ago to get us through droughts like this. If they were alive today they would slap us silly for how we are wasting this resource.”
Those wanting more information about the meeting can call Glen Fritzler at (970) 737-2141