by Jack Minor –
In the latest move to help farmers in Weld County obtain access to groundwater to save their crops, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CD-4) has asked the federal government to issue a drought declaration for the state.
Gardner sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack asking for the declaration. The letter says in part, “Currently the South Platte River Basin which provides water to both municipal and agricultural water users is 70 percent of average from previous year’s data. The below-average water levels are raising serious concerns for Colorado agriculture, local business and County and municipal governments.”
The Gazette has previously reported how many area farmers have said that with the low river levels they only have enough ditch water for a few more days at most unless Denver receives substantial rainfall.
While their allocations of ditch water are running low, there is an abundant supply of ground water just a few feet under them. Following the last drought in 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered hundreds of wells shut down or curtailed over concerns senior water holders downstream would not get their water because of the possibility that pumping was not allowing the aquifer to replenish the river.
Additionally, farmers were required to pay for expensive augmentation fees that have risen to tens of thousands of dollars.
Now faced with another historic drought, the farmers face the possibility of not being able to use their wells to supplement water shortages which they were able to do in previous droughts.
Glen Fritzler, who operates a corn maze near LaSalle disputed the premise that groundwater pumping is responsible for the low river flow.
“Our groundwater is at historically high levels to where it is flooding basements, septic systems are overflowing and crops are rotting because of standing groundwater, but the river is still at historic lows,” he said. “The reason the river is low is because of the snowpack, not from farmers pumping the groundwater to save their crops.”
On Monday, Weld County officials passed a drought resolution requesting the governor use his authority to turn on the wells.
Gardner told Vilsack that while the situation in Weld County is dire, the entire state is suffering from the effects of the drought and is requesting a disaster declaration from the federal government enabling the state to qualify for federal assistance.
“I fully support Weld County’s request to the Governor, and it is important that all Colorado counties are given the same assistance in order to protect farmers and ranchers,” he said. Mr. Secretary, I urge you to consider issuing a disaster declaration for drought in Colorado. We are entering an urgent situation and I appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.”
“Allowing Colorado to experience another 2002 drought without assistance is simply unacceptable.”