While others, including the Greeley Tribune may try to waffle on the issue of whether area farmers should be permitted to turn their Wells on to prevent an economic disaster and save their crops, we believe the issue is a no-brainer. Turn the wells on.
While the Tribune has attempted to portray the issue as a difficult one, we do not believe that is the case at all.
First, we do understand the concerns of farmers downstream over the possibility of not having adequate water to fill thier reservoirs in the fall. When you grow up in an agricultural community you understand these concerns. As Glen Fritzler put it, when defending Jim Yahn, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable when speaking at a meeting of area farmers at a meeting on his property, “we are all farmers.”
As we see it while senior water rights holders and for that matter everybody has a right to be concerned about low water levels, we do not believe turning the wells on during this historic drought season will harm those senior right holders.
In the first place, even if the wells are not turned on, there is still no guarantee that those reservoirs will be full. The South Platte River is at historically low levels following this years snowpack that was 2 percent of normal.
However, in 2002 the Colorado Supreme Court ordered many area wells either shut down or curtailed on the basis that there pumping was causing the river to run low. These wells have been turned off for 10 years so logically the river should be running at a high level right now. This is obviously not the case.
Additionally, the groundwater from the Alluvium Aquifer is at an historic high level to where many fields are in danger of becoming useless due to high salt content, area basements are being flooded resulting in large amounts of economic damage to homeowners and septic systems are failing which could potentially contaminate the water supply.
Despite this record high level in the aquifer, the river is still running at a trickle. While we acknowledge that groundwater in the aquifer does have an effect on the river flow, we do not believe it is a major contributor.
Rather, senior water rights holders should be concerned about their water allotment not because of groundwater pumping but because of the low snowpack and runoff.
This is not to say that if extreme pumping of the groundwater were implemented that it would not have an effect on the river. Indeed, many local farmers who are currently advocating for the right to use their wells willingly acknowledge that years ago farmers in the area did indeed misuse this resource by running the wells unnecessarily, and in some instances 24/7.
However, this is not is what is being asked for here. Indeed, they have gone out of their way to stress they are not asking to operate the wells around the clock. Underneath our feet is a vast body of water the equivalent of five Lake McConaughys consisting of 10.5 million acre-feet. One acre-foot is 326,000 gallons.
Weld farmers are asking to pump less than three quarters of 1 percent from this underground inland sea. The idea that such a miniscule amount of water, especially when the aquifer is at such a high level will have any effect on downstream users and senior rights holders simply does not have merit. The issue is not the pumping, the issue is the snowpack.
Furthermore, after years of opposition by local municipalities the legislature finally passed a bill that would commission a current study on the effect of groundwater pumping on the river levels. Logically, the best way to conduct this study would be to run the wells, which are monitored to gather data for the study. Leaving them off would make it more difficult to confirm one way or the other if pumping does indeed have an effect and if so, to what extent.
Additionally, the Governor has proven the state has no problem sacrificing the rights of senior water holders for the greater good. While fighting the High Park fire, the forest service has been seen removing water which has already been allocated to senior water rights holders from Horsetooth Reservoir. However no one including those who are opposed to turning on the wells are suggesting this water should not be divergent to fight this emergency.
Our County is on the verge of an economic disaster that threatens to destroy not just the livelihood of many of our area farmers, some of whom have been farming for decades, but also has the potential to cause a ripple affect far beyond the immediate loss of crops. Feedlot owners have already stated that there is a very real possibility they could move their operations further east, possibly even out of the state if the wells are not turned on. This ripple effect would be devastating to area businesses, many of whom are still struggling in these difficult economic times.
Our forefathers built these wells for such a time as this. They understood that living in a desert region means that we will have droughts such as we are seeing today would come. They wisely provided a way for us to avoid or mitigate the disaster that droughts have wrought on other areas of the world. We are fools if we do not use this vital tool to fight the drought. It is one thing to face a natural disaster that you have no control over, but if the wells are left off it will just as much a man-made disaster as a natural one.
While the Tribune may choose not to take sides on this issue, choosing instead to simply say it is a difficult decision no matter what, we don’t see it that way. To our local farmers, we want to say we stand behind you in your totally reasonable request.
To paraphrase the words of Ronald Reagan who told Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall, we say, “Governor Hickenlooper, turn on these wells!”