Tue June 19, 2012

With Governor's Decision, Weld County Commissioners "Praying For Rain"

Governor John Hickenlooper has said “no” to Weld County Commissioners and their request to turn on irrigation wells that were shut down in 2006 because of a state Supreme Court decision.

"We're disappointed," said Sean Conway, the chairman of Weld's Board of County Commissioners.

Conway wanted permission to allow the pumps over a large aquifer to be utilized for 30 days to help fill up dry irrigation ditches, preventing the county's crops from burning up during a prolonged stretch of hot and dry weather.

“To be honest, our window is shrinking and shrinking quickly. My guess is starting today with the governor's announcement, farmers will start making decisions to stop watering fields and let those crops kind of wither and die.”

In a written statement, the Governor says even if he could legally allow the pumping of groundwater for use in irrigation, the water belongs to someone else downstream.

"We all are committed to the same laws, and in this case the water law is clear. Senior water rights take priority over junior water rights. It's tough to see so many crops in the ground desperate for water. That's why we are continuing to work with Weld County and others to find other possible solutions and to continue to promote conservation."

The Longmont Times-Call reports Weld County’s Attorney Bruce Barker believes the governor does, in fact, have authority to allow pumping in severe drought conditions.

Conway said that based on legal research by Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker, "we respectfully disagree with the attorney general's brief. We believe the governor has the authority" to allow the pumping in a drought such as the one being experienced by Weld's farmers and others in the river basin.

Commissioner Conway says the water table of the aquifer in question has risen six to ten feet since 2006, and contains over ten and a half million acre feet of water, near record levels.