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UPDATED: Farmers In "Really Bad Shape" As Water Supplies Tighten

Granby Lake
Northern Water Conservancy District

Update 4/12/13: The Northern Water board decided Friday to provide water users with a 60 percent quota, about 10 percent less than is usually allotted. 

Board members said the amount of water being given out from the Colorado-Big Thompson project is meant to strike a balance between cities that want to remain conservative in their water use and farmers who say they need a higher amount to keep from fallowing acres of farm land this growing season. 

Board member Jerry Winters of Weld County:

“It’s not as much of an agricultural versus municipal issue, it’s a situation where we don’t have any water. If I spend my money and I’m broke that’s not good financial management. It’s the same with water."

City of Fort Collins water resources manager Donnie Dustin said the city will keep it's lawn watering restriction to two days a week, but could be forced to move to tighter restrictions later in the summer.

Original Post from Thursday's water users meeting:

Northern Colorado’s top water users met Thursday to figure out how to divvy up water for cities and farmers this summer. After last year’s drought, and this year’s limited snowfall, there’s not enough water to go around.

Expect tighter watering restrictions in cities and limited irrigation for farmers.

Fort Collins will likely tighten watering restriction further if Northern Water sends less water out. Water customers could be restricted to one day of lawn-watering per week.

Farmers and ranchers are preparing for what’s likely to be a growing season full of tough decisions. Barley and corn farmer Bill Markham’s already planning on planting fewer crops at his farm in Berthoud. In most years he irrigates his corn crop.

Reservoirs within the Colorado-Big Thompson project are at half capacity with little chance of filling up, which means no extra irrigation water for Markham’s corn.

“The doom and gloom is how much water is in those lakes right now and how much is up in those mountains. We are in really bad shape,” Markham said.

Markham usually leases water from nearby cities, like Longmont, Loveland and Fort Collins. The Northern Water Conservancy District provides that water to cities and this year they’ll be distributing much less.

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner says low snowpack and last year’s dry spell has tightened water supplies statewide.

“It’s indicative of the water year that we’re having, which is not a good year right now,” Werner said.

The next two months are critical for farmers in the eastern half of Colorado. Spring rains could replenish soil that’s been parched by a drought that’s now entering its second year.

“We’re in two months of really crucial time, where we literally watch every single storm,” said state climatologist Nolan Doesken. He said there is a chance for increased moisture during April and May. But a recent drought outlook from the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center shows the drought likely to persist or intensify in the coming months.


As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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