© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Global demand for food and fuel is rising, and competition for resources has widespread ramifications. We all eat, so we all have a stake in how our food is produced. Our goal is to provide in-depth and unbiased reporting on things like climate change, food safety, biofuel production, animal welfare, water quality and sustainability.

Secession Plans Fueled By Urban-Rural Divide

David Hawkins-Weeks

What do you get when you mix rural counties, urban legislators and a whole lot of animosity?

In Colorado, you get an increasingly ambitious secession plan.

Weld County commissioners have been meeting for weeks on the idea to break away from the rest of the state, citing a string of newly signed policies, including stricter gun control regulations and high standards for renewable energy for rural electric cooperatives.  

The current number of counties keen to the idea of pushing for the creation of “North Colorado,” sits at nine. Weld County commissioners are shopping the idea around to other states too. The Greeley Tribune reports they’re meeting on July 8th with local officials in western Nebraska and Kansas to see how much support they can find.  

While the commissioners cite specific legislation as the inspiration behind “North Colorado,” the tone of the debate has been decidedly more broad. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway says rural residents are seeing a growing disconnect between life in Colorado’s cities and its vast rural areas.

And apparently the feeling is mutual.

Comments on articles about the “North Colorado” proposal have shown city dwellers have little sympathy for the complaints of rural officials, which led to this exchange in the comments section in KUNC’s latest post on the secession effort.

Puppytime: bye. these scum sucking parasites leach off of the rest of the state and the federal gov't. There is nothing of value there except oil that needs tons of water to pump out. You can't farm there without importing tons of water either. It's a semi-arid high plain. Worthless. Let 'em go. Let 'em starve. Let 'em die.
Farmgirl: Actually the majority of farming in far NE colorado is dry land farming, not irrigated. I'd also suggest you do some research on just how many days of food an average city in the U.S. has on-hand and then reconsider whether America's farmers should just "starve and die."
Puppytime: if you so dry land, I'm sure you'll gladly give up the water you steal from Denver. Also, who do you think pays for all those precious roads and snow plows for you? Food grows in Ohio

That’s just a taste. In fact, quite a few comments brought up the agricultural influence in rural communities and economies and the importance of water in Northeastern Colorado. Agriculture uses about 85 percent of the state’s water supply. But “Farmgirl” is right, a majority of farming, not just in Northeastern Colorado, is dryland, which means farmers aren’t using irrigation systems. 

Credit Luke Runyon / Data from USDA/NASS
Data from USDA/NASS
Of Colorado's more than 11 million acres of cropland, about 20 percent is irrigated.

See the full map here [.pdf].

That’s not to diminish the importance of water for Colorado’s agricultural industries, which has seen major shifts of usage and ownership over the past few decades.

This political struggle to create a brand new, decidedly more conservative and rural, state speaks to a broader cultural shift happening throughout the country, not just in Colorado. Rural population hasn’t been growing nearly as fast as urban centers. The fact is, the U.S. is becoming more urban. However, farmers and ranchers say if Americans want to continue to pay cheap prices for domestically-produced food, their voices should be heard.

Colorado is not unique in this situation. Similar plans have sprung up in other states for roughly the same reasons. Take Illinois for example. A plan from downstate, rural lawmakers to separate from Chicago pops up almost every year. A rural-urban divide was the same reason for a secession movement in Washington state back in 2005. The same feelings showed up in California in 2011.

But the road ahead for “North Colorado” could be a bumpy one. The state’s creation would rely on approval from both state and federal legislators.

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.
Related Content