Weld County

Luke Runyon / KUNC

An old water cliché tells us that “water flows uphill toward money.” It’s an adage born out of people’s frustrations about who benefits when water moves around in the Western U.S., popularized by author Marc Reisner’s 1986 book, “Cadillac Desert.”

Like all persistent folksy sayings, it’s a mix of myth and truth.

But there’s at least one case where it has some validity: the phenomenon known as “buy and dry” along Colorado’s fast-growing, historically agricultural Front Range.

Matt Bloom/KUNC

Standing at the edge of the Cache La Poudre River in Fort Collins, Boyd Wright adjusted his sunglasses against the bright sunlight. He pointed to the Fossil Creek ditch, a diversion structure dividing the waterway.

MiraCosta Community College / flickr

School District 27J will become the first metro Denver area district to implement a four-day week.

Starting in August, students will be off Mondays, but Tuesday through Friday school days could be extended up to an extra hour and a half to ensure students receive the same classroom time.

Parents in need of childcare for Mondays can send their younger K-5 children to a district-run daycare. They will have to find other options for older kids.

Jackie Fortier / KUNC

The state of Colorado collected $180 million in taxes from legal marijuana sales in the 2016 fiscal year.

But could the well run dry?

As of July 1, 2017, Nevada is the eighth state to sell recreational marijuana -- and it won’t be the last. California, the sixth largest economy in the world, will start selling pot Jan. 1, 2018.

City of Greeley

Weld County was the fourth fastest growing metro area in the nation between 2015 and 2016 according to new data from the U.S. Census bureau. The ranks are based on percentage change, rather than the number of people that the population grew by. For Weld, the population grew by 3.5 percent -- to a total of 294,932 people.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Blink while driving on Highway 34 east of Greeley, Colorado, and you might miss the former Great Plains town of Dearfield.

Abandoned towns from the early 20th century are far from unique on this stretch of plains. Withered storefronts and collapsed false-front homes are common. Boom and bust economics and harsh weather made it tough for turn of the century settlers to succeed long-term.

Few ghost towns, however, have all the elements that make Dearfield’s story so compelling today: larger than life characters, struggles to live off the land, tales of racial integration at the height of the Jim Crow era.

Jim Hill / KUNC

Colorado is currently the seventh fastest growing state in the nation. Experts expect the bullseye of future growth to be the northern Front Range.

“We’re forecasting the state to increase between 2010 and 2040 by about 2.8 million people — about 500,000 in the north Front Range, in Larimer and Weld counties,” said state demographer Elizabeth Garner.

It all has to do with jobs -- sort of. Data show that in the past 10 years many people are moving from the Western Slope to the northern Front Range looking for work, while high-paying tech industry jobs has brought workers in from other states. It’s the marriage of these two counties and what they have to offer commuters that makes them so economically diverse.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

Colorado agriculture officials are taking steps to make industrial hemp -- marijuana’s agrarian cousin  -- more mainstream. They’ve certified three hemp seed varieties, becoming the first state in the country to do so.

A seed certification is akin to a stamp of approval, letting farmers know the plant performs well in Colorado’s soil and climate.

The certification also ensures that farmers won’t break federal law by cultivating plants above the legal threshold for THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp that tests above a concentration of 0.3 percent THC must be destroyed, according to state rules. That threshold was set in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

It’s no secret Northern Colorado is growing. Weld, Larimer and Boulder counties are welcoming thousands of new residents each year. People are flocking to the area, and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Weld and Larimer already sport high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region’s substantive feeding operations. But an expansion of a Leprino Foods-owned cheese factory in Greeley will require even more cows to churn out the milk needed to produce bricks of mozzarella cheese and whey protein powder.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

Food waste is an expensive problem. The average U.S. family puts upward of $2,000 worth of food in the garbage every year.

What some see as a problem, others see as a business opportunity. A new facility, known as the Heartland Biogas Project, promises to take wasted food from Colorado’s Front Range and turn it into electricity.

Through a technology known as anaerobic digestion, spoiled milk, dented canned goods, old pet food, vats of grease and helpful bacteria combine in massive tanks to generate gas. You’ll find the project on a rural road in Weld County, a stone’s throw from the county’s numerous feedlots, dairy farms, and a short drive from the state’s populous, waste-generating urban core.

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