Western Colorado’s water safe for now

Brittany Markert
A look down on the agriculture from Mount Garfield shows green landscapes line the valley floor. If irrigation wasn't present, the greenery wouldn't be there except along the riverfront.
Brittany Markert / | Free Press


Perry Cabot, along with several other speakers, provided their expertise on agriculture and water to more than 200 attendees at the 2014 Colorado River District’s annual Water Seminar held at Two Rivers Convention Center on Sept. 19. It focused specifically on water use and agriculture in Western Colorado. Its main focus was on Colorado’s long-term drought situation and solution, as the state’s population is expected to grow from 5 million to 10 million by 2050. The focus on agriculture water may help ease the possible water shortage as well as solve issues downstream at two large reservoirs — Lake Mead in Nevada and Lake Powell in Utah.

A recent Colorado Agriculture Water Alliance study projects that Colorado will be at least 20 percent short of the water needed by the year 2030.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, more than 300,000 acres of land in Mesa County is used for agriculture, which includes raising livestock and crops. Of that land, 160,000 acres is irrigated.

Colorado Agriculture Water Alliance also added those crops and animals need water to survive, and of all the water available in Colorado, about 75 percent is diverted for agriculture.

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Perry Cabot, a Grand Junction resident, is a doctor of agricultural engineering and land resources.

While currently employed by Colorado State University’s extension office in Grand Junction, he’s working hard to gain insight into one of Colorado’s biggest issues — water and its impacts on agriculture. Through his current research, he’s suggesting that farmers and Grand Valley residents adopt more efficient water use practices — from crop watering to shorter showers — for its long-term benefits.

To prove his theory, Cabot is studying water impacts on two Mesa County farms. One is dealing with irrigation conservation related to split-season watering. The other is irrigation efficiency, comparing the three watering systems — drip, irrigation, and furrow.

“We are trying to understand how much water is available in agriculture without jeopardizing agriculture,” Cabot said. “We look at both conservation and efficiency, to prepare them for future water issues.”

This is important to western Colorado because, according to Cabot, residential use of water takes precedence over agriculture use of water. He suggests that conservation and efficiency work hand in hand, and the future of agriculture water is up to how residents and farmers use the water available now.

Cabot said he hasn’t found the best solution for water conservation yet, but he continues to study ways for farms to be more efficient locally.

“Western Slope agriculture and Western Slope water cannot, and will not, be considered as a single, easy-to-go-to solution for the water-supply concerns of others,” said Mark Harris, the general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

There is no easy solution, Harris agreed, but there’s also no denying a large chunk of water is tied up. All communities along the Western Slope and downstream are dependent upon water available, including agriculture and municipal use.

“The future holds a lot of different opinions, though through the lens of farmers, they are resilient,” Cabot said. “If they want to keep farming, they will.”


According to Colorado Mesa University’s Water Center coordinator Hannah Holm, when water becomes scarce, farmers have a target on their backs as the first to lose it. With Colorado currently putting together a water plan to accommodate population growth and reduction in resources, water availability is a hot topic in the agriculture industry these days.

Farmers are as concerned as the rest of the state about having enough water for the state’s future, Colorado Agriculture Water Alliance confirmed. And they’re working to understand the challenges and what the future will hold.

John Harold, an Olathe Sweet Corn farmer at Tuxedo Corn Company, said agriculture is just part of the water-shortage solution.

“We can get by with less and do just as good as job,” he said. “My son and I have 200 acres of drip irrigation and proved we can grow quality crops with less water. There’s tremendous investment to it.”

Farmers are also encouraged to invest in efficient water systems to promote less waste, while also keeping up with population growth.

“It’s a perfect example of doing more with less,” Cabot added.

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