Water column: Explaining consumptive use
Water Law Basics
What is consumptive use of water, and why do we care? The first part of the question is easy to answer. We want to hear from you about the second part.
We would like to learn why water is important to you. Do you have any concerns about your water? To gather your ideas we have created an online survey: http://www.mountsopriscd.org, then click on the Middle Colorado River Watershed Planning tab and scroll down to the survey image.
By legal definition, consumptive use of water is that portion of the water that is taken out of a water source and not returned to the water system. The water you use to brush your teeth is returned to the water system, and is considered non consumptive. The water you use to water your plants or your lawn is not returned to the system, therefore; it is considered consumptive. It is this portion of used water that the Conservation Districts are investigating for their Consumptive Use part of the Integrated Watershed Management Plan. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council is investigating the non-consumptive uses for their portion of the plan.
There are three main types of consumptive use in our area: irrigation, municipal and industrial uses. The largest water rights holder and consumptive user group is agriculture. How does agriculture use water?
Last time, I wrote about our right to use the water, but that leaves unanswered how we use the water. The short answer is that we use water to grow crops and raise livestock. The predominant crops in our area are grass and alfalfa, but hemp is a new crop and is growing in popularity.
The methods to irrigate these crops vary because of plant need and the type of infrastructure that is available to deliver water. Hemp can be very water efficient if the grower utilizes a drip system that places water on each individual plant. That type of system is not practical when growing grass and alfalfa for hay or other crops utilized for grazing. The infrastructure would be destroyed by the hay equipment or by the animals. Instead, those crops are watered by sprinkler or by flood irrigation.
In all cases, the Conservation Districts advocate that each producer use the best management practice. Best management practices vary based on crop type, soil type, and cleanness of the water available for use. Sprinklers are the most efficient method to deliver water to a large field of forage, but they do not always meet the definition of best management practice.
One of the benefits of flood irrigation is recharging of the ground water. It utilizes more water to irrigate the crop, but it refills wells used by landowners for domestic use and also allows for return flows to other ditch systems and to the river later in the year. Without these return flows, wells go dry and the rivers are subject to low flows late in the season. The Conservation Districts will be evaluating the various methods of irrigation and making recommendations for best practices based on the entire ecosystem. Agricultural producers value being good stewards of our natural resources.
While we understand how and why water is used, we want to learn more about how you use water. What is important to you? What concerns do you have for future water availability/quality? What recommendations do you have for future water use? We want to learn from you. Please log on to: http://www.mountsopriscd.org, Middle Colorado River Watershed Planning tab, and share your ideas with us. Thank you!
Elizabeth Chandler is program coordinator for the Garfield-Pitkin County Consumptive Use Water Plan. The Mt. Sopris, Bookcliff, and South Side Conservation Districts are gathering information about agricultural water use on the middle Colorado River as it extends from the mouth of the Glenwood Canyon to the mouth of the DeBeque Canyon. This information will be used to help ensure that local farmers and ranchers will be able to continue producing food and fiber in the healthy and sustainable landscape we all enjoy. For more information about the Conservation Districts call: 970-404-3439.
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