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Water Lines: Water course focuses on agriculture

Hannah Holm
WATER LINES
Free Press Weekly Columnist

As urban areas continue to expand in the dry and drought-stricken Southwest, farmers and ranchers feel increasingly nervous about their ability to continue to access irrigation water. Agriculture consumes about 85 percent of the water that is consumed in Colorado, but that share is expected to shrink as competition for the resource increases.

Climate, economic and policy factors will all influence how agricultural use will change, and how agricultural communities will be affected.

The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is focusing this year’s annual, three-evening water course for citizens on water for agriculture in order to enhance understanding of this challenge and how different individuals and organizations are responding. The course will be held on consecutive Wednesdays, Feb. 11, 18 and 25, from 6-9 p.m. in CMU’s University Center Ballroom. Presentations will also be live-streamed on the internet.



There is a registration fee of $45 for the whole series, or $20 per individual session, although the course is free for K-12 teachers and students, faculty and staff at CMU. There are also a limited number of scholarships available.

Session 1, on Feb. 11, will focus on the climate and legal context for agriculture in Colorado.



After a brief introduction on the extent and importance of agriculture in Colorado, Dr. Gigi Richard of Colorado Mesa University will give a presentation on how Colorado’s natural hydrology affects growing conditions, and how that hydrology has been modified through dams, diversions and reservoirs. She will also discuss some of the challenges that climate change could bring for agriculture.

Kirsten Kurath, an attorney with a Grand Junction firm — Williams, Turner and Holmes, P.C. — will then provide an overview of Colorado Water Law, with special emphasis on legal issues related to agricultural use, including tools for sharing water with other uses.

Session 2, on Feb. 18, will focus on current water use and the economics of agriculture.

Dr. Perry Cabot, a Grand Junction-based regional water specialist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute, will introduce the session with a presentation on how, and how much, water is used by agriculture, and a discussion of the benefits and complications of efficiency and conservation. Following his talk, Kevin Conrad of the Grand Valley Water Users Association will describe efficiency improvements on the Government High Line Canal, and a local producer will discuss on-farm efficiency measures.

The second half of Session 2 will focus on agricultural economics, with an introductory presentation by Jesse Russell, an agricultural and business management specialist with the CSU Extension, on agriculture’s contribution to the economy, as well as economic factors affecting agricultural water use. His presentation will be followed by a panel of local producers, including Collbran rancher Carlyle Currier, Palisade fruit grower Bruce Talbott, and Fruita farmer Joe Bernal, who grows a variety of row crops.

Session 3, on Feb. 25, will focus on the future of irrigated agriculture in Colorado and the Colorado River Basin.

Brent Newman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board will review how agriculture is addressed in Colorado’s draft Water Plan, and Ken Nowak of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will discuss how agriculture is being addressed in Colorado Basin-wide efforts to balance supply and demand. Nowak is a co-chair of the Agricultural Conservation, Productivity and Water Transfers Workgroup, one of several work groups formed to follow up on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand study, which was released in December of 2012.

Their presentations will be followed by a panel discussion that will highlight key factors and tools that can influence the future of irrigated agriculture in Colorado and the Colorado River Basin. Panelists will include Kim Albertson, a Grand Valley farmer and Colorado Basin Roundtable member; Steve Fletcher, manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association; and Dan Birch of the Colorado River District.

Full details on the Water Course, including how to register, can be found at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter or by calling the Water Center at 970-248-1968.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.


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