U.S. Water News Online
DENVER -- Farmers who were ordered to shut off their
irrigation wells amid a long drought asked state lawmakers to find a
solution to the scarcity or face the loss of more farmland.
"The road we're on, we're going to see a lot of these farmers sell
out here pretty quick," Tom Cech, manager of the Central Colorado
Water Conservancy District, told lawmakers considering water measures
for the next year's Legislature.
"We're going to see dried up ground or just more subdivisions," he
Lawmakers, water managers and others are looking for ways to
reconcile scarce supplies and rising demand that have forced farmers
into a sometimes-bitter competition with each other and with city
The state engineer told farmers along the South Platte River to
turn off 440 wells in May after forecasting lower-than-average flows
in river. Because the wells draw from the same source that supplies
the river, they had to be shut down to ensure that farmers and cities
with higher-priority rights got their share.
State law allows the wells to operate if the users can prove they
can replace water when it's needed downstream.
Cech, whose district manages the wells, said lawmakers should
change state laws governing how the river is managed.
"Isn't agriculture important enough for the state to set forth
some policy and some funding to help keep people in business?" he
Farmers with higher-priority rights told lawmakers the well owners
were stealing their water. They said the law should not be changed.
"They shorted us on our water rights," said John Monheiser, who
farms 1,800 irrigated acres and has a senior right dating to 1895.
"If they don't have the right to pump with us, they shouldn't be
pumping," Monheiser told lawmakers.
Monheiser said his farm near the town of Crook got the water it
was entitled to this season for the first time in years after the
state began shutting down the wells.
Sen. Lew Entz, R-Hooper, said farmers cannot survive unless the
state finds a solution.
"You've got a problem," Entz told Cech.
Water attorney Veronica Sperling said well owners were given a
choice to prove in court they owned enough water to replace what they
take or shut down their wells. She said they chose to shut down to
Sperling said she sympathized with the well owners, but they knew
it was coming.
"They were given an opportunity and they declined," Sperling told
One compromise aimed at settling the dispute would allow the
well-irrigation farmers to keep one well each, enough to irrigate up
to 130 acres.
Cech said the farmers took that news hard. They said that wouldn't
provide enough income to pay off their loans and that some of them
could be forced out of business by the end of this year.
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