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Water in the West

As I gather information for the reports that Jeff and I produce for Ag Markets and More, I often stumble onto interesting stories that I'd like to share. However, I know that to distill them down to the allotted three minutes would wring all of the flavor out of them.


Thursday's report is a good example of that. I called water managers around the Four Corners to see what the outlook was for water supplies for irrigation this sumer.


Information from Southwest Colorado managers confirmed that farmers are probably going to get full irrigation water supplies, with both McPhee and Jackson Gulch Reservoirs full. Norman Johnson, Manager of San Juan Water Conservancy District, Blanding, surprised me when he reported that southeast Utah farmers were keeping what water was available in Recapture Reservoir for this season, because they really didn't have enough to do a good job of irrigation for the fifth straight year.


I found a story when I called Jim Rogers, Board of Directors Member for the San Juan Agricultural Water Users Association in Northwest New Mexico. He had spent his life working and irrigation land east of Shiprock. He had just finished his morning irrigation sets, and was a bit frustrated because releases from Navajo Dam into the San Juan River were threatening irrigation structures on the ditch.


The releases were based on Bureau of Reclamation criteria set for environmental concerns, without regard to the needs of farmers along the river. He was concerned that these large flows would expend a lot of water early in the growing season, and leave shortages in the hot months of July and August.


Rogers explained that the irrigation structures in the ditch were built many years ago, and had been maintained ever since by the farmers who received their irrigation water from it, with no help from grants or state or federal funding. When the ditch was first established decades ago, farmers used what ever mean were available to them to make a usable irrigation ditch. Since they had no other way to build a check dam in the river, they filled pockets in their overalls with rocks, and waded into the river time after time to drop them into a pile, thus creating the dam that directed water into the ditch inlet.


This story isn't unique. In farming communities throughout southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico, water has been diverted from rivers to grow crops for a century or more. Farmers today are often admonished for “wasting water” that is much more valuable when it flows downstream to Las Vegas and Southern California. But, is it reasonable to expect that these farmers would be willing to voluntarily give up their way of life and sacrifice their communities so that big city residents can water their blue grass lawns, build condos on the shores of man made lakes and water golf courses in the desert?