Article courtesy of Coloradoan.com| Shared as educational material| April 11 2014|
BERTHOUD – Many Northern Colorado water users, from the city of Fort Collins to farmers on the Eastern Plains, will start the summer with less water than they hoped, after the Northern Water Conservancy District announced its spring water quota on Friday.
The district’s board voted to shuttle 60 percent of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water to users, coming from a network of basins and reservoirs that spans the Western Slope and Front Range and provides water to most of Northern Colorado. The city of Fort Collins was among many cities, industrial companies and farmers lobbying the board this week for a 70 percent quota.
Colorado’s water infrastructure is still reaping the rewards of heavy September 2013 rains that led to damaging floods but essentially wiped drought from much of the state. Coupled with the year’s above-average snowpack, there should be less of a need for Colorado-Big Thompson project water, Northern Water’s board said.
The board intends to reconsider its decision, and possibly add to the quota, if water conditions change during the next few months.
Fort Collins residents will get plenty of water with the 60 percent quota, said utilities spokeswoman Lisa Rosintoski. But the quota will limit the city’s ability to rent water rights to farmers.
Farmers worry that the 60 percent quota won’t be enough to carry their crops through the growing season. While cities are typically more interested in quotas that allow them to store water, farmers such as Steve Shultz need enough water to keep their crop alive, Shultz said.
“Under the ditch companies that I farm under, we have our own storage, but that storage usually runs out in August and we rely on Colorado-Big Thompson water for our late-season needs,” Shultz said during a stakeholders meeting Wednesday. “To have all the water in the world to start a crop is one thing, but you got to be able to finish it, too.”
Shultz was one of many who spoke in favor of a 70 percent quota, as did representatives from Fort Collins and Larimer and Weld counties. Shultz ultimately advocated for an even higher quota, and wrote on a comment card submitted to the board: “100 percent. Farmers need every drop.”
But after discussion Friday, Northern Water’s 12-director board decided to follow their water resources manager’s recommendation of 60 percent, citing availability of water from natural sources.
Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation but operated by Northern Water, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was initially born of the severe 1930s drought, and was engineered to give Colorado farmers extra water. Since 1957, the project has been issuing water quotas that guarantee a certain amount of acre feet of water to shareholders, such as farmers and cities.
For the past several years, the project has issued two quotes, one in the fall and another in the spring. In November, the project typically announces a 50 percent quota, but when it comes to public input, the additional spring quota is usually the big draw as the region prepares for summer.
As Northern Colorado has become more urban and less agricultural, the project has become a vital component of municipal water storage, which now takes up 65 percent of Colorado-Big Thompson water use. The cultural shift has created a rift in water demands that vary between cities and farmers.
In recent years, cities such as Fort Collins have become far more reliant on the supplemental water from the project. Fort Collins uses the project and the Poudre River equally to provide residents with water. After debris and sediment from the 2012 High Park Fire polluted the Poudre, Fort Collins Utilities became increasingly dependent on the project’s water when runoff and flash floods filled the river with ash.
But this year, utilities’ water wishes were more in line with Shultz’s. Both wanted a 70 percent quota — for Shultz, to see farmers through the growing season, and for Fort Collins, to allow the city to rent some of its extra water to farmers. The city is still assessing what its rental prospects will be, Rosintoski said.
There is a chance that Northern Water’s board will consider adding to the quota a third time, as it has been known to do in the past. While several members of the board considered a 70 percent quota, the promise of spring runoff — projected to be around 100,000 acre feet more than usual — ultimately brought a unanimous vote for 60 percent.
For now, the decision is disappointing for farmers like Shultz, who are looking to plan ahead.
“Farmers live for today, and the only thing we think about it this year and our needs to get us through this year,” he said on Wednesday. “We put all our money out to grow a crop, but we have to able to finish it.”