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Agricultural Water and the “New Normal”: Farmer, Rancher and Manager Perspectives on Agricultural Water in the Colorado River Basin Peter Leigh Taylor,

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Presentation on theme: "Agricultural Water and the “New Normal”: Farmer, Rancher and Manager Perspectives on Agricultural Water in the Colorado River Basin Peter Leigh Taylor,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Agricultural Water and the “New Normal”: Farmer, Rancher and Manager Perspectives on Agricultural Water in the Colorado River Basin Peter Leigh Taylor, MaryLou Smith, Faith Sternlieb, Julie Kallenberger and Reagan Waskom Colorado Water Workshop, Gunnison, Colorado July 17-19, 2013

2 Farmer, Rancher and Manager Perspectives on Agricultural Water The “new normal?” 1. Agricultural and agricultural water as key historical underpinnings of rural communities 2. Though a “new normal” is largely created by conditions beyond our direct control, we as individuals and as a society can shape that new normal.

3 Farmer, Rancher and Manager Perspectives on Agricultural Water The Colorado River provides for 38 million people, crucial support for food and agriculture, and for complex ecosystems. The River is highly stressed in terms of its ability to satisfy human and environmental needs. The Bureau of Reclamation warns of significant future gaps between CR water supplies and demands. Agriculture is being looked to to help fill the gap.

4 Sixty in-depth, semi- structured telephone interviews in all seven CRB states 53 men; 7 women 27 producers 30 professional water managers 3 other water professionals Land-grant partners Colorado State University of Arizona University of California University of Nevada New Mexico State Utah State University University of Wyoming USDA “Addressing Water for Agriculture in the CRB” collaborative research partnership

5 Interviewee CR Water Sources Animas River; Central Arizona Project; Coachella Canal; Colorado River mainstem; Crystal River; Dolores River; Gila River; Green River; Gunnison River; Little Snake River; North Fork River; Pine River; San Francisco; San Juan River; San Miguel River; Spanish Fork River; Virgin River; Yampa River

6 Research questions 1. What are the most important pressures you experience on your agricultural water? 2. How are you and your organizations responding? 3. How do you see the future of agriculture and agricultural water in your area? 4. How can land-grant universities help support effective responses to the stresses on agricultural water?

7 Immediate concern about drought in 2012 “we haven't had any winters in years. Our aquifers are starting to deplete for the first time in history and our community went into water restrictions. We have no surface water to irrigate with and we started using pumped water….Everybody had a real hard time.” AZ cotton grower on the Gila River

8 Less direct concern about drought in 2012 “Availability of water is not a concern. We have water. Price is a concern for us.” CA manager, Coachella Valley

9 Concern about future implications for water rights “It's been pointed out to me that when there are enough householders in Las Vegas that turn on their faucet and no water comes out, it doesn't make any difference what kind of compact or law there is. They are going to get water.” CO rancher, North Fork River

10 a. Urban pressures bring water to cities by separating it from farms Ex: “Buy and dry” trends in Colorado Most significant on Colorado’s Eastern slope. Less common on the Colorado’s Colorado River, but still a concern for farmers, policymakers and others

11 a. Urban pressures bring cities to agriculture through suburbanization “Land ends up being so valuable, it’s hard to own it and remain in agriculture” Rancher on Animas River, Colorado “We’re migrating to golf courses and housing developments. We’re becoming more and more a municipal water district except on the east side. A lot of farming has been converted. CA Imperial Valley manager

12 b. Environmental & recreation pressures Many ag water users and managers deal with ESA issues as part of their work. “They are not financially dependent on the water the way I am… We cannot farm anywhere. They don't have any skin in the game.”CO Dolores River rancher Many farmers expressed support for the environment and say they are also environmentalists.

13 a. Developing additional storage “I'm just naive enough to believe it would take care of irrigation and environmental concerns, endangered species concerns, provide more stable recreation opportunities. The bottom line is that everybody could have what they want.” NM Gila River water manager The users can't afford it, but to have some sort of local taxpayer subsidy of an ag project isn't going to fly in this basin. … Ag is not the primary industry. It's in the top three or four, but people just aren't going to raise their taxes to pay for this…. Gunnison River rancher, Colorado “With climatic conditions and increases in demands, at some point you run out. It will take every tool in the toolbox—absolutely.” WY rancher

14 b. Increased efficiency and water conservation Varying incentives and disincentives: Water rights laws & historic consumptive use Technical production factors: climate, soils, crops cultivated, irrigation technology type Return flow considerations Social and cultural factors: generational transitions?

15 b. Increased efficiency and water conservation “Farmers say, ‘I could actually lose some of my water rights’…. There has to be an incentive. Otherwise, [farmers] are going to want to hang on to their water rights.” UT water manager

16 c. Permanent and temporary market transfers Buy and Dry and “Buy and Change” (development) trends Municipal buy-up of ag water, often with lease-back Temporary leasing of ag water to municipalities and others Water banking

17 c. Permanent and temporary market transfers “They paid a big price for the water and they took it…. No fight, they just offered a lot of money. They didn't force anybody. Some think it was forced. I don't think it was forced, but I don't think we should have sold.” NV alfalfa grower, Virgin River

18 c. Permanent and temporary market transfers Temporary leasing Colorado law now facilitates temporary ag water leasing for instream flows without risk of abandonment. “If you are growing a perennial like alfalfa, or hay, I don't see how you give away or sell your water for a year because it will do long term damage….I just don't see how it would work if you are growing a perennial crop.” CO Crystal River rancher

19 c. Voluntary temporary and permanent market transfers Water banking Informal water banking experiences exist within some water districts. Issues grappled with include: private/public water rights, diverse and complex land & water relationships, seniority and return flow issues.

20 d. Managing conflict and cooperation Courts and attorneys “legal decisions may not necessarily result in a fair agreement…but one that favors those with the most money to fight with.” AZ alfalfa grower

21 d. Managing conflict and cooperation Negative multi-stakeholder experiences Barriers mentioned include: incompatible values, interests & goals; lack of trust; feeling at disadvantage in negotiation process. “People are so tied up in their work, they can't go to all the meetings. They can't protect what they have because of the nature of what they're protecting.” WY Green River manager

22 d. Managing conflict and cooperation Positive multi-stakeholder experiences Grand Valley, CO, Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Historic Users Pool (HUP)

23 A bright future? Interviewees’ view of the future was most positive where: Highly productive, year round production is possible Users have senior rights Nearby urban areas lower production and marketing costs New generations are entering farming and ranching

24 A bright future? “We have 12 month a year agriculture here…We have good soil and climate…good access to the interstate highway. We have lots of strengths and better potential for economic feasibility. I see the future as solid.” AZ alfalfa grower in Yuma “We've had a lot of discussions. We've structured our family organization legally to make sure land remains in agriculture. We’re keeping the land open and in agriculture.” Animas River rancher, Colorado

25 An uncertain future? Less optimism about the future was expressed where there are: Higher obstacles to productivity More junior water rights Ag users face more competition from urban water demand New generations seek futures outside of agriculture

26 An uncertain future? “I see ranching and farming as being harder and harder to do, not just here, but in all areas. There’s pressure to take water off the Western slope to put it in the Colorado River Compact, to take more water off the Western slope to go to the Eastern slope where there are more people.” CO San Miguel River rancher “There’s an analogy used here. Western Colorado is sitting on the tracks between the Lower Basin and the Front Range. We expect to get run over. It's probably a matter of time and how that happens.” CO North Fork River rancher

27 “Almost everybody knows how much they use in their households. One acre-foot is needed for four families. No one knows how much more water they use indirectly when they sit down to eat….Three fourths of an acre foot per person per year is used indirectly in our own food consumption.” Imperial Valley water manager We farmers are the first level of people concerned about the environment…There is a huge community benefit to keeping these lands open and productive. We produce crops, a viewshed, a watershed, and a wildlife habitat. AZ alfalfa grower on the Gila River

28 Significant uncertainty exists about the future of ag and ag water. Ag water users face common pressures: extended drought, competing water demands and others. Ag water users are developing active responses: seeking more storage, technology improvements, water transfers and sharing, management of conflict and cooperation. Experiences vary by who interviewees are, what they do and where they are. Diversity and complexity represent both features of the challenge and arguably, resources to draw upon.

29 “You won't believe how hard this is going to get. You have to protect yourself from the world that's getting so much smaller.” Wyoming water manager, Green River “It’s always a challenge operating based on the past. The future is not going to be like the past.” Grand County, Colorado official

30 “We have an obligation to our kids, to our grandkids, to those who come after us, to ensure that that water is available. The greatest compliment we might get twenty, thirty, forty years down the road, will be the ‘thank goodness that those folks were wise enough and ensured that this water was available for us to use today.’” NM water leader

31 newswatch.nationalgeographic. com Peter Leigh Taylor University of Arizona Regents www.

32 For additional information on the “Addressing Water for Agriculture” project please see our website:

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