"Drought Forces a New Era of Agricultural Water Conservation"

"This winter, our usually quiet Colorado valley -- so quiet that you can hear the wingbeats of the eagles and ravens that pass overhead -- has reverberated with the growls of trackhoes digging trenches across hillsides and irrigated pastures."

"The activity has nothing to do with oil and gas development, though a proposed sale of federal natural gas leases had many of us wondering how our small rural community would cope with an industrial overlay. Instead, this new activity has everything to do with water: Wielding multimillion-dollar grants from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, two local irrigation companies are replacing their open, dirt-bottomed ditches with plastic pipe.

The purpose of the projects is to reduce the load of salt and selenium that irrigation waters carry off our alkaline soils and into the Colorado River system, but the small farmers and ranchers who grow hay in this high desert are excited for another reason; by eliminating seepage and reducing evaporation, the pipes should deliver more water, up to 40 percent more, according to some projections.

If it snows, that is. As of Feb. 7, the snowpack in our Gunnison River Basin was at 77 percent of normal. That's near where it stood last year, before the spring storms failed to materialize. Many of us managed just a single cutting of hay, as water supplies dried up in July, a month earlier than usual."

Paul Larmer's essay is in High Country News February 18, 2013.

Thursday, February 21, 2013