Todd Ballard, Tri-River Area Agronomist
Many of us spent this winter attending water conservation meetings. The story is well known. The western slope was in a long-term drought. Eastern Plains agriculture continues to be dependent on a dwindling Ogallala aquifer. Much of the Eastern Plains wheat crop was lost to a severe drought. The electrical grid receives 3.3 gigawatts from the Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. If Colorado River flows are inadequate to keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell above the dead zone, that portion of the electricity supply is lost…
There is some good news. Colorado’s 2022-23 snowpack was above average for much of the state: BSnow_4_2023.pdf (usda.gov). El Niño has an early start. Unseasonably heavy precipitation fell over part of the western slope last week. This means if you are trying to establish a perennial pasture, now is the time. Water allocations in stream fed ditches will be higher this year than they have been for several years. It does not mean to back off water conservation planning. The temporary reprieve from water shortages is not a sign of things to come.
The largest event for water conservation I attended this winter was hosted by the Mesa Conservation District (MCD). MCD was chosen by Arizona State University’s Babbitt for Land and Water Policy to pilot their Water Scenario Planning. Community members from county government, academia, conservation groups, and local agricultural producers came together to answer questions about how to respond to changes in water supply and demand, how to communicate those plans to elected officials, and what are the consequences of each plan.
Another large-scale project has been offered by the Delta Conservation District (DCD). A USDA-NRCS PL-566 request for applications was sent out to entities in a watershed near Paonia. This program budgets up to $25 million for improvements in the efficiency of water delivery through ditches. Several applications were received and the DCD are reviewing the applications to refer their choices to NRCS.
CSU has multiple projects as well. A few projects that I am associated with are testing water use efficient crops, artificial intelligence in irrigation systems, and agrivoltaics. Water use efficient crops that can be adapted to Colorado’s climate include forage sorghum, cowpea, and sesame. The artificial intelligence irrigation project is multi-state project including Kansas State University, University of California, and CSU. Agrivoltaics can take on the form of vegetable production in the field, rooftop vegetable production, grazing sheep, and grain production all in the shadows of a solar farm. The shade decreases evapotranspiration rates.