The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) joined together in strong support of $15,000,000 “high impact” stimulus funds in Governor Polis’ FY 2022-2023 budget to preserve agriculture, meet interstate river compact obligations, and reduce rural economic impacts in the Republican and Rio Grande River basins .
“The producers in the Republican and Rio Grande basins are up against quickly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use to avoid mandatory curtailment of groundwater pumping on a scale that could devastate these agricultural communities,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. “Directing federal funds to water users in these two basins will help ag producers mitigate the costs of reducing water use while ensuring a future for agriculture in these regions. With Governor Polis’s leadership, CDA is working closely with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure these funds support the farmers, ranchers, and other water users who are facing the greatest challenges.”
The Republican and Rio Grande River basins contain some of Colorado’s most productive farm and ranchlands, and agriculture remains the economic backbone of these regions. Governor Polis’s proposal is for $15,000,000 in high impact American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the Task Force on Economic Recovery and Relief to consider.
The Republican River basin needs to come into compliance with its downstream river compact by retiring 25,000 acres of groundwater irrigated land by the end of 2029, 10,000 of which must be retired by the end of 2024. Simultaneously, the Rio Grande basin is facing imminent groundwater curtailment to prevent further drawdown of confined underground aquifers.
Despite efforts by water conservation districts and water users in both basins to solve this challenge on their own, one bad drought year can push back years of progress. This was the case in 2021 and with the high probability of subsequent droughts, more resources are needed to assist local farmers and ranchers in transitioning to a future of greater water scarcity in a way that sustains agriculture, the economy, and local communities.
“With Colorado’s ongoing systemic drought many of our communities are feeling the impact, none more acutely than agriculture, as our water supplies diminish,” said Dan Gibbs, the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Working with the Colorado Department of Agriculture we need to do all we can to preserve our agricultural lands and the rural economies that depend on them. The Governor’s high impact stimulus proposal will help these river basins meet our river compact obligations and protect our groundwater resources while ensuring agriculture continues in these productive regions of Colorado.”
If passed by the legislature, this additional funding will augment local and federal conservation incentive programs to ensure the retirement of groundwater pumping is voluntary, compensated, and on a scale that minimizes disruption to agricultural production while still meeting Colorado’s compact obligations.
Agriculture generates nearly $370 million worth of ag products in the seven Colorado counties the Rio Grande supplies with water. Staple crops include barley, oats, hay, and potatoes. Colorado’s Eastern Plains are home to nine of the state’s top ten agricultural counties in terms of value of agricultural products sold, with the majority of crops grown used to feed livestock. The Republican River Basin produces nearly $1.4 billion in agricultural products, including corn, wheat, cattle, and hogs.
To find more information about the governor’s budget proposal visit the Office of State Planning and Budgeting website.