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Farmers will get full water supply, grapple with late spring

Fields will green up this year thanks to a full water supply. (Journal file photo)
Snow on fields delays farming season; grant program offers deal for more efficient sprinkler nozzles

Farmers will get a full supply of water from McPhee Reservoir this season and could get even more.

An above-average winter snowpack will fill the 380,000 acre-foot reservoir, the first time since 2019. And there is enough runoff for a 30- to 60-day whitewater recreation release below the dam.

Full-water allocation for farmers under contract with the Dolores Water Conservancy District is 22 to 24 inches per acre. The water charge is $44.81 per acre-foot, including delivery.

In general, a full supply of water allows for three or four cuttings of alfalfa, the water district’s most prominent commercial crop.

The Bureau of Reclamation reservoir provides irrigation for 61,000 acres of farmland in Montezuma and Dolores counties and on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.

About 50 farmers attended the DWCD Farmer Advisory Committee April 6 in Pleasant View.

They are relieved for adequate water, and learned the DWCD board will decide later in the season if it is feasible to provide up to 26 inches per acre to extend the season.

Farmers face some challenges this season.

A late spring has delayed the season by two to three weeks. Snow and mud have prevented fields from being worked.

Farmers also said they have a cash flow problem from three years of water cuts, which forced them to fallow fields and lose money needed for the next season.

In 2021, farmers received just 10% of their allocation, and in 2022 they received 45%.

Fallowed fields must be reconditioned for planting, including weed control and fertilizer inputs.

Whether farmers will be able to use their full allocation is a question, said DWCD General Manager Ken Curtis.

On the other hand there is a “good chance” water above the full allocation could be made available to farmers, which is a DWCD board decision, he said.

Pump stations will be pressurized first week of May, then water will be available for deliveries. Many canals have already filled up with snowmelt, and that water will be delivered first.

Water conservation and wheat investor

DWCD was awarded a $130,000 grant from Southwest Basin Roundtable to provide farmers with water-efficient nozzles and pressure regulators on center-pivot sprinkler systems, said meeting presenter Greg Vlaming.

Farmers can apply for the package valued at $4,000 to $5,000 and are obligated to install the replacement parts and pay a $1,000 match. DWCD is seeking 20 growers to take advantage of the nozzle/regulator replacement grant, and the new parts would be available starting this summer to 2025. Contact DWCD to sign up.

Water-efficient side roll sprinkler nozzle replacement packages are also available, Vlaming said.

“It is a good deal, and you will realize some good water conservation,” he said. “Every year, hundreds of acre feet of water get saved with the (more efficient) nozzles that helps to extend the season with less water.”

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has relayed information to farmers in Southwest Colorado about a Denver investment group looking to buy wheat and specialties grains for premium prices.

The company is gauging interest in the area and is willing to set up a growers informational meeting, Vlaming said, who noted he is not endorsing the company, which was not named.

In initial conversations, the company representatives indicated they would buy wheat for 20 cents to 40 cents per pound, and more if certified organic. Currently, local growers said the selling price for wheat is 10 cents per pound or less.

To express interest in a growers meeting with the investor’s group, email Vlaming at greg.rockingv@gmail.com.