Ag producers seek info on leasing water rights as Colorado population booms

About two-thirds of those holding agricultural water rights in Colorado are interested in learning more about temporarily leasing their water for municipal, industrial, recreational, environmental or other uses, according to a report released Thursday by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

The report summarized the results of a survey of 250 ag producers.

The association’s Ag Water NetWORK initiated the survey, which was conducted to better understand the interests, concerns and perspectives about leasing water rights.

As background, the state water plan, released in November 2015, estimates Colorado’s population of 5.4 million could nearly double to 10 million by 2050. The plan estimates that the increased demand for water could result in the loss of as much as one-fourth of Colorado’s irrigated agricultural land through the purchase and transfer of water rights from agriculture to urban areas.

To minimize “buying and drying” of irrigated farmland, the water plan emphasizes water conservation, increased storage and temporarily leasing ag water as the means for closing the projected water supply/demand gap.

The survey also found:

• Income diversification was seen as the greatest potential advantage of leasing water;

• Reduced total delivery was preferred over rotational reduced irrigation as a means of generating water for leasing;

• There is concern that ag water rights could be put in jeopardy if they are leased for other uses;

• Acceptable lease rates will vary with location;

• Ag producers expressed concern about the impact of temporary reduced irrigation on soil quality;

• Given a choice, respondents preferred leasing their water rights over selling by a 20 to 1 margin;

• And more research is needed on cropping system and soil quality under reduced irrigation.

The full report, titled “2016 Ag Water Right Holder Survey Results,” is available online.