Confluence: As Northern Colorado searches for water security, ag falls in the crosshairs

LOVELAND — Agriculture experts are worried about the industry’s influence over water use in the region as urban cities rush to secure water rights.

The discussions were part of Confluence, BizWest’s inaugural conference on securing water supply in Northern Colorado.

Greeley city manager Roy Otto describes his town’s position as a split personality. Greeley calls itself the agricultural capital of Colorado, and the industry contributes $1.8 billion of Weld County’s economic outputs, but its population has grown dramatically over the past several years and is projected to grow eight times its size from 1970 by the year 2050. It’s pursued several annexations of farmland to provide the extra space needed for housing and commercial districts since the turn of the century.

Otto said Greeley wants to be a partner to the local farm industry, whether by partnering on water-conservation practices on working farms, buying land and keeping it in production by recruiting aspiring farmers or working with Colorado State University water researchers.

He also pitched regionalism as the key to making sure water resources are equitable for urban areas and farming communities.

“Our water plan is very important to us, but as we’re looking at our long-term water needs, its was all based on buy-and-dry,” he said. “And we all understand that without water, ag is probably not going to be very productive and viable.”

Otto also said he hopes to survey Greeley residents on their water knowledge soon to gauge their interest in farmland and water-rights protection.

Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water, said local communities have to work with developers that are buying farmland as development targets to try and keep water local instead of selling the land’s water rights to interests elsewhere in the state.

Thomas Haren, CEO of farm-development company AGPROfessionals in Greeley, said farmers approaching retirement age are in a good position to sell as fewer young people enter agriculture because of lack of interest or struggles to break into the industry. Meanwhile, local municipalities are making more “buy and dry” deals to secure water rights on the land.

Those deals are frowned upon by the Colorado Water Plan because there isn’t enough long-term supply, and it hurts rural communities that drive local economies by supporting farmers.

Haren believes Colorado is going to see the largest transfer of farm assets since the 1980s Farm Crisis. It won’t be because of a tanking farm economy, he said: It will be driven by demand for water.

Haren pitched a model idea to secure water in the future: piping it in from the Midwest. He said a cross-country pipe, similar to an oil or natural gas pipe, could supply 100,000 acre feet of water annually for around $1 billion. That’s a similar price tag to the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project.

Haren said the pipeline is “scary feasible”, but it’s just one option Northern Colorado has to look at instead of trying to divide up the water resources it currently has.

“We’re shuffling the deck and potentially fighting something that we really don’t have to begin with,” he said.

LOVELAND — Agriculture experts are worried about the industry’s influence over water use in the region as urban cities rush to secure water rights.

The discussions were part of Confluence, BizWest’s inaugural conference on securing water supply in Northern Colorado.

Greeley city manager Roy Otto describes his town’s position as a split personality. Greeley calls itself the agricultural capital of Colorado, and the industry contributes $1.8 billion of Weld County’s economic outputs, but its population has grown dramatically over the past several years and is projected to grow eight times its size from 1970 by the year 2050. It’s pursued several annexations of farmland to provide the extra space needed for housing and commercial districts since the turn of the century.

Otto said Greeley wants to be a partner to the local farm industry, whether by partnering on water-conservation practices on working farms, buying land and keeping it in production by recruiting aspiring farmers or working with Colorado State University water researchers.

He also pitched regionalism as the key to making sure water resources are equitable for urban areas and farming communities.

“Our water plan is very important to us, but as we’re looking at our long-term water needs, its was all based on buy-and-dry,” he said. “And we all understand that without water, ag is probably not going to be very productive and viable.”

Otto also said he hopes to survey Greeley residents on their water knowledge soon to gauge their interest in farmland and water-rights protection.

Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water, said local…