Thu February 7, 2013

As Drought Lingers, Colorado Tries to Prevent Economic Dryout

Some Northern Colorado cities are considering watering restrictions as they contend with the lingering drought -- and its effect on the region's economy.

Northern Colorado Business Report publisher Jeff Nuttall says farmers and ranchers in particular are concerned they won't have enough water with snowpack levels below normal for this time of year.

Erin O'Toole talks with NCBR publisher Jeff Nuttall about how area farmers are coping with the lingering drought for Morning Edition

"They are also worried about decreased water supplies from the city of Fort Collins, which has said it won’t rent farmers water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project this year," says Nuttall.  "The city is saving that water because it’s concerned that it will get less water than normal from the Poudre River. And that’s because last year’s High Park Fire charred mountainsides in the area’s watershed, leading to poor water quality."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service expects lower than average water supplies this spring and summer in the West. Colorado could be especially hard-hit. Currently, snowpack levels statewide [.pdf] are 75% of normal.

Interview highlights:

About what this means for Northern Colorado farmers...

"We talked to Troy Seaworth, whose family has farmed land north of Wellington since the 1940s. They farm sugar beets, corn, hay and wheat on 2,000 acres. Farmers like Seaworth have worried for months about this year’s snowpack. He says farmers will need snowpack amounting to at least 100 percent of average to rebuild water supplies."

On how farmers are preparing for a drought that's likely to drag on for another year...

"The Seaworths have been taking steps to use less water since the 1980s. The family has spent around $120,000 for each of its 17 center-pivot sprinkler systems, and another $5,000 for software to run each one. 

The technology cuts their water use from 3 acre-feet to between 1 and 1.5 acre-feet. For perspective: an acre foot is enough to supply more than two households annually."

On how the drought may affect people other than farmers...

"The city of Fort Collins may enact watering restrictions, which would allow watering only two days per week and on a certain schedule. The restrictions would bar watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and prohibit watering of sidewalks and patios except as necessary for health and safety. The last time the city enacted water restrictions was a decade ago, so this is serious business."

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