1:03pm

Wed November 13, 2013
Agriculture

Hefty Flood Costs Weigh On Colorado Farmers

On September 23rd, not long after the flood waters receded from his farmland outside LaSalle, Colo., Glenn Werning spent the day getting drenched, fermenting corn out of a silo.
Credit Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Farmers and ranchers are tallying just how expensive September’s flooding will be for Colorado’s agriculture economy. Estimates are quickly adding up to tens of millions of dollars.

Hear Harvest Public Media and KUNC's Luke Runyon break down the estimated costs to Colorado's farmers.

It’ll be a drop in the bucket for the state’s overall farm economy. But for the individual farmers pushed out of their homes and kept out of their fields, the flood’s effects are still very real and costly.

For Glenn Werning, his two sons and their 700 acre farm outside LaSalle, Colo., recovery is still in the initial phases.

“It’s a different kind of a process,” Werning said. “We never imagined it’d be this time-consuming and how little you get done in two months. Two months now.”

This year was a challenge even before the flood. Hail in August stripped ears of corn and pummeled vegetable farms. Crippling summer heat didn’t help either. Then debris carried by the high water littered fields throughout the South Platte River Basin.

In two months time, Werning, along with his family and friends, have managed to tear out the floors from inside their decades-old homestead. Soaked insulation is piled up outside and his chimney is sinking into the ground.

“I didn’t know that stuff could rust this fast. Machinery that was lying around, it rusted and it was amazing how hard it rusts,” Werning said.

On their farm situated at the confluence of the South Platte and Big Thompson Rivers, Werning and his sons lost about 25 acres of corn, a relatively small amount. A recent report from Colorado State University estimates 7,500 acres lost in the South Platte River basin, including corn, hay and sugar beets.

That could cost Colorado farmers upwards of $5.5 million. That figure doesn’t count the cost to fix miles of fencing, track down missing livestock and to clear sand bars that materialized in fields.

“In the grand scheme of the value of the total farm production in this state it’s a very small percentage, but if I’m one of the individual farmers affected, it’s a big cost,” said Norm Dalsted, a researcher with Colorado State University's Agricultural and Resource Economics department.

Bent, useless irrigation pipes discarded near Left Hand Creek and the Crocker Ditch north of Boulder, Colo.
Credit Jim Hill / KUNC

Expensive irrigation systems were also damaged in the flooding. Without reliable water, many farmers can’t grow profitable crops. Closer to the foothills, streams like the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek rerouted themselves leaving some irrigation systems without a connection to the flowing water.

“Where the river didn’t jump its banks, and it came down with its full volume and full force, it hit that irrigation infrastructure and in some areas completely wiped out 100-year-old structures,” said Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

In the flood’s immediate aftermath, Cronin had a team call up farmers who use irrigation water to gauge the destruction. That early estimate was around $6 million.

“What we have since found out if that they were off by a significant amount as they actually got engineers in to estimate the costs,” Cronin said.

The Haldi Intake Facility on Left Hand Creek sustained damage from September's flood.
Credit Jim Hill / KUNC

Those initial estimates were off by about $10 million. The price tag to fix just the irrigation lines along the St. Vrain and Left Hand Creek alone will approach $16 million. The state made grant money and low-interest loans available to farmers and ditch companies to make repairs, but they won’t cover the total price tag. Shareholders who own and manage the ditches will have to pick up the rest of the costs.

Glenn Werning and his neighbors received a grant to fix up their tattered water delivery system. Those fixes will need to be finished before next spring’s planting.