Tuesday, 19th November 2019

Farming vs. Water Politics — the challenge to the future of our farms

Posted on 03. Jul, 2012 by in Brighton 125th INTERVIEWS

Farming vs. Water Politics —  the challenge to the future of our farms

Farming vs ‘water politics’.  An interview with Fourth Generational Farm Owner, Deb Palizzi over the impending farm crisis in Colorado.

Q: Who cares about the problems facing our local farms?
The public are the ones who want our produce, tell us how much they value it, and are the most disturbed that [farming] could be a lost art.  They’re concerned that they may not be able to go to their local farms anymore, if farmers don’t have the water to supply it.  Our residents are even writing letters to the government, but are not being listened to.  Why is that?   Why do the people of this state not have the power to demand what should be done with their water?  Why would it be so unimportant that we not have fresh meats and vegetables?  We build luxurious buildings and large infrastructure but fail to take care of what is necessary to survive.

Q: Some people have described an ‘eight day supply of food’ in the event of a catastrophe in our country.  Do you believe this and is it true that our supply of food is being continually diminished?
A:   Yes.  If we are solely supplying our own people in this country, [the responsibility] is not going to be held at the national level, it will be delegated to the level of the states.  If we get into a dire situation, we’re going to first need to worry about what is going on in our own state.  There is not going to be time to think.  Grounds that are currently being destroyed for the purposes of development are also making it worse.  They are gone forever and soils destined to be developed will never again be fertile grounds for farming.  Nothing can ever be grown again on developed  farmlands – not even weeds.  Agriculture cannot come back.

Q: What about water?  Are supplies sufficient for farming?
A:  Farmland is nothing without water, which is our main Colorado resource.  And the sad thing is, even though it’s being restricted, there would otherwise be an adequate supply.  Six feet below the surface, water is sufficiently abundant [for our farms].

Q: Is the supply of water a matter of prioritization?   Do you feel that the ‘water shortage’ is a political one?
A: Definitely.  It’s definitely political.  Go north from Platteville and look at all the homes – their basements are flooded.  Even here –look at our groundwater levels.  They are high.  The table levels are higher than they’ve been during my whole experience here as a farmer in Brighton.  One of the problems is that we as a society are getting away from what is natural and moving toward what is profitable — like seeding clouds.  You can’t mess with Mother Nature anymore than destroying our God-given natural resources.  Once they are gone, they are gone.  We’ll never get them back.

Q: Is the ‘political shortage’ of water the number one thing that’s threatening farms in Colorado?
A: Definitely.  There’s no doubt about it.  Farms are like human beings, themselves – they cannot survive without water.

Q: You mentioned that Weld County, Colorado is the number three national farm producer  Is Weld County in jeopardy and how does Weld County’s plight compare to our own in Adams County?
A: I would say we are right behind them.  Weld County has seen a reduction of water and their ditches are going dry.  Adams County is heading that way, too.  We are getting closer and closer to the same situation every day.  Our local farms all have irrigation pumps but don’t have the option to use them.  Even those who can use them, like a farmer I know, can only access them for one week out of a year.  One week’s access to irrigation is like being given a dollar to live on for an entire year.  Why even waste the water for a week when it can’t have much of an overall result?  Water engineers are telling us that there is sufficient groundwater for us to irrigate and they would like to prove their point.  Yet nobody will allow us to prove that the government is wrong [about a need to restrict access to water].  Today there are fewer farmers than ever before.  So how can farmers be blamed for depleting the water supply?   We need to go back to common sense and basic math.  In an age of fewer farmers and increasing development, how can agriculture be blamed for less water?   Our basic water resources are being siphoned away from sustaining our current population through farming so that we can attract more residents from out of state through development.  It makes little sense.

Q: Why do you believe that the pre-existing rights of farmers to well water have been denied?
A: We still have the right to use our ditch irrigation rights by paying a premium every year.  The problem is that there is not a lot of water in the ditch – a problem that existed back in the 1930s.  At that time, the larger number of farms faced an inadequate supply of water.  And that’s when the State of Colorado advised the farm owners to drill water wells in order to save their crops.  I think about 80% of our current wells were drilled during the 30s.  Wells are currently not our primary source of water.  They are our second source of water.

Q: As a result of a 2002 Water Court ruling, are your rights to tap water wells restricted?
A: We can’t touch our wells.  We are exclusively ditch and natural rain limited.  The original “Central” farms get one week out of the summer to pump their wells and a farm’s ability to tap their wells depends upon which group of farms you they are part of.   Personally, I have a 1932 decree from the State of Colorado granting me the authority to use my well.   We all have decrees but [today] they mean nothing since the state has removed the right for us to pump our wells.  It makes no sense.  A decree from the State of Colorado ought to have authority.

Q: What about the power of the people?  What about the power of local legislators – like mayors, councils, and commissioners?  Can they not influence the government to allow access to water?
A: Our people have always been behind us.  But look at Weld County.  Their commissioners are behind their farmers and were even en route to meet Governor Hickenlooper for a meeting to discuss the governor issuing an executive order to allow farmers access to water.  But before they even got to he meeting, it was cited on the news that our governor was not going to issue such an order until “one-third of [our] crops have dried up.”  But how can one-third of our crops dry up without us losing all our crops?  We don’t need water after the fact.  If our crops are dried up, there is no production.  And if our animals are fed with crops that can’t be produced, they, themselves can’t be a resource for us either.  Are we going to be solely dependent upon a foreign country for our food supply?  That is a very scary issue.

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