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The Year the Ditch Ran Dry?

By July 31, 2012Farm News

One of the first questions that we’ve been getting this season is, “How are things going with your water?”  There’s usually a look of concern on the face of the person asking because  there’s not much water anywhere in western Colorado this summer. A mild winter with very little early spring moisture led into a hot and dry summer.  In the last three weeks, we have received a bit of rainfall, though we are well behind previous years precipitation.  Lately, we have these threatening looking afternoon thunderheads roll through–that do nothing.  I have a family member who calls them “constipated thunderstorms” because the storms gets all backed up and then doesn’t do anything.  You get the idea…

We get our irrigation water from last winters’ snow pack on the Grand Mesa. In a nutshell, that water either runs down the creeks or is stored in reservoirs on the Grand Mesa that will be tapped into later in the summer.   In the spring we utilize the water that is naturally running down the creek.  When snowmelt ends and the creek drops, we change over to using our reservoir water.  Our ditch company diverts water from Leroux Creek and, after splitting off the water for other farms, it arrives on our doorstep.  There are at least twenty ditch systems in the North Fork Valley, some with better water rights than others.  Our ditch system is the Leroux Creek Waters Users, a system that has more senior rights than some of the other ditch systems in the valley.

We have been careful in our watering this season (as we usually are, however a year like this makes us juggle watering differently). With fruit trees, we don’t want to put all the water on them earlier in the season and short them in the fall. If trees aren’t watered well in the fall before we “put them to bed”, they’ll be dry, stressed and more likely to suffer winter damage (I think this is what happens to me?)  Conversely, the trees need sufficient water in the spring and summer to nourish a full crop. This year, even with being careful with water we’re using, we will likely run out in mid-September.  That means no more water in the ditches, no more water in the reservoirs.  Rain dance anyone?

We hope that with additional water we’ve leased, we will get through this dry season.  One of the reasons we lease this water every year is to cover ourselves during a year like this.  These long term leases are sort of like a water insurance policy.  We have so many friends who are growers around here–alfalfa, produce, flowers, animals–it’s not simply us. During a season like this, we gut it out, do the best we can, and see each other on the slopes during the winter!  And we hope it’ll be snowing A LOT.

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