Flooding’s impact on agriculture… what’s coming to the grocery story? and next year?


Flooding (Photo credit: Nurpu)

The irrigating season is over for farmers but rows of crops were doused just last week during Colorado’s floods. As we all know, Colorado will be thinking about this flood water months after it’s gone– there will be plenty of ‘headaches’ in the coming months, maybe years. The big issue will be the ability to deliver water to agricultural fields next year, writes Eric Brown for the Greeley Tribune.

As much irrigation infrastructure is in need of repair and rebuild, irrigators have the coming winter months to get their systems in order before they’re called upon again next spring. If all goes superbly well, repairs will be made and this extra water will help meet next year’s irrigation demands. From Brown’s article:

“We still have a lot of assessing to do, but it could be upwards of about $1 million in repairs that we need to do,” said Randy Ray, executive director with the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, an entity with subdistricts that provide water augmentation and decree administration for more than 1,100 irrigation wells in Weld, Morgan and Adams counties, covering 56,900 acres. “Not only is it a lot of work, but then you have to start asking yourself, ‘How do we pay for it?’ ”

Representatives of ditch and reservoir companies said they often don’t have insurance that covers damages to their infrastructure, and some will look to take advantage of federal or state dollars and low-interest loans to help with the repairs.

As it stands, many crop growers — even ones with fields with standing water — believe much of their crops this year could be salvageable, as long as it warms up soon and stays dry, so they can get everything harvested before the killing frosts of fall set in.

There are concerns, though, about the many roads impacted by the floods that are expected to make transportation of harvested crops, livestock and other ag products longer, more complicated and expensive.

From an Associated Press article that NPR posted last week:

The damage to Colorado’s multibillion agriculture industry — the state’s third-largest at $8.5 billion last year — is vast: Aerial footage shows broad swaths of inundated farmland. Rows of crops up and down the South Platte River were submerged, including corn, lettuce, onions and soybeans.

“We’ve seen these rivers come up before. We’ve never seen it like this,” said Ron Kline Jr., whose family runs Kline Farms in the region.

Carleton, who has been touring the flooded areas, said officials won’t have a full picture of the damage until water recedes. However, they’ve begun to identify potential trouble spots. The corn harvest had just begun, and there could be losses there, as well as in produce farms in Weld County, Carleton said.

There are a tremendous impacts on farmers and ranchers, but it’s too soon to say how that might look for consumers shopping at grocery stores, says Nicholas Colglazier with the Colorado Farm Bureau and CFWE Board member.  Watch his interview on KDVR Fox 31. 

Looking beyond the devastation, there’s hope for next year. Any extra water for next year’s crops would be welcome. From the Tribune:

Destruction aside, though, local farmers — among the agricultural industry that uses about 85 percent of Colorado’s water — said any abundance of water for next year’s crops would certainly be welcome.

During last year’s drought, farmers as well as cities relied heavily on water stored in reservoirs to get through the growing season, and this year those supplies were limited.

In most years, many of Colorado’s farmers lease extra water from neighboring cities to maximize production, but this year, cities — concerned about re-filling their depleted reservoirs — leased far less water than normal to farmers, forcing some crop growers to plant less acres, or plant crops that require less water.

Before the flood, the three-reservoir Greeley-Loveland Irrigation System — which, in addition to providing cities with some of their water, provides water for about 14,000 farm acres between Greeley and Loveland — was only about 30 percent full, according to Ron Brinkman, general manager of the system.

That’s about the same as it was at this time a year ago, during the 2012 drought, Brinkman noted.

But diverting floodwaters this past week helped the system get back up to about 50 percent full by Friday, Brinkman said, and water was still flowing into the system, pushing it closer to its historic levels of being about 60 percent full going into winter.

At the rate that water was still coming in Friday, Brinkman said the system could actually be more than 60 percent full before winter rolls around.

Jon Monson, director of the water and sewer department for the city of Greeley, added Friday that, after testing, contamination had not been found in their system, and that testing would continue.

Brian Werner — spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees operations of the region’s largest water-supply project, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — said their water levels “unfortunately” were basically unchanged.

He explained that most of the system’s 12 reservoirs in the mountains and foothills — many of which are on the Western Slope — didn’t receive a lot of rain.

And for places like Lake Estes, where there was a lot of rain, there wasn’t enough capacity to store and divert all of that water into other reservoirs, like Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake. Most of it just flowed down into the Big Thompson River Canyon and downstream, Werner said.

Meanwhile, operators of other ditch companies — including FRICO, which delivers water to about 65,000 acres of farmground, along with municipalities, between Boulder and Kersey — are filling their reservoirs.

Water providers said they couldn’t fill their reservoirs during the peak of the flooding, because the larger debris flowing with the floodwaters could clog their intake systems.

But now it’s full steam ahead for those who have working systems to take in water.

The historically high water levels in recent days have caused a “free river” — meaning ditch companies and other water providers in Colorado for now can divert water off the river, regardless of how senior or how junior their water rights are.

Dave Nettles, division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources office in Greeley, said, going back the last 10 years, a “free river” at this time of the year is fairly unusual.

Still, some concerns remain for next year, with major repairs needed in order to deliver that water to the fields.

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