The Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) has collaborated to produce a video series showcasing how farmers, ranchers, ditch companies, conservancy districts, environmental groups and other entities have come together to improve river health, irrigation efficiency and environmental and recreational use of Colorado’s limited water supplies.
“As Colorado’s population continues to grow, farmland is being converted to development and agricultural water is being sold or rented to municipalities,” said Greg Peterson, CAWA executive director. “It is imperative that we work with others to preserve agricultural irrigation water and that farmers and ranchers get involved in water planning.”
The first video is the story of how different users united to restore Left Hand Creek in Boulder County after the 2013 flood. It shows how working together made the creek better for all users, including improvements for irrigators.
“(The 2013 flood) was the third flood I’ve seen come through here, but it was by far the most destructive,” said cow-calf operator Ron Sutherland, Twin Lakes Ranch, Niwot, Colo. Sutherland’s ranch has been designated a Colorado Centennial Farm and has been operated by his family since 1881.
“There was 11-15 feet of water, canyon wall to canyon wall,” said Terry Plummer, Left Hand Ditch Company, which provides irrigation water for 30,000 acres of farmland as well as providing water to Left Hand Water District to make drinking water for towns and cities.
Farmers and ranchers along the creek had to deal with washouts that were 30 feet long and eight to ten feet deep. The flooding on Sutherland’s property washed out Left Hand Creek, eroding pastureland and making the creek difficult for his cattle to access.
According to Jessica Olson, Left Hand Watershed Center, Longmont, Colo., the flood was the catalyst that brought together farmers, the ditch company and municipal and environmental groups to decide on a plan that would restore what the flood destroyed. The group worked with the state and federal governments to secure funding to help implement the plan.
The plan included stabilizing the creek bed to protect agriculture infrastructure and restoring creek banks for both aesthetic and practical reasons. It also included reconnecting floodplains and grading low flow channels in the creek bottom. On Sutherland’s ranch, ramps were created to allow cattle to access water at a designated location along the creek, while also protecting newly planted vegetation.
“The low flow channels sped up the water (in the creek), enabling us to get the irrigation water where it needs to go faster and more efficiently,” said Plummer.
“That (his ranch land) has all been filled in and reseeded,” said Sutherland. “I’m glad to see them come in and restore it.”
Olson added that the project also incorporated bank stabilization which reduces the amount of sediment flowing into the creek, which reduces the need for irrigation users to clean clogged creek beds and diversion areas.
“This work was win-win,” said Olson. “We were able to return the river to a more natural and beautiful state, improve fish habitat and increase the efficiency and quality of water used by agriculture.
To see a six-minute video of the Left Hand Creek restoration project, a fact sheet on this project and other resources, visit https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management For more resources on funding for agricultural infrastructure improvements, contact Greg Peterson with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org
Grants to help fund stream management planning, such as those used by the Left Hand Creek project, are available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The deadline for the next round of funding is Nov. 1, 2019. For more information on stream management planning in your area visit coloradosmp.org, or contact Alyssa Clarida with the Colorado Department of Agriculture State Conservation Board at email@example.com
About Colorado Ag Water Alliance: The Colorado Ag Water Alliance is comprised of agricultural leaders from across Colorado committed to the preservation of agriculture through the wise use of Colorado’s water resources. Members represent major facets of production agriculture, as well as partner organizations such as the Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University, Colorado Department of Agriculture, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.