DENVER – To help Colorado’s agricultural industry mitigate the effects of the ongoing mega drought and improve the efficiency of agricultural water distribution systems, the Colorado Department of Agriculture awarded 21 competitive grants totaling more than $1.68 million to agricultural businesses, tribal organizations, water management entities, and watershed improvement projects across the state. 

“Water is life for Colorado. I’m thrilled that these grants sent much needed funds across our state to address the ongoing impacts of the drought and support our agricultural industry. I look forward to seeing the impact of these grants for years to come,” said Governor Jared Polis.

The funds supported a variety of projects, including weed treatment and reseeding in drought stricken areas, improvements to the infrastructure and efficiency of water diversion and ditch projects, and improvements to grazing lands through a variety of methods that improve soil health and range condition. The project proposals were reviewed by a committee of experts, who selected the final grant recipients. 

“As we continue to face the effects of climate change, drought mitigation and resiliency tactics are becoming a daily consideration for farmers and ranchers across Colorado. These Drought Resiliency grants, funded with Colorado Comeback recovery funds, are helping producers, conservation districts, and ag water users across our state to improve their water infrastructure and prepare for ongoing drought,” said Les Owen, director of the Conservation Division for Colorado Department of Agriculture. 

The competitive grants funded more than 100 projects involving irrigation, pasture, livestock distribution, or water diversion projects that promote environmental stewardship among ag producers and ag water users. The funding for the grants comes from SB 21-234, which appropriated $3M to CDA to fund drought mitigation, energy efficiency, and soil health projects, including $15,000 to each of Colorado’s 74 Conservation Districts. 

In the San Luis Valley, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP), a non-profit organization whose mission is to restore the Rio Grande river and watershed health, partnered with the Billings Ditch Co. to identify and mitigate headgate and canal issues. The drought stimulus funds gave RGHRP and their partner expanded capacity for improvements beyond the original project scope. Now, the infrastructure supports efficient use of flood irrigation, which additionally creates wetlands and wet meadows for wildlife use, and stabilizes the bank for improved fish habitat and aquatic connectivity. The timeliness of the funding created the opportunity for increased resilience and huge benefits to the agricultural community as they look towards a future with climate change.

“Agriculture is the backbone of the San Luis Valley and it’s connected to the health of the Rio Grande and the aquifers. Funding from this grant has helped us improve the efficiency of the Billings Ditch diversion infrastructure, which means farmers along the Rio Grande will have more reliable access to water throughout the growing season,” said Emma Reesor, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project in Monte Vista, which received $78,000 in grant funding. 

In San Miguel County on the Western Slope, the Farmers Water Development Company received a $139,315 grant to repair the slip of the Gurley Reservoir Dam. The improvements to the reservoir will allow it to be filled to capacity (approximately 3,199 acre feet) and support the needs of producers on Wright’s Mesa, which supports 210 agricultural shareholders. This will help farmers irrigate longer into the season, allow the Town of Norwood to sell domestic water taps again, and give Norwood residents access to raw water services. 

Other examples of projects include:

  • Restoring a historic water conveyance system that supported a 130 acres irrigated pasture in Rio Grande County (grant amount $42,000)
  • Expand the use of virtual fencing to enable rotational grazing of cattle as a way to control livestock movements to improve watershed management and wildlife habitat in Eagle County (grant amount $16,595).
  • Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of a water diversion structure and construction of a control building for automation equipment in Logan County (grant amount $100,000, covers about 10% of total cost of project). 
  • Training for the Colorado Master Irrigator (COMI) program, which expanded into San Luis Valley and the Republican River basin and trained more than 70 people statewide on how to integrate advanced conservation and irrigation management practices for production agriculture (grant amount $150,000).

Additionally, $75,000 was awarded to three of Colorado’s Grazing Advisory Boards and $144,985 was awarded to Colorado State University for programs that include training on drought management, installation of soil moisture sensors to monitor agricultural drought, and expanding the WAVE program (the Watershed Assessment and Vulnerability Evaluations program provides post-wildfire land health assessment for private landowners).

Additionally, the CSU Extension Drought Advisors and Colorado Master Irrigator trainings funded by the grants are preparing the next generation of ag leaders to save water, conserve energy, build soil health, enhance farm profitability and be prepared for difficult but likely circumstances such as anticipating, planning for, and managing drought impacts on their operations.

By Tucker Allmer - The BARN

Tucker Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.

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