24th Annual South Platte Forum: The Ins and Outs of the South Platte Basin – Digging In

As part of its two-day conference, the South Platte Forum hosted a panel that discussed Colorado agriculture and the effects of the September 2013 floods on livestock and crops in the South Platte Basin.

The first speaker, David Petrocco, a local vegetable farmer in Adams and Weld Counties, discussed the basics of local agriculture, including methods of applying water to crops, water conservation, and the beneficial uses of water.  As Petrocco explained, timely irrigation is every farmer’s main concern.  Without adequate water, certain crops would stress, thus affecting their marketable quality.  Irrigation wells were useful resources for timely irrigation prior to 2006.  However, due to severe drought in 2006 the State of Colorado shut down many irrigation wells, which impacted the production of crops.

Most importantly, Petrocco discussed the challenges of water conservation.  Noting the importance of agriculture, Petrocco suggested that, along with improving irrigation efficiency, water conservation efforts should focus on cities and municipalities decreasing the watering of golf courses, parks, and road frontages in order to provide more water to agriculture.  Petrocco also relayed the problems of pondweeds, aggressive vegetation that grow on the bottom of rivers, that raise water levels, restrict the water’s flow, and ultimately consume a great amount of the water in which they grow.  Even though the South Platte River’s water quality has improved greatly, Petrocco argued these pondweeds were a growing concern deserving immediate attention.

Next, Adrian Card and Keith Maxey discussed the on-the-ground impacts of the September 2013 flood on the Colorado farming community.  Card serves as Boulder County’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Agent with Colorado State University in Boulder County.  Maxey is the Weld County Director and Livestock Extension Agent with Colorado State University.  Their presentation started with a video showing aerial footage of the flooding and its subsequent destruction in Longmont and other areas of Colorado.

In addition, Card and Maxey spoke on how the flooding greatly affected mountain communities by destroying roads and restricting access.  In Weld County, the flood closed over one hundred roads.  Even a month after the flooding, crossing over the Platte River was cumbersome for children to get to school and for farmers to make product deliveries.

Card and Maxey then discussed floodwater contamination on local crops.  Concerned with floodwater mixing with various contaminants like raw sewage, oil and gas spills, and pesticides from agricultural fields, the United States Food and Drug Administration declared that any crop touched by floodwater was adulterated and thus unmarketable.  This had a dramatic and expensive toll on the affected Colorado farmers.  In the South Platte Basin, crop loss from floodwaters is estimated between $3.5 and $5.5 million.

The last speaker, Sean Cronin, discussed what water providers focused upon in the aftermath of the flood.  Cronin is the executive director for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.  Cronin reported that in District Five of the Conservancy District the flood damaged 101 ditches and reservoirs, amounting to almost ten million dollars of estimated damage.  Cronin mentioned, however, that this estimate may go down as water levels subside and the infrastructure shows less damage than previously feared.

Cronin then discussed flood recovery.  First, Cronin mentioned the availability of Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance to those who apply.  Second, Cronin mentioned Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) loans and grants, which apply to individuals who experienced approximately one to two million dollars in damages.  The loan carries no interest and no payments for three years.  Third, Cronin mentioned partnerships forming between many different agencies interested in helping support the affected water users.  Lastly, Cronin described local “stream teams,” which consist of local volunteers, engineers, and water experts.  The CWCB headed the state “stream team,” which provided technical assistance to local groups by coordinating and aiding them with financial assistance and permits.  However, aiding water users without creating conflicts and obstacles proved challenging.  Justifiably, water users want to make long-term repairs immediately even though it might be more beneficial and financially prudent to make incremental short-term repairs.

Cronin commended the emergency response teams and acknowledged the heroism, human kindness, and leadership during the devastating floods.  However, he also stressed that Colorado lacked any kind of emergency flood plan and argued Colorado needed to address this and plan for future floods.

Overall, the panel extensively addressed the concerns of the September flooding, the affects of the flooding, and what Colorado could do better for the future.

 

The title picture is of the north fork of the South Platte River, located in Buffalo Creek, Colorado.  The picture is attributed to Jeffery Beall and is protected by the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.  The use of this picture does not in any way suggest that Jeffery Beall endorses this blog.