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Colorado's "super ditch": can farmers cooperate to make lemonade out of lemons?




Winner, Jay, author
Smith, MaryLou, author
U.S. Committee on Irrigation and Drainage, publisher

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Colorado's Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) shows that the state has only enough water to meet about 70% of its needs by the year 2030, with most of the gap occurring in the front range urban areas of the state. The SWSI report forecasts that a majority of the water needed for cities will transition from agriculture, which currently uses more than 80% of the state's water. Agricultural communities are concerned what such a transition could mean to their viability. The second phase of SWSI investigated such alternatives to the traditional "buy and dry" as interruptible supply agreements, rotational fallowing leases, water banks and cropping changes. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (LAVWCD), inspired by the Palo Verde Irrigation District in California, set about to see if ditch companies in the lower Arkansas Valley might agree to form a "super ditch" whereby they would cooperatively pool part of their water to gain operational flexibility and make it available for lease to cities. By working together in a rotational fallowing scheme, they conceptualize that they will have greater bargaining power. Perhaps by converting part of their land from growing hay or corn to growing "water" they could actually benefit financially, and keep their agricultural communities viable. Those attempting to transform the concept into reality are finding that "the devil is in the details." This paper is presented as a sociological case study in the making. The authors detail the steps Super Ditch organizers went through to determine if their scheme is feasible, as well as the hoops they are now going through to try to bring it to fruition.


Presented at Urbanization of irrigated land and water transfers: a USCID water management conference on May 28-31, 2008 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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