Big Brother refuses to allow citizens to rescue harvest
GREELEY, Colo. – Farmers in Colorado are watching their fields dry up amid one of the worst droughts in the state’s history.
But just a few feet beneath them, the water is so plentiful it’s flooding basements and causing septic systems to overflow.
Yet the government will not permit farmers to pump the water to save their crops.
With a lower-than-normal snowpack, farmers in northeastern Colorado who rely on the South Platte River are facing severe water shortages in which they are not able to even water some of their crops.
Dennis Hoshiko, a fourth-generation onion farmer with 2,500 acres, said he has let around 15 percent of his land sit fallow this season because of a lack of water.
“We have entire sections where the seeds were planted a month ago in dry earth, and they have not sprouted yet because they have not been watered.”
While it may seem to be a case of battling Mother Nature, the problem could be solved if government officials would simply flip a switch.
Many of the farmers have wells that draw groundwater for use in situations like this. But in 2006, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered 440 wells shut down and curtailed the pumping of another 1,000.
Under long-established Colorado water doctrine, water is distributed under the principle of first in use, first in right whereby prior users have senior rights to junior users. The decision to shut down the wells came about during a historic drought in the early 2000s that caused water in the South Platte River to become scarce.
Senior right holders such as the cities of Boulder, Centennial, Highlands Ranch and Sterling, which had experienced phenomenal growth in the 1990s, became concerned their water supply in the river basin was being depleted by junior water-right well owners who were pumping water from the Alluvium Aquifer, which flows into the South Platte River Basin.
Following the shutdowns, the volume of water discharged into the artificial recharge systems in the South Platte Basin has increased, reaching more than 350,000 acre-feet in 2009. The increase in ground water has now come to the point where local basements are being flooded, causing damage to the homes.
Doug Leafgren, president of Northern Colorado Geotech, which conducts soil and percolation testing, said his organization has noticed higher groundwater levels during their subsurface investigations in the county over the past four or five years.
Glen Fritzler, a farmer who operates the nationally known Fritzler Corn Maze that has been featured on the “Today” show, said he has spent more than $50,000 in home repairs because of flooding over the past few years.
While the flooding is a concern, Fritzler said the rising groundwater levels are causing area septic systems to fail, forcing human waste to rise to the surface.
Leafgren said septic systems require four feet of soil above a “limiting zone” to work effectively.
“If an older system previously maintained four feet of suitable soil, but groundwater has since decreased this zone, there is potential for contamination of the groundwater system with human waste,” he said. “It could also be possible that higher groundwater would cause the waste to come to the ground surface.”
Despite the rising ground-water levels, officials still refuse to let the farmers turn on their wells, and that means many farmers will be out of water in the next few weeks.
“If we are not allowed to turn our wells on, our crops will dry up and we will lose everything,” Fritzler said. “What is so maddening is that we have the water we need right under our feet, and it is so plentiful it is flooding our basements. We cannot use it.”
Thanks to BrotherJohnF