I’m a transplant to my now-home state of Colorado. When I came here where I’m living now was about the edge of suburban development. Denver has a law that restricted it from growing called the Poundstone Amendment (wherein cities couldn’t annex without a vote of approval of land owners.) My wife is a fifth generation native, her ancestors settled and farmed northeast of Denver for a few decades. Winter wheat was a big crop, Rocky Ford produced perhaps the best melons I’ve eaten and in the summer it was nearly impossible to drive around without tripping over a small farmer’s market (even in the city).
Fast forward... Farmers in Rocky Ford sold their water to a Aurora. Farmers in the Northeast corridor (east side of the divide) sold their water to Denver. Urban planning boomed (again) and even during official drought years it was not uncommon for 30,000 new building permits a month to be issued in the metro area. With their new-found water wealth, the urban planners created sprawl, they loved the income and were addicted to it. While we were told to conserve, they’d build a few thousand more homes with the water we didn’t use. Their formulas used a usage ratio of existing users, so the more we conserved – the more building permits they could justify.
Remember the Listeria deaths attributed to melons from Southeastern Colorado? Do you know how the Listeria got a hold? The farmers had “upgraded” their facilities, and were assured that city provided water was sufficiently chlorinated that they could just use city water, and not recycle and treat their own – all those nasty chemicals they added to the wash water were ruining the environment! Well, as any dummy can figure out – chlorination varies day to day in any municipal water supply – and there was insufficient chlorine to cleanse the melons for market – so whereas the old environmentally-unfriendly method kept us alive, the new-improved city mandated solution killed several people – killing, essentially, the melon growing industry in that part of the state.
Many people don’t realizes that Water has it’s own court system, at least in Colorado it does. Water is politics and big money urban developers have managed to buy nearly all the surface water and aquifer accessed rights in the state.
Our agriculture isn’t producing the same amounts of food as it was ten years ago not because we have a drought problem, it’s because the farmers don’t have the rights to the water anymore – they were “squandering” it and environmental lawsuit after lawsuit put most of them out of business – forcing them to sell their water rights to a city. When you look at the agricultural production numbers plummeting in Colorado, don’t attribute it to the “drought” attribute it exactly where the blame belongs – urban sprawl. What else did we get with urban sprawl? Hundreds of thousands of city-dwellers dependent on the state for their every need. With government employment and service industry growth the majority of people were liberals who moved here for the “rocky mountain high” – bringing their needs for cheap housing and water with them.
We are a liberal majority-controlled state only in the cities. Everywhere else in the state, reason reigns. Our farmers will never produce again, because the city will never return water rights to the land. Our drought has always been a fact of life in Colorado, according to my wife’s relatives water has never been abundant for farmers. Our farmers weren’t victims of G-d’s will and poor rainfall, they were victims of political realities and urban sprawl. So, yes, we are part of the seven states with water problems, but it’s a redistribution problem not one of agriculture. - Jim H.