Noxious weeds have found a quick way to disperse their seeds throughout Montezuma County — irrigation ditches and canals.
“They touch every irrigated area of the county,” commissioner Keenan Ertel said at the June 27 meeting.
To try and control the infestation, the county proposed a plan to have irrigation companies maintain a weed-free area within a 15-foot buffer of canals and ditches.
But John Justice, an attorney for Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., said mandating the company to control weeds on easements across private property goes beyond county authority.
He said Colorado law only allows water companies to access canals and ditches across private land easements for maintenance of water-delivery structures.
“It is a very narrow window of rights,” Justice said.
The county has struggled to control noxious weeds on private land.
Canada thistle has become a serious problem the past 25 years, infesting hay fields and diminishing crop quality, said Steve Miles, of the county weed advisory board.
“There is an economic impact if we don’t move forward solving the problem. It is to everyone’s benefit to work on controlling weeds,” he said.
Bonnie Loving, director for the Montezuma County Weed Program, stated she has received many calls from farmers who reported that random weeds were popping up in irrigated fields and proliferating along ditches and canals.
“We’re not going to eradicate weeds right away, but it is the landowners’ responsibility to start working on it,” Loving said.
Part of the problem is the noxious weed patch at the headwaters of the canal systems at McPhee reservoir near the Great Cut Dike.
“I mapped 200 acres of solid Canada thistle and musk thistle, and some Dalmatian toadflax,” Loving said in an email. “The entire waterway (has) a noxious weed problem, not just the ditches and canals.”
The San Juan National Forest was recently awarded a $10,000 grant to control weeds around the reservoir, and more treatment is expected soon.
County commissioners said that it is the landowner’s responsibility to control noxious weeds. Education and training on proper spraying near waterways is also key because chemicals can stay active in water and damage downstream crops.
Landowners with irrigation ditches are encouraged to create a management plan to control weeds. It was suggested that Montezuma Valley Irrigation remind water customers to control their weeds along ditches and canals.
Officials said a long-term solution will require cooperation between water companies, government agencies, private landowners and farmers.
“We need to raise awareness of the problem of noxious weeds,” Ertel said.
For more information on weed-management and cost-share programs, contact the Montezuma County Weed Program at 970-565-0580.