Drought concerns continue to grow

News

Drought concerns continue to grow

Southwest Colorado agriculture producers hope for relief but none is in sight
Adrian Baldarrama wheels irrigation pipe into place to water at the Oliver farm northwest of Cortez.
After staying up all night baling hay, Destry Daves discusses the drought at his farm northwest of Cortez.
Irrigation water sprays on a field of pinto beans northwest of Cortez. Farmers are worried that McPhee Reservior will be drained too much this year without more moisture.
Fourth generation farmer Dillon Daves worries about the amount of grass for his cows to graze on as the summer heats up.
It’s bad, but will 2013 be worse?

Some more concerned with next summer’s water shortages

By Kimberly Benedict
Journal Staff Writer
Have a conversation with anyone about the dry conditions in Southwest Colorado and you are likely to hear the words, “It’s just like 2002.” But for agricultural producers in Montezuma and Dolores counties, 2012 isn’t 2002, not yet anyway.
The drought of 2002 was one of the worst in Colorado history, according to data from the Drought Lab at Colorado State University. The drought was typified by profound water shortages, two of the largest wildfires Colorado has ever seen, and widespread crop loss.
Locally, the 2002 agricultural year ushered in irrigation shortages, due to a less-than-full McPhee Reservoir, along with severe losses for dryland crops. This year, McPhee Reservoir is full and water managers expect to meet irrigation demand.
It was the year before the devastating drought that may provide the most accurate historical lesson for 2012.
“To me, this isn’t 2002, this is 2001,” said Paul White, executive director of the Montezuma County Farm Service Agency. “In 2001 we had a below normal winter but we greened up and we had normal storage for the Dolores Water project. Dryland producers were the ones who got hurt. It was kind of like this (year).
“You have to understand, to get into 2002 we had to dry out and get no moisture for the winter. We are green this year, like the beginning of 2001. The drought of 2002 was a 23-month drought that started in 2001. I think we may be looking at that cycle again.”
Local farmer Destry Daves agreed that though on-the-ground conditions are dry, much like 2002, the water situation for irrigated crops is much better this year.
“The weather is a lot like 2002, but there is more water in the lake,” Daves said. “But on the other hand, it has been so windy and hot and I don’t remember it being quite like that in 2002, either.”
Because 2002 is fresh in the minds of area farmers and ranchers, White said many producers are exercising caution and planning in their approach to 2012.
“The memory of 2002 is a driving force in what people are doing this year,” White said. “That year is really fresh in everyone’s mind. Guys are drawing back and being careful.”
Some of that caution is evident in fewer new pieces of equipment and machinery in the fields as farmers save rather than spend, and some is evident in planting choices being made by producers in the area.
Some farmers have made the decision not to plant this year, weighing the cost of planting and harvesting against the meager crops likely to result from the dry season.
“(Farmers) have changed their rotation around to reduce their plantings, we are seeing that a lot,” White said. “If they were planning to summer fallow a field in the next few years, they are going ahead and doing it this year. Everyone is trying to reduce their costs. They can’t afford to invest money and then lose it.”
White said the drought of 2002 hurt many of the producers in the area, and most just recovered from the impacts. Another drought so soon could have devastating consequences.
“Can they survive another drought? There were guys that didn’t survive the last one,” White said. “It really depends on what comes after this year. I am concerned, especially about the young generation. They may not be in the financial situation to weather this.
“I have seen farms and ranches change hands as people have decided to get out. For people still in and young people who decided to farm, this is going to be hard.”
Daves said those who decide to invest themselves in agriculture must be willing to reconcile themselves with the challenges weather brings.
“You adjust,” he said. “You can’t make it rain.”
The larger ramifications of a dry 2012 will be felt in 2013 if the monsoons don’t come and the snows don’t fall on the mountains this winter and the reservoir doesn’t fill. Then, the area will face conditions like 2002, according to White.
“I am praying beyond reasonable hope it starts raining,” White said. “I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want to deal with the ramifications or the issues. I don’t want to have to see my producers deal with it again. If the rain and snow comes we should be OK. If they don’t come... I just don’t want to think about what next year might look like.”

Reach Kimberly Benedict at kimberlyb@cortezjournal.com.

Precipitation comparisons

Recorded precipitation rates for Cortez, in inches, for 2002, 2012 and a 30-year average.
2002 2012 Average
January 0 0.77 0.96
February 0.03 1.13 0.98
March 0.73 0.26 1.10
Apri 0.12 0.40 0.88
May 0.10 0.03 0.80
June 0.00 0.00 0.39
July 0.74 — 1.28

Source: National Weather Service

Drought concerns continue to grow

Adrian Baldarrama wheels irrigation pipe into place to water at the Oliver farm northwest of Cortez.
After staying up all night baling hay, Destry Daves discusses the drought at his farm northwest of Cortez.
Irrigation water sprays on a field of pinto beans northwest of Cortez. Farmers are worried that McPhee Reservior will be drained too much this year without more moisture.
Fourth generation farmer Dillon Daves worries about the amount of grass for his cows to graze on as the summer heats up.
click here to add your event
Cortez ~ Events
click here to add your event
Cortez ~ Events