Farmers Swap Out Irrigation Methods To Keep The Colorado River From Growing Saltier
Speaker 1: 00:00 The Colorado river irrigate, some of the country's most productive farmland like that found in the Imperial Valley, but agriculture and the arid region, especially upstream is made more difficult by its salty and old-school irrigation methods. That's in harmful minerals, into streams from KV and F in Western Colorado. Jodie Peterson has more on a program. That's helping upstream farmers use more water efficiently to keep downstream growers in business. Speaker 2: 00:31 AGA Kareo farms, 18 acres outside of Hotchkiss, Colorado where fruit orchards dot high desert mesas. When he irrigates his peach crop water gushes from big white plastic pipes at the top of the plot and takes half a day to trickle down to the other end of this five acre orchard Speaker 3: 00:52 We're on 18 acres here. We have a half acre market garden. We have a small, uh, Speaker 2: 00:59 This is called flood irrigation. And while it works great to get water to fruit trees quickly, it comes with some downsides. Speaker 3: 01:06 The big concerns that we have in the North fork Valley is that our irrigation leads to deep percolation Speaker 2: 01:15 And that deep percolation dissolves the salt and selenium that occur naturally and soils here. The minerals are harmful to both fish and humans. The excess water runs off farm fields like CoreOS into ditches that eventually dump into the Gunnison river, a tributary of the Colorado. Speaker 3: 01:33 And so we have a serious ecological issue going on here. Speaker 4: 01:39 So Lenny is known to have an impact on fish breeding, such that the offspring end up with deformities and, um, and other problems. Speaker 2: 01:49 That's Perry Cabot, a water resources specialist with Colorado state university. He says salt creates problems too. It must be removed before water can be used for drinking or industrial purposes, which is expensive. Kevin says salty irrigation water can stunt crop growth and eventually make farmland unusable. Speaker 4: 02:08 If you continue to sort of leach the salts out of the upper systems of a river, you concentrate them further and further. So it's just this kind of creeping soil killer has. It makes its way downstream Speaker 2: 02:21 During the 1960s. So much salt floated into the Colorado river from us farms that Mexico at the downstream end could no longer use it for irrigation. A solution was finally negotiated in the 1970s, but it's an ongoing issue. Other laws have since been passed and federal programs have been created that give farmers incentive to reduce salty runoff from their fields. Casey Harrison is a soil conservationist with the federal natural resources, conservation service or NRCS. Speaker 4: 02:52 We have, um, the ability through federal funds to help farmers and ranchers improved their irrigation water delivery systems so that we can actually combat some of those problems with selenium and salinity and the Colorado river base Speaker 2: 03:09 That federal financial support is key. The cost of installing new irrigation systems. Can't be born by farmers alone, annually. The NRCS spends about $7 million helping roughly 75 Gunnison basin producers cover the cost of converting to more efficient irrigation farmers pay part of the cost to and benefit from greater control over water usage, higher crop yields and less labor. Again, Colorado state university's Perry Cabot. Speaker 4: 03:38 Well we as a society value food production as a part of our economic infrastructure, it's unrealistic to expect them to just bear the burden without societal health Speaker 2: 03:49 Back in farmer, AGA Korea's peach orchards changes coming. His deer tree farm will have a new, more efficient irrigation system by fall 2021 paid for in part by the NRCS is switched to micro sprinklers will mean much more efficient water use and healthier soil. Speaker 1: 04:07 That irrigation system will effectively double our water supply here on this farm. A total game changer. In my opinion, Speaker 2: 04:16 Korea's farm is small. The switch also means less salt and selenium ending up in the Colorado river. And if enough of his neighbors make the same change, it could mean fewer problems for the millions of people downstream, who depend on it. I'm Jodie Peterson and PEO new Colorado. Speaker 1: 04:35 This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Colorado river produced by KV NF in partnership with K UNC support comes from the Walton family foundation.