By Rod Lenz,
board president of the Republican River Water Conservation District
Be on the lookout for informative articles from the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD). The district hopes to educate and inform everyone who lives in the basin about the critical importance of water and irrigation to the economic well-being of local communities. Our communities would be drastically changed if irrigation were to be curtailed throughout the basin. Multiple towns in the basin experience the negative impact of reduced water availability.
The district will utilize multiple media outlets to communicate about current issues. The information provided is intended to be concise, timely, and understandable. You will hear from RRWCD committees, administration, and professionals.
As the RRWCD Board President, I want to explain why the RRWCD exists. The RRWCD is a fairly new organization, formed in 2004. The district is charged with assisting Colorado in complying with the Republican River Compact, a three-state agreement between Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. The RRWCD Board encompasses 17 members, representing, eight ground water management districts, eight counties and one from the Colorado Groundwater Commission.
Some of the current events occupying the Board’s time and energy include:
1. The requirement to retire 25,000 acres along the South Fork of the Republican River
2. Procuring substantial funding efforts to continue Compact compliance
3. Encouraging conservation throughout the basin.
4. The ongoing effort to restore streamflow through Bonny Dam for Compact compliance
5. Potential restructuring of water use fee.
The district board commends Wray State Bank for its proactive involvement with the district. The bank made a generous donation to aid the RRWCD in Compact compliance and is setting the standard for other area business who financially benefit from producers who irrigate.
The Ogallala Aquifer is not the limitless source of water that water users once assumed it to be and can no longer be treated as such. At informational meetings in the basin, I like to use the following comparison, “Our towns and communities in this basin are not so different. We all think that we live in the best little town in America, and in many regards, we do. Our town is Rural America, a source of values, work ethic, and American pride. The biggest difference between our communities, is the color of our jerseys during a sporting event.”
Our water challenge is not going away anytime soon, but we can and must find ways to deal with it to keep our futures bright.
During the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) quarterly meeting in February of 2022, Pete Wilson, chief executive officer of the Wray State Bank, presented the following letter to the RRWCD board.
The district wants readers in the basin to be made aware of local companies stepping up to assist the RRWCD in funding Compact compliance efforts.
This is a letter to the Vendors and Lenders that do business with the irrigated ag producers in NE Colorado. As you know there are ongoing issues regarding the Republican River Compact of 1942 and the 2016 Resolution by the Republican River Compact Administration concerning the retirement of 25,000 irrigated acres in the South Fork Focus Zone in the Republican River Basin. This is not a letter of explanation of what has taken place but an effort to demonstrate a way to help our ag producers shoulder some of the burden of keeping irrigated agriculture in production in the Republican River Water Conservation District.
There are two looming thresholds stated in the 2016 Resolution, the first is that 10,000 acres of irrigated land in the South Fork Focus Zone is to be voluntarily retired by the end of 2024. That process started in 2016 and as of this date over 3,200 irrigated acres have been retired through conservation programs, leaving nearly 7,000 acres to be retired in less than two- and one-half years. When that is accomplished the second item, the remaining 15,000 acres will need to be accounted for by the end of 2029. If these compact thresholds are not met the Colorado State Engineer announced by a letter to the RRWCD in April of 2021, that ALL wells in the entire District could be subject to curtailment. Curtailment, according to Webster’s dictionary means, “to make less by…cutting off”.
Producers in the district will be paying an annual water use fee of $30.00 per irrigated acre, up from the previous $14.50 per acre, which funds the district’s operations including incentive programs to compensate producers who chose to retire or curtail irrigation. The primary vehicles for retirement of irrigated acres are the CREP & EQIP conservation programs. There is little flexibility in the rules governing these programs and they have not been designed to handle all of the situations that exist in the RRWCD. The district is considering proposals to supplement those programs, such that the outcomes might be more acceptable to producers.
Wray State Bank appreciates the opportunity to do business in our community and has elected to make a contribution to the RRWCD to aid in establishing or enhancing programs that will address the issues that are before the district. The amount our bank will pledge will be $1.50 per thousand of total gross interest and fee income that is paid to our bank by our Ag loan customers within the district, we would hope to sustain this commitment for 10 years. We would call on all of the entities, businesses and agencies that enjoy relationships with the growers to step forward and make a proportional and equitable commitment to the district. While no voluntary program to assist our irrigation farmers and the RRWCD over the next 10 years is going to solve the problem it can make a significant contribution to the ultimate solution and hopefully allow the Ag producers, suppliers and lenders to remain in business.
We would encourage all suppliers of goods and services to the irrigated farmers in NE Colorado to make arrangements to meet with the administration of the RRWCD to discuss a program that will be beneficial to the long-term sustainability of Ag production in the district.
CEO of Wray
The RRWCD board commends Wray State Bank for its proactive involvement with the district. The Wray State Bank is setting the standard as to awareness of the importance of water to this basin.