Colorado Growers Being Warned

Published online: Oct 03, 2002
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State water engineers are already warning potato growers in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado they will have to reduce acreage next year.

Caught in the middle of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, farmers throughout the state have suffered millions of dollars in losses for lack of snow and rainfall this year.

Because of the dry summer, water engineers predict that no matter what happens this winter, the Rio Grande River-parched 4,700-mile watershed will absorb most of the precipitation. This will leave little runoff for recharge of the valley aquifers. This year the river is just a mere trickle in most places and dry in others.

Despite getting a good rain in early October, which refreshed the valley floor, it failed to make a dent in the ongoing drought problem.

Two summers of irrigation out of the valley’s “unconfined aquifer,” with wells as deep as 300 feet, has dropped the aquifer level 30 feet. The deeper “confined aquifer,” which hydrologists say has some 2 billion acre-feet of water, is off limit to irrigation draw down and only available to the cities and towns.

This year’s crop of over 70,000 acres was basically unaffected by the drought although many surface irrigation systems went dry. The crop is described as “average.”