Growing Municipal, Industrial Demand for Water to Reduce Agricultural Acres Throughout Colorado

Key Water Users Explore Innovative Solutions, Policies To Achieve Positive Results

New Report Series Focuses On Water Issues In The West

Dec 07, 2015, 12:30 ET from CoBank

DENVER, Dec. 7, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Colorado agriculture is a $40 billion industry and a dominant water user in the state accounting for 86 percent of its total water diversions. However, growing demands from competing water needs such as population growth threaten to reduce irrigated farming and ranching in coming decades. Opportunities to minimize that reduction and maintain the many values irrigated agriculture contributes to Colorado, including local food production, open space and rural livelihoods, will exist, but will require increasing creativity and collaboration from policy makers and water users alike, according to a new research report issued by CoBank in partnership with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education (CFWE).

The report, "Managing Agriculture and Water Scarcity in Colorado (and Beyond)," is the first in a three-part series that explores water development and allocation challenges throughout the West and discusses the adaptive strategies and policies key water users are implementing to manage the worsening scarcity.  

Between 2000 and 2014, Colorado's population grew from 4.3 million to 5.4 million people, one of the fastest growth rates of any state in the country. Propelled by that growth spurt, Colorado is transitioning from a more rural and sparsely populated state to one dominated by an urban and suburban corridor around the Front Range. This rapid growth has led to mounting pressures on agriculture's water use and on the state's already scarce water supply.

"Swelling water demands from cities experiencing rapid population growth, compounded by the difficulty in permitting new water storage projects, have spurred municipalities to increasingly pursue acquisitions of senior agricultural water rights from willing sellers," said Leonard Sahling, vice president of CoBank's Knowledge Exchange Division. "These transactions can be profitable for an individual farmer but threaten to undermine the viability of rural communities as farmers and supporting businesses cease operations and move out of the area."

By 2050, it is projected that the state's municipalities could experience a water supply gap – the difference between available water supply and future water demand – of up to 500,000 acre-feet, a gap that threatens to reduce irrigated acreage by 20 percent to meet the equivalent of 2.5 million people's water needs unless other cooperative solutions are implemented.

"It's essential that all water users—whether you're a farmer or developer—understand the many values of water in Colorado. Agriculture is such a major water user and contributor to Colorado's economy and heritage, it's part of who we are," said Kristin Maharg, interim director for CFWE. "As our water supply challenges get more complex, there's a greater need to understand different perspectives and share innovative ideas with each other."

Faced with pressures from drought and competing water demands, Coloradans are developing innovative strategies, technical solutions and new agreements designed to improve water efficiency and introduce flexibility into water law.

For a copy of the report, please visit the Colorado Foundation for Water Education's website at  or CoBank's Knowledge Exchange Division Power, Energy and Water Center of Excellence.

Water in the West Report Series

This is the first report in a three-part research series focused on water issues in the West. The first two reports were produced in partnership between CoBank and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. The second report discusses water scarcity in the Colorado River Basin and the quest to find solutions. This report will be released in February of 2016. The third report, planned for release in March 2016, will explore California's groundwater challenges and opportunities and will be written in cooperation with the Water Education Foundation in California.

Agriculture and Water Scarcity in Colorado Webinar Announced

CoBank and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will host a webinar on December 10th, 2015 at 9:00 AM MST exploring solutions to sustain groundwater aquifers that can support agriculture for the long term. Topics will include state administration, as well as locally guided efforts to address the legal threats of well shut-downs and physical limits of shrinking aquifers. Presenters will take a statewide look at water scarcity, then focus on management approaches, local perspectives and on-farm adaptations farmers are making to remain viable in the Rio Grande Basin and Republican River Basin.

To register for the webinar, click here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

About Colorado Foundation for Water Education

The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of Colorado's water resources and issues by providing balanced and accurate information and education. 

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education is a non-advocacy organization offering publications, workshops, leadership programs, tours, conferences, and other purposeful programming that considers diverse perspectives and facilitates dialogue in order to advance the conversation on water. CFWE's vision is that Coloradans, through an improved understanding of water's complexities and trade-offs, will make more informed water resource decisions. 

For more information about the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, visit

About CoBank

CoBank is a $110 billion cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. The bank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states. The bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving more than 75,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country.

CoBank is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture and the nation's rural economy.Headquartered outside Denver, Colorado, CoBank serves customers from regional banking centers across the U.S. and also maintains an international representative office in Singapore.

For more information about CoBank, visit the bank's web site at

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