Apr 20, 2022 | Blog

Alliance Colorado River Principles Gain Traction

Alliance Colorado River Principles
Gain Traction

Family Farm Alliance President Pat O’Toole (L) and Director Don Schwindt inspect a tributary to the Yampa River in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Within weeks of putting Colorado River agricultural water use policy as top priority for 2022, the Family Farm Alliance board of directors on March 11 formally adopted a policy brief that sets forth Colorado River principles developed in collaboration with several key agricultural interests.

“We have helped organize a group of Basin agricultural water users from the headwaters to the Mexican border to come together to present key principles and expectations that are critical to sustainable and durable operation of the Colorado River into the future,” said Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen. “We believe this group can play a major role as the seven Colorado River Basin States and Basin stakeholders engage to replace the 2007 Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.”

In the weeks following the Alliance board action, additional Colorado River agencies have followed suit. The Imperial Irrigation District (IID) board of directors approved the Alliance policy brief on April 12, followed by similar action taken by the Dolores Water Conservancy District (DWCD) board on April 14, and Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID) on April 19. Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation & Drainage District (WMIDD) also supports the policy brief.

The formal support for the policy brief thus far represents the beginning of an anticipated broader swath of support from agricultural water suppliers throughout the Colorado River Basin:

  • IID is the nation’s largest irrigation district with Colorado River water rights dating back to the 19th century.
  • The Dolores Project, located in southwestern Colorado, develops water from the Dolores River for irrigation and other purposes, and also provides vital water to the Dove Creek area, central Montezuma Valley area, and to the Towaoc area on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation.
  • PVID is located in Riverside and Imperial Counties, California, where crops are grown and harvested year-round. Mild winters, with a minimum of frost, permit growing of many crops not suitable for production in other areas.
  • WMIDD is located in Southwestern Arizona, where similarly hot, dry climate conditions are ideal for year-round growth of crops.
Mr. Keppen and other Alliance leaders have begun public efforts to showcase the brief. Alliance board member Don Schwindt, who also serves on the board of directors for DWCD, recently represented the Alliance on a panel hosted by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (Durango, Colorado) along with Hattie Johnson (American Whitewater) and Jim White (Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department).“I was listed as being from The Family Farm Alliance, representing agricultural interests, because the Alliance had recently released its policy brief, which addresses Colorado River interests in the context of negotiations on 2026 Operating Guidelines,” said Mr. Schwindt. “I had the privilege of working on that policy development, where I brought my Dolores Project perspective. My remarks focused on my Dolores Project lessons learned, many of which were in tandem with Lower Dolores rafting and fishery environmental interests, and they were built on the foundation of the Alliance policy.”

CLICK HERE to download the PDF version of Mr. Schwindt’s prepared remarks.

The Interim Guidelines are set to expire in 2026. The Alliance policy brief urges Colorado River Compact decision-makers to incorporate 8 principles into new operating guidelines.

“We believe that the myriad of diverse Colorado River Basin interests can and will successfully work through future droughts and water shortages in a collaborative and effective way,” said Alliance President Patrick O’Toole. “The future of millions of people in urban areas, millions of acres of farms and ranches and the food and fiber they produce, and the many rural communities that dot the landscape in the Basin rest on this belief.”

Other parties involved with crafting the policy brief include Central Arizona Project agricultural interests, Colorado River District, Little Snake River Conservancy District, Palo Verde Irrigation District, Yuma County Agriculture Water Coalition, and Yuma County Water Users Association, among others.

We will continue to keep you informed on this and other developments impacting Western irrigated agriculture.
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