Alliance President to Address
Colorado River Conference in Boulder
Pat O’Toole Will Stand Up for Basin Farmers and Ranchers
Alliance President Patrick O’Toole testifying before the Senate in June 2022.
BOULDER, Colorado (June 7, 2023) – Family Farm Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, whose family owns and operates a sheep and cattle ranch on the Wyoming-Colorado border, will underscore the importance of Colorado River agriculture in a panel discussion this week at a prestigious University of Colorado water conference.
“All Colorado River water users need certainty for effective future planning,” said Mr. O’Toole. “Agricultural water users need – and want – to help shape their future, instead of relying upon others to design their future for them.”
Mr. O’Toole and his fellow panelists – including a member of the Alliance Advisory Committee – will focus on the role farmers and ranchers can play to drive solutions to the Colorado River crisis at the 43rd Annual Conference on Natural Resources at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment.
Mr. O’Toole will participate in a Friday, June 9 panel titled, “How Can Agriculture Thrive with Less Water?”, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. (Mountain). He will be joined by fellow panelists Meghan Scott (who works for Alliance Advisory Committee member Wade Noble’s law firm in Yuma, Arizona), Mark Squillace (University of Colorado Law School) and Jim Holway (Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy).
“The question being posed is ‘how can agriculture thrive with less water?’, said Ms. Scott. “In Yuma, and in other areas across the Basin, put simply, it cannot. And so, I think the question really becomes whether having a domestic food supply is something we value enough to deem agriculture’s use of water in the Colorado River Basin a beneficial use and a use worthy of protecting.”
The panel discussion will take place following opening remarks by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
“I intend to make the voice of Colorado River agriculture heard, loud and clear,” said Mr. O’Toole. “We’re tired of the relentless demonization of agriculture coming from competing interests, whose main solution appears to be questioning the viability of producing alfalfa and other forage crops in the Colorado River Basin.”
Mr. O’Toole and other Alliance leaders for over the past decade have warned about the dangers of taking safe domestic food production for granted. In late 2022, he and his wife Sharon traveled to Ireland to engage in a week-long event attended by livestock interests from 23 nations.
“We were struck by the delegation report from Africa, where in some places, the goal is to simply ensure one glass of milk per child per day,” said Mr. O’Toole. “When you take alfalfa out of the Western farm production equation, how can we continue to produce milk to satisfy the demands in our own country? The grim stories you hear from other parts of the world are stark reminders of the importance of strong domestic food production.”
The conference takes place just weeks after the Colorado River Lower Basin states coalesced around a plan to voluntarily conserve a major portion of their river water in exchange for more than $1 billion in federal funds.
“The short-term solutions developed on the Colorado River must continue to follow the law, but also match the science and hydrology,” said Don Schwindt, an Alliance director who farms near Cortez, Colorado. “Mother Nature gives us no choice. The Colorado River Compact, coupled with the prior appropriation doctrines of the seven Basin states, provide the framework we must continue to follow.”
Now, all 7 Basin states can focus on the critically important long-term solution: advancing the process for the development of new operating guidelines replacing the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead at the end of 2026.
Alliance leaders will continue to underscore the importance of protecting Western irrigated agriculture, using policy principles adopted by the board of directors in March 2022.
“Our Colorado River producers are upset by the way they are being treated in the media,” said Mr. O’Toole. “From here on out, we will demand that the same level of alertness and priority placed by policy makers on water supply for health and human safety purposes also be applied to the full value of irrigation in the Colorado River Basin.”
For more information on the Colorado River conference, visit the event website.
For more Family Farm Alliance resources on Colorado River agriculture, policy and conservation matters, see the following: