The Ag Water Network was created in 2015 by Colorado Cattlemen's Association and the Partners for Western Conservation to help 'keep agricultural water connected with agricultural land.' Water used by agriculture provides an abundance of food, fiber and fuel. Colorado's farms and ranches also supply open space and scenic beauty, wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge and other ecosystem services at no cost to citizens.
Colorado's Water Plan, which was released in November 2015, indicates that as much as 700,000 irrigated acres could be dried-up statewide by 2050 through the purchase and transfer of water rights from irrigated agriculture to urban areas. This amount would represent over 1,000 square miles of irrigated farm and ranch land being permanently lost.
The state water plan recognizes the economic, environmental and cultural value of Colorado's agriculture industry. It recommends increased water conservation and storage as the primary means of meeting future water demands. It also sets a goal of 50,000 acre-feet of ag water to be leased annually to the municipal and industrial sectors. The water plan refers to these leases between agriculture and other water interests as alternative transfer mechanisms (ATMs).
ATMs enable producers to voluntarily lease a portion of their irrigation water for other uses, including municipal, industrial, recreational and to support aquatic life. Through leasing, ag water right holders maintain ownership of their water and land, but receive compensation for the water leased.
In 2016, the Ag Water NetWORK conducted the first statewide survey of ag water right holders to better understand their opinions and concerns related to ag water leasing. Results of the survey have been presented around the state, including the 2016 IBCC / Colorado Ag Water Alliance annual summit and the August, 2016 Colorado Water Congress meeting. Click here to download the survey.
In 2018, the state legislature greatly increased funding for the watershed and stream management planning. One of the goals of the state water plan is that 80% of the critical watersheds and 80% of locally prioritized streams shall have management plans in place by 2030.
In 2019, the Ag Water NetWORK conducted the first statewide survey of agricultural producers on the topic of watershed and stream management planning, to get a better understanding of producer familiarity with the subject, as well as producer priorities and perspectives.
Ag Water NetWORK resources are created to raise awareness and understanding of agricultural water issues among Colorado's ag producers and others who work with agriculture. We accomplish this via outreach, technical assistance and projects which support the mission of 'keeping ag water connected with ag land'.
By focusing on key areas that affect agriculture, including water rights, storage, efficiency, conservation, leasing and watershed management planning, the Ag Water NetWORK helps equip water right holders with concise information that helps them gain a deeper understanding of the important issues related to water.
For non-producers, the Ag Water NetWORK provides an opportunity to learn how the agricultural industry uses water, including issues of delivery, efficiency, conservation, and return flows, as well as leasing (ATMs). As contentious as water can sometimes be, it is imperative for the long-term preservation of irrigated agriculture to understand the plurality of water interests in Colorado, and to help other water users better understand how agriculture uses water to produce food, fiber and fuel. Enabling cross-interest informational exchange is essential to achieving successful outcomes for both agriculture and other water interests.