The Ag Water Network was created 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, wildlife habitat 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 dried up.
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 late 2015, Colorado Cattlemen's Association established the Ag Water NetWORK to provide information and technical assistance to ag producers about ag water rights and options for responding to the increasing demand for water.
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.
Ag Water NetWORK resources are designed to raise awareness and understanding of agricultural water issues among Colorado's ag producers. 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 understanding of how agriculture uses water to produce food, fiber and fuel. Enabling cross-interest informational exchange and understanding is essential to achieving successful outcomes for both agriculture and other water interests.