The federal government has designated the San Luis Valley, like most of the land along the Rio Grande’s route to the Gulf of Mexico, as in “extreme drought.” And years of gains by farmers ordered to replenish a depleted underground aquifer, the water equivalent of a savings account, may be lost if farmers with wells turn back to pumping to survive.
San Luis Valley agricultural leaders warn that the low flows may accelerate a projected loss of 100,000 acres of irrigated land, a fifth of the food production in an area dependent on farming. The low water also is hurting ecosystems.
“Our farming economy, the agricultural heritage of Colorado, is something we want to maintain. We don’t want to lose our agriculture. It is part of what our state is, our way of life. We will need to be more creative in how we use and share water," said former U.S. interior secretary for water and science Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado and a Gates grantee.
“When flows go low, the sectors most at risk are farmers, the tribes and ecosystems. We cannot just let these sectors take a hit. We have to get out ahead of this.”