Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Southeast Colo. drought makes some farmers think about packing it in, if only they could afford to do so

Drought in southeastern Colorado is causing nightmares for rural residents, pushing some to the brink of packing it in and giving up on farming life, Lydia DePillis reports for The Washington Post. "The lingering dryness combined with the loss of access to the irrigation systems that used to make up for it is one of the biggest forces dragging America’s rural areas further behind its dynamic cities: While the poverty rate stabilized for metropolitan areas in 2012, it kept growing on farms and in tiny towns. With climate change shortening the wet times and prolonging the dry ones on into the future, it’s unclear that they’ll ever truly recover."

"And it’s not just the weather," DePillis writes. "Over the years, the farms have also lost a war with fast-growing urban centers: There’s already much less water than there used to be trickling through the surrounding fields, since investors had bought up their water rights—which are normally attached to the land, entitling the owner to take a certain percentage of the water flowing through a river—and profited by flipping them to thirsty cities." (Post graphic)

Colorado farmer Anita Pointon, along with her husband Chuck, has struggled to keep their 500 acres watered in an areas where "less rain fell in the 42 months before May of last year than in the stretch in the mid-1930s now called the Dust Bowl," DePillis writes. Speaking of urban centers' demand for water, she told DePillis, “It’s a threat to us. It’s one of those things where they get their foot in the door. Just little ways that they’ve come in, and it affects your water.”

"Last year, farms fed by the Fort Lyon Canal in the Arkansas Valley got less than half the volume of water they usually do and almost no rain, leaving the land bone-dry," DePillis writes. "The Pointons sold half the cattle off their land and leaned on the insurance on their failed corn crop for income. If the crops fail again this year, they’ll likely go further into debt. Chuck could go work at the fish hatchery, which he did during a bad spell in 2003, and Anita might focus harder on the joy she feels in watching calves grow up every spring rather than whether she can afford to keep raising them."

Pointon told DePillis, “There’s a lot of things in play. After you start laying it out, it’s like, why are we farming?” Chuck added, “Because we don’t have enough money to move away." Others in the area say they feel the same way as they wait patiently for the drought to end and the rain to begin. (Read more)

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