Michael Cox

I have had a lot of conversations about water in the West over the last half century.

All of them from words with Sen. Carl Hayden to long talks with Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, to Colorado State Sen. Don Coram, to lawyers, farmers, ranchers and developers all over the Southwest, had to do with having enough (water), using it wisely and figuring out how to develop more of it.

Hayden, of course, was the legislative energy that produced the Central Arizona Project, which takes about 1.5 million acre feet of water from our Colorado River and delivers it to Phoenix and Tucson. Babbitt was governor when Arizona finally addressed its monumental groundwater issues and codified the myriad water rights laws into the current Arizona statute.

Coram sees problems with the Colorado Water Plan rooted in the lack of funds, which may or may not be mitigated with the passage of Proposition DD. The proposal legalizes sports betting in the state, with the taxes collected on that industry going to water management.

I have my doubts. These kinds of earmarked laws too often seem to be much less effective than the hyperbole indicated. Originally, the plan was to be funded by the severance tax. That didn’t work out, the state now owes the Water Plan $300 million.

I have listened to State Rep. Marc Caitlin talk passionately about conservation and storage, saying our resources could be better managed.

In all of the talk, there is one tool in water management that has gone out of favor, primarily because of the faction that chose to “protect the planet” have made dam building akin to genocide. We just don’t give a damn about dams anymore, and that is a shame.

I recall a book in the 1970s by John McPhee called “Encounters with the Archdruids.” McPhee followed the Sierra Club’s David Brower as he encountered his great philosophical enemies, one of whom was Floyd E. Dominy, the director of the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960s. Dominy led the crusade to build the Glen Canyon Dam and Brower was an adversary. Dominy said, later in his life, that he had no regrets having aided in the construction of Flaming Gorge, Navajo and Glen Canyon dams.

He made the following points during the hearings on the Lake Powell Project, “So this is why Glen Canyon is necessary, so you could capture the San Juan and Escalante and the Green, and all the rest of them. For example, the city of Albuquerque couldn’t depend on its 110,000-acre feet of water unless it had the storage capacity in Glen Canyon Dam.”

Imagining with the Southwest without dams, there would be no Phoenix, Las Vegas, Imperial Valley or dozens of other cities and towns. The economy created by these dams in recreation alone dwarfs the counter argument.

Perhaps it is time to rethink dams and storage projects. There are any number of useful projects, right here in Colorado that would relieve the problems of a thirsty and growing Front Range and a needful agrarian sector statewide. These projects are all stalled by the concerns of people who would be the first to complain when they turn on the tap and the water doesn’t come out.

Now come the lawyers

It is weird, I know, but we have a business sector crying out for regulation. Our friends in the industrial hemp arena are coming to the realization that it is the Wild West all over again. Coram indicated as much last week.

For as hard as the legislature and the Colorado Department of Agriculture have labored at it, the regulations are still a work in progress. Based on what I am reading across the country, Colorado’s regulatory position is better than most. We at least have a solid body of enabling legislation and a logical start on the regulation. Many states are not that far along.

What is happening in some other states is lawsuits are breaking out. It is not an epidemic yet, but it probably will get worse before it gets better. The litigation seems to stem from the details of transaction contracts between growers, processors, buyers, and seed producers.

Seed producers are being sued because the seeds didn’t live up to expectations. In one suit the seeds delivered contained too many boy seeds and not enough girl seeds. You knew hemp plants come in two sexes, right? And in hemp you can’t make arbitrary gender choices as the plants grow, no matter what the bathroom sign says. Incidentally, it is the lady plants that produce the CBD oil everyone wants more of.

According to the courts, a great number of the legal issues stem from the fact that the contracts being disputed in courts are being written by lawyers who have little or no experience in the hemp farming field. But then, who does? We have only been doing the hemp thing (legally) for something less than five years and the rules keep changing. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that they will do so for some time to come.

Hemp snow cones?

There are a considerable number of acres of hemp that have gone unharvested so far this year. That is because that late October freeze stopped things, (pardon me) cold. Now the question is, did these producers, many new to the hemp business, lose it all. The jury, as they say, is still out.

Hemp is a very hardy plant and can live through frosts pretty well, but the single-digit temps we had last week probably killed the plants still in the field. That does not necessarily make them useless. If a plant has not dropped its buds, it is likely, I am told, that there is still oil to be had, but the value of the plant has been diminished. Further, a frozen plant dries out very quickly and the grower has a short window in which to bring the stuff out of the field and into storage.

The snow we had probably didn’t bother the hemp, but the cold and those high winds may have put some farmers on notice that they are not going to do well in the market.

I did see an interesting approach to rescuing an investment this week. A field off of Oak Grove Road had a dozen or so laborers rummaging through the stalks and hand-cutting plants that still had viable buds.

Michael A. Cox is a Montrose-based content provider. He may be reached at michaelc@agwriter.us

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