Gunnison River meeting

Area water users listen to speakers Wednesday evening during the State of the Gunnison River meeting at the Montrose Pavilion. 

• Local panel address annual river basin meet

• Water is antecedent to food, recreation and more

• Growers in valley testing new methods

Onions and kayaks — how are the two alike?

Both depend on water, the “antecedent” to both crops and multiple forms of recreation, Perry Cabot, Ph.D., said Wednesday.

“Water is an antecedent to many things. You can’t have an onion without water, but you can have water without an onion,” Cabot told those attending the Gunnison River Basin State of the Rivers annual public meeting in Montrose.

“It matters what we think of water being supportive of.”

That type of thought is what drives policy and spending to support the policy, said Cabot, a research professor with the Fruita Agricultural Research Station for CSU.

There are multiple water users, sometimes with competing needs. Irrigation efficiencies play an important role in establishing objectives, Cabot indicated, before turning the conversation over to local experts — regional farmers and other water users.

The No Chico Brush Coalition is taking proactive steps to conserve water before there is a shortage, and is doing so by advancing irrigation efficiency, according to Steve Schrock of the coalition.

With a state grant, No Chico Brush is making side-by-side comparisons between the more traditional (and less efficient) flood irrigation method with such methods as drip and pivot irrigation systems.

Participating growers are making the investment voluntarily and regardless the system they’ve implemented, there are common threads, per Schrock: A desire for maximization of time and labor; the use of niche groups and using water for the highest returns, plus securing water resources.

Olathe-area farmer David Harold first tried a mobile drip irrigation system and then installed a permanent drip system with GPS that allows him to plant on the drip tape every year. He said he’s in general seen a doubling of his yields — but he and North Fork area farmer Tom Kay agreed there are challenges to using different irrigation technologies.

Breaking even after making the investment in the more efficient technologies depends on the type of crop and availability of grant assistance, but with the latter, “it becomes reasonable,” Harold said, in response to an audience member’s question.

However, the technical expertise for maintaining or repairing his system comes from out of the valley — sometimes, well beyond the valley, Harold said, recounting having to wait two weeks last year for a part from Israel.

“But the advantages are clear,” Harold said.

Kay, who uses pivot irrigation, said people can either grow high-income crops or sell to specialty markets like he does. He said he was able to pay for his system in three years.

“I would like to say it was altruistic … but it really wasn’t at all,” Kay said of his decision to go with a different irrigation system.

He switched to pivot irrigation from flood irrigation to be able to sustain his farm.

“I’ve expanded because I’m not afraid (to use pivot irrigation),” Kay said.

Other members of No Chico Brush might choose different systems, while some farmers might not participate, but the group is not trying to “proselytize;” it’s trying to prepare for the inevitable and maintain control, Kay said.

“We know if we’re not discussion for ourselves how to use (water), we know someone else who will,” he said.

For panelist Cary Denison of Colorado Trout Unlimited, exploring more efficient irrigation options just makes sense.

“If you can grow the same crop with half the water, why wouldn’t you?” he said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter at @kathMDP.

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