A major study – the first of its kind in Colorado – on ways to sustain irrigated agriculture while meeting the increasing water demands of the state has been jointly launched by Parker Water and Sanitation District and Colorado State University. The results of the three-year, $1 million-plus project are expected to provide crucial information that can be used in the development of water policy from both the agricultural and urban perspectives.
The study will develop and investigate cropping system options – techniques in crop planting and watering – to determine how much water can be saved. The water saved can be made available for possible urban use while at the same time sustaining viable economic returns to the agricultural and rural communities.
"We believe this project is going to provide valuable information for both rural and urban communities in the development of optimal water policy in Colorado," said Tom Holtzer, head of the Colorado State research team and professor and department head of the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management at Colorado State. "It is also going to offer terrific opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students in agricultural economics, cropping systems, soil science, irrigation management and pest management to observe agronomic and economic principles in a real-world case."
Cropping system options include rotational cropping (fallowing of a portion of the land); deficit and partial season irrigation (applying less water, but gaining maximum yield from the water applied); water conserving practices and drought-tolerant crop varieties; adoption of optimal irrigation technology; and alternative farming practices, crops and markets.
The study will be conducted by a 14 member, multidisciplinary Colorado State team from three departments in the College of Agricultural Sciences in addition to the Water Resources Research Institute and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension offices. Parker Water and Sanitation District will fund the research. The study experiments will be carried out on land owned by PWSD nearby Iliff, Colo., and in on-farm demonstrations performed by local farmers.
"This is a big investment for us, but finding a win-win model that can keep our farmers farming and sustain our rural communities while at the same time finding a way to help meet our urban water needs is what we are after," said Frank Jaeger, director of PWSD. "This is just one piece of the puzzle in finding a solution to meet our community’s growing water needs, but it is an important one."
The cropping system strategies will be studied from the perspectives of farm profitability and economic activity in the agricultural and rural communities, the amount of water made available for other uses and practical feasibility.
The first phase of the study – the discovery phase – is already underway. The demonstration phase, in which crops will be planted and irrigation strategies tested and evaluated, will begin this spring.
For more information about the collaborative project, including a fact sheet about the project, visit www.newsinfo.colostate.edu and click on this release heading. Parker Water and Sanitation’s Jaeger can be reached at (303) 841-4627. Colorado State’s Holtzer can be reached at (970) 491-5261 or by contacting Nik Olsen at (970) 491-7766.