Just as water flows around and over fences, the issues facing land and water in the arid west impact farmers, ranchers, and whole communities.
Farming the prime, irrigated soils of the Lower Arkansas Valley is a way of life in eastern Pueblo County, which is known for long growing seasons supporting the productions of melons, winter squash, and peppers. The shortgrass prairie is likewise prized as a precious ecosystem, one that supports a robust cattle industry and is ecologically unique in all the world. But ranchers and farmers in the region face daunting conservation challenges. Water resources are shrinking as aquifers are depleted, and drought significantly affects surface flows on farm ground as well as rangeland across the prairie. In addition, cities to the north seek to secure water rights for future growth. Communities that sell water rights permanently suffer higher rates of poverty and decline. The land dries up, and is hard to reclaim as native prairie. Dust storms become common place.
A grant to the Palmer Land Trust supports their work to tie water to the land, and to strengthen agriculture in Pueblo and neighboring counties through conservation. Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: A Conservation Plan for the Western Lower Arkansas Valley describes a dynamic vision for this region of Colorado, where the state’s longest river east of the Continental Divide leaves the mountains and enters the prairie. The vision is one where vibrant downtowns are complemented by a robust agricultural industry; where innovative models for western water conservation are established; where new generations of farmers and ranchers thrive; where large-scale conservation sustains important habitat and ecological processes; and where beautiful views of the mountains and plains inspire people to protect the places they love.
(photo credit: Matt Inden, Weaver Multimedia Group)