November 18, 2017


To Save Their Water Supply, Colorado Farmers Taxed Themselves (LUKE RUNYON, 11/18/17, All Things Considered)

Simpson recalls the thinking: "If we don't act, we might not be here. As early as the next 10 years. So it's not like something that's going to happen 100 years from now."

For farmers, the options were simple. Keep pumping until everyone's water ran out. Or cut back. After years of court cases and in-fighting, Simpson says the farmers eventually made a painful decision. They agreed that to save their livelihoods, everyone had to pay more for water.

"It incentivizes conservation efforts because it hits your pocketbook directly," Simpson says.

For six years now, farmers have been paying more every time they turn on their pump -- three or four times more. That can be tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for water. Farmers who manage some of the valley's most heavily irrigated fields end up paying $75 for every acre-foot of water that comes out of the ground, and another $8 for every acre of crops they're irrigating with the groundwater.

This was the first time in the U.S. that a group of farmers did something like this -- voting to tax their water use. And no one really knew if it would work.

Turns out, it does: Farmers who had to pay the fees cut their water pumping by 30 percent. "We were able to determine that yes, they've been able to reduce their groundwater extraction pretty substantially," says Kelsey Cody, part of a University of Colorado research team that analyzed pumping before and after the fees went into effect.

The researchers had another important finding: Those same farms aren't closing up shop because of the high cost of water.

Today, the aquifer in the San Luis Valley isn't quite re-charged, but Cody says the initial results are promising. Farmers are already talking about raising their fees even higher in an attempt to cut back their pumping even further. With aquifers in danger of running dry in many communities in the Midwest and West, the San Luis Valley could provide a model, says Cody.


Posted by at November 18, 2017 7:13 PM