Water is necessary, but it’s also easily taken for granted. And easily wasted.
In previous installments of this editorial, we’ve touched on the data from the US Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Information System showing that agricultural irrigation accounts for the lion’s share of the water used in Archuleta County. Residential and commercial uses amount to about 2,700 acre feet per year; irrigation accounts for about 47,000 acre feet. According to USGS.
If agricultural users were paying for water the way commercial and residential users do, this comparison might look very different. But what commercial and residential users are paying for is ‘water treatment and delivery.’ Ordinary citizens pay for ‘drinking water’… clean drinking water, from the tap.
Agricultural users in Archuleta County do not need their water to be treated by a water district; they use ‘raw water’. They also maintain, on their own dime, various ditches and pipes to deliver untreated water to their ranches and farms. Agricultural users typically have ‘senior water rights’ that give them priority access, whenever water is in short supply. The water is free, to agricultural users… if you don’t count the effort to build and maintain the diversion structures.
We thus find ourselves with a Pagosa industry that reportedly accounts for 94 percent of total water diverted from rivers, creeks and streams. Agriculture does not, however, provide 94 percent of the community’s overall economic activity. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the total net income from farming and ranching in Archuleta County in 2017 was -$2.1 million. That’s negative $2.1 million, net income, resulting from about $11.2 million in agricultural sales. That’s an average loss of $5,291 per farm. 68 percent of our local farms and ranches sold less than $10,000 in products. According to USDA.
This industry uses 94 percent of the community’s water, and overall, loses money doing it.
Does this make sense to anyone, if the American West is struggling with water shortages? Well, maybe it does.
I have a romantic vision of what Archuleta County may have looked like, and felt like, back in 1920, when the countywide population was about 3,600 people. About one-third of those folks lived within the incorporated town of Pagosa Springs, and the others lived on farms and ranches scattered across the county. These ranchers and farmers (in my romantic vision) rose early in the morning — spring, summer, fall and winter — to milk the cow, feed the chickens, water the horses, and perform the myriad jobs required by farmers and ranchers. They had little money, but here in Pagosa Springs in 1920, there was little opportunity to spend money in the first place. Every fall at harvest time, they would buy enough San Luis Valley potatoes to get them through the winter, and slaughter a pig, and get ready for a long, cold winter. Come spring…