Collaboration, innovation aim to reduce impacts of dry-up

Irrigated hayfields in naturally arid lands offer a verdant oasis in an otherwise brown landscape. But what happens when the water leaves the land?

That question loomed for the people of Coaldale in 2013, when Security Water District,just south of Colorado Springs, purchased the 195-acre CB Ranch in Coaldale for its water rights. Their answer was to join together and enlist the help of San Isabel Land Protection Trust to secure the best possible future for the property located front and center in their community.

As a result of that work, the recalibration of the land to much drier conditions is being eased through an innovative partnership of local residents, two land trusts, a thirsty Front Range city and the Pueblo district of Colorado Water Court.

As Front Range cities buy irrigated farmland and transfer water to meet municipal demands, more and more ranches are being dried up. It is a perilous transition for land shifting from green to brown when after decades of irrigation, all supplemental water is abruptly withdrawn. Done poorly, dry up results in dust, weeds and erosion. Done well, healthy, diverse and productive dryland plants are established that benefit people and nature alike.

Leaders of the Coaldale Alliance approached San Isabel for help in negotiating an agreement with Security Water District to ensure good stewardship of the CB Ranch following dry-up. They were determined to prevent erosion and the spread of noxious weeds that could affect nearby agricultural and residential property.

Larry Vickerman, president of San Isabel’s board, said, “San Isabel sees the dry-up of productive agricultural lands as a critical issue in our region. We are committed to making sure the negative impacts of the loss of irrigated land are minimized.”

San Isabel and the alliance worked alongside Security to complete this precedent-setting agreement in the Upper Arkansas River Basin. For the first time, a Colorado Water Court has decreed a revegetation plan that goes well beyond what the state normally requires in efforts to re-establish desirable vegetation and prevent damaging erosion and weeds. This legally binding agreement runs with the land.

For five years, Security will plant and nurture dryland-adapted native vegetation and curtail invasions of weeds that threaten the land as it adjusts to drier conditions. Security Water District is funding the science-based revegetation plan and the ongoing efforts to establish healthy vegetation.

Monitoring the revegetation process and working collaboratively to ensure its success is a key part of the effort. After success as lead partner in the negotiation of the revegetation covenant, San Isabel Land Protection Trust and the Coaldale Alliance brought on board Colorado Springs-based Palmer Land Trust to partner in the ongoing project.

Palmer Land Trust has eagerly stepped up to monitor the property and ensure success of the revegetation plan over its five-year life.

Linda Poole, San Isabel's executive director, said, "The results of our collaborative work with the Coaldale Alliance prove again that land trusts and local communities can do amazing things by working together. Now Palmer is stepping up to ensure that the CB Ranch is restored to drier but healthy and productive conditions. It's a truly great partnership when each group gets to apply their unique strengths toward the shared goals of the larger community.

Janet Smith

Posted in News


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