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The Ghost Farms Of Colorado

Water rights is a complicated subject in places where water is not plentiful. Does anyone have the right to unlimited water? Cities have more people to serve, but farms grow crops for many people to consume. In Colorado, the water falls on the mountains as snow, then flows down the Colorado River. Meanwhile, the desert east of the Rockies is where more people live, in Denver and other towns.

Ever since the state became a state, its government and our federal one have grappled with how to redistribute the bounty—bankrolling dams, reservoirs, and massive transmountain diversion tunnels, up to 23 miles long. In Colorado, water itself is treated like private equity. Due to the particulars of an antiquated law, the first people to put water to “beneficial use” get dibs. And because pioneers predate almost everybody else, today’s farmers and ranchers control 85 percent of the available water supply. Sustained droughts, depleted aquifers, global warming, and a rapidly growing population have made scarcity the norm. As a result, farmers find themselves sitting on a commodity worth far more than their crops or land.

During the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, nearly all of the farmers in Crowley County, southeast of Colorado Springs, participated in what are known as “buy and dry” deals, selling their water rights to growing municipalities and retaining the land, albeit unirrigated and unable to support crops. Once farming tapered off, production at the local cannery ground to a halt. Feedlots closed. Mills shuttered.

You could say, tough, you sold those water rights. But unused farmland is not the best use of land. The failure of farms affects the economy of nearby towns. Together, they affect the overall health of the state. Learn about the water rights dilemma in Colorado at Modern Farmer. -via Digg

(Image credit: Matt Nager)

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