On Tuesday, farmers and ranchers from all over the area attended the Water Quality Workshop at Otero Junior College: Impacting Your Farm's Bottom Line.

On Tuesday, farmers and ranchers from all over the area attended the Water Quality Workshop at Otero Junior College: Impacting Your Farm's Bottom Line. They were informed by a series of three panels of speakers, plus introductory remarks by John Stulp, Director for the Interbasin Compact Committee and Water Adviser to Governor Hickenlooper.

Stulp was happy to see organizations and communities working together to solve our common problems. "Water quality is everyone's issue," said Stulp. He is also pleased with technological advances in agriculture. "The center pivot sprinklers are a great invention, also the low pressure nozzles operated by computers that water according to humidity." The new equipment enables the farmer to reduce the amount of fertilizer by 50 percent and get the same yield, contributing to better water quality. "Conferences like these bring out practical ideas," said Stulp, a farmer and rancher from Prowers County who served as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture from 2007 to 2011 and Prowers County Commissioner for 13 years.

Moderator Carol Ekarius, CEO of Coalitions & Collaboratives Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to fostering on-the-ground efforts to address environmental challenges, introduced the first panel, "Lessons from the Field." The presenters were Phillip H. Chavez, managing partner for Diamond 'A' Farms in Rocky Ford; Ryan Hemphill, progressive family farmer from near Hasty; Jerry Allen, Irrigation Water Management Specialist for Shavano Conservation District on the western slope; Joel Moffett, Resource Conservationist, Ecological Division Colorado National Resource Conservation Service.

Chavez has traveled extensively for over 25 years to Pacific-rim countries marketing North and South American fresh fruits and vegetables. He said rainfall is so plentiful in China they have excellent water quality.

Hemphill manages the family farm. His main concern is the bottom line, and he has found good conservation practices not only save his back but produce a good return on investment. The family started improvements back in the seventies with concrete ditches, and their latest innovation is central pivot sprinklers operated by electrical motors. These sprinklers also have nozzles which descend to just above plant level and deliver water in a fine spray.

Former ag teacher Jerry Allen, originally from Cheraw, described all the good things ground cover planted after the harvest of the main crop or concurrently with it can do: increase organic matter in the soil, increase plant diversity, provide winter food for livestock, keep the soil cool and workable, to name just a few. Planting turnips and radishes along with or after other crops has multiple benefits. These root vegetables bring protein up through the soil again, besides providing great fodder for cattle in the winter. Cattle love the leaves and leave the roots in the ground to do the rest of their job.

NRCS's Joel Moffett couldn't agree with him more. "We've been farming the same way for 5,000 years, and all we've improved is our tools," said Moffett. He thinks it's high time we quit plowing up the fields, keep them as undisturbed as possible and planted with various types of plants, improving biodiversity and discouraging plant diseases and insect infestations, making fewer chemicals necessary in the production of food. Thereby we not only improve the soil but also the quality of the water percolating through it.

After lunch, Lorenz Sutherland's group concentrated on "Water Quality is a Bottom Line Issue." Sutherland is president of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. His group of presenters consisted of Dana LK Hoag, professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University; Jonathan Aguilar, extension water resource engineer, Southwest Research and Extension Center, Kansas State University; Timothy K. Gates, professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, CSU; Cindy L. Lair, State Conservation Program Manager, Colorado Department of Agriculture and Andrew Neuhart, Supervising Scientist, Brown and Caldwell. They identified the main pollutants of water quality in this region as salinity, selenium, dissolved uranium in wells, and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). Nutrients may cause selenium to become soluble and widely distributed. More nitrogen means more selenium, the number one water problem in the valley for water quality in municipal water treatment.

Dissolved uranium is present in many wells in the valley, making the water from them unsafe to drink. "It is fast becoming an issue," said Sutherland. "Of course we have known about selenium for a long time, but people may be unaware of uranium in their well water." He continued, "The idea behind this workshop is to have a farmer-oriented presentation that drives home the idea that it's not only the quantity, but also the quality of water that matters."

Cindy Schleining, NRCS, moderated Panel 3, dealing with "Real Solutions." Her group was composed of Blake Osborn, Colorado Water Institute, reporting on research by Perry Cabot, Jim Valliant, Jeff Tranel and Mike Bartolo; Jack Goble, P.E., Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District; Kenan Diker, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment; Troy Bauder, Colorado State University.

Cabot and his group are running a five-year study, the first two years devoted to establishing a base-line on Rocky Ford Highline Canal and Holbrook Lateral flood-irrigated land, then changing irrigation to sprinkler to see the difference.

Goble's recommended Best Management Practices for maintaining water quality in the Arkansas River basin were canal and ditch sealing, improving irrigation application (sprinklers, drip), leasing-fallowing, decreasing fertilization and enhancing riparian areas.

Bauder did a study of conservation tillage. The advantages were seen to be: reduces production costs by eliminating several field operations and reduces erosion by wind and water, maintains yields by reducing the loss of fertile soils and nutrients, and in certain environments improves yields by reducing erosion. Less erosion means fewer nutrients to contaminate water quality.

Obviously this conference spoke to what farmers and ranchers want to learn, because although it was lengthy, there was very little attrition in audience size at the very end, 4 p.m. Wrap-up and closing comments were by Casey Davenhill, Colorado Watershed Assembly and Lydia Hooper, Fountain Communications.