PLEASANT VIEW, Colo. - Farmers who were
thirsting for irrigation water here in southwest Colorado 10 years
ago now say it is too costly, and they are threatening to sue the
federal government to stop its delivery to their farms.
"We just can't afford it - it is as simple as that," said R.R.
(Junior) Hollen, a 63-year-old farmer who raises wheat, alfalfa and
pinto beans. "If prices were what they were 10 years ago, we might
have a chance. But we haven't got a chance now."
When the project was proposed to farmers in 1977, its economics
looked irresistible. Farmers would get water at cheap, federally
subsidized rates, said the United States Bureau of Reclamation.
Crop yields would double. Land values would rise. The whole
countryside, and its economy, would grow greener. So many signed a
petition to have a dam built, obligating them to accept the water
when it came.
But this month, as the first few drops of water from the dam on
the Dolores River trickle onto farm fields, all that has changed.
Crop prices have tumbled while the cost of the dam and its water has
soared. Irrigation, the great engine of rural development in the
West, no longer makes sense for farmers here and could even cost
them their land if they are forced into bankruptcy, the farmers
"If we could see a way to make it pay, you wouldn't hear anybody
crying," said Clay Hollen, Hollen's son. "But the bottom line is
you've got to pay your bills. And so far nobody has showed us any
figures to indicate we can make a profit."
But the project's supporters disagree. They said that
agriculture could snap out of its financial slump in a few years,
making irrigated farming more profitable. Further, they said
farmers would not have to pay for the water until 1997.
"Several years from now, we'll be looking back on this project
and thinking it was a bargain," said John Porter, manager of the
Delores Water Conservancy District, which manages the project. "The
only reason you can't call this cheap water now is the depressed
nature of agriculture."
Years ago, when dams were cheaper and dam sites more plentiful,
farmers routinely found success at the end of an irrigation pipe.
But today, that is no longer the case.
"Our sense is that we are hearing more rumbling about this,"
said John Folk-Williams, president of Western Network, a New Mexico
research group specializing in natural resource issues. …