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Farmers fight for their water on Front Range

 Daily Camera, Aug 20, 2006

The two were among about 100 farmers and their wives, some of them nearing bankruptcy, who gathered to find out what they could do after the state shut down hundreds of wells on the Eastern Plains because Front Range communities and farmers with senior water rights claimed the most precious resource in the West.

The news this night was grim. The farmers were told they need to accept the fact they won't get their water back and the only satisfaction they're going to get is if they sue the state.

"If you think you're going to file a takings case and get water, you're confused," said Chuck Miller, a property rights activist. He urged the farmers to form coalitions and file lawsuits.

State officials said the farmers have little chance of collecting. State water engineer Hal Simpson has said he's not taking away their water, he's just setting limits on how much they can use.

This has been a long, awful summer for farmers along the South Platte River growing wheat, corn, sugar beets and melons. Many had already planted when the state engineer issued a forecast anticipating lower-than-average flows in the river, leading to the shutdown of wells drawing water that would otherwise flow into the northeastern Colorado river.

Guthrie, 80, said production on her 550 acres near Fort Morgan dropped when the state cut the number of acres she could irrigate from her well to 140 acres, and she decided to sell.

Wacker, gingerly opening a manila envelope that contained his farm's life history, said he has put a lot of effort into growing corn, alfalfa and small grains on land he reclaimed eight years ago from grassland. Now the fields are turning to dirt � ashes to ashes, dust to dust � and there is nothing he can do about it.

"There are more farm sales every year," Wacker said. "This is not going to continue much longer."

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