Sep 132006
 
Authors: Whitney Faulconer

DENVER – Sen. Ken Salazar said Wednesday he has asked federal agriculture officials to reconsider their decision to deny drought disaster loans to farmers on the Eastern Plains whose wells were shut off in a water rights dispute.

Salazar said the farmers’ plight was caused by the drought and they deserve help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Salazar, D-Colo., said federal officials ordered crop insurance providers to cover losses only on crops irrigated with water that farmers were guaranteed before the planting season.

“I think the federal government is wrong,” he said. “Due to circumstances beyond (the farmers’) control, which did in fact have to do with the lack of water, the availability of water, they have lost their crops.”

The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District has told farmers who depend on well water that they may be limited to one well each next year under a plan aimed at settling a dispute with other northern Colorado farmers and Front Range cities.

The dispute won’t be resolved until a trial is held in February.

The state engineer shut down 440 wells after forecasting lower-than-average flows in the river. When river levels are low, the wells must be turned off to ensure that water users with higher-priority rights get their share. State law allows the wells to be operated if the users can prove they can replace water when it’s needed downstream.

Some farmers have said they are being denied access to their own water and could be forced out of business by the end of this year.

In a letter to Eldon Gould, the USDA’s Risk Management Agency administrator, Salazar said farmers had no way to know their wells would be shut off.

“Without the coverage that they had anticipated from their crops insurance program, farmers and their rural communities across eastern Colorado will be devastated,” Salazar wrote.

The USDA did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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