Uh-oh. What happened to runoff? In Colorado, Wyoming and other places in the Rockies, it’s looking like spring flushing flows will be meager at best this year–with snowpack levels far below average. And that could add up to a perfect storm of low flows and punishing heat for many Western rivers and streams this summer. Our rivers, wildlife and fish populations are going to take a big hit when the flows become trickles. Fishing will take a hit, too.
This summer will likely bring home the importance of healthy flows–and the difficult challenge of making finite water supplies meet diverse needs, from ranching and municipalities to recreation and healthy rivers.
In Wyoming, ranchers are already talking about drought and how to deal with it–sell cows or buy hay? One rancher said that drought “makes us think, be innovative, be conservative.” One extension agent’s advice: “Dust off your drought plan.”
This is also where Farm Bill conservation programs come into play. TU’s Western Water Project is all about keeping healthy flows in our streams and rivers–and the Farm Bill is one of the most powerful tools we have to achieve that conservation goal.
Farm Bill conservation programs help ranchers and farmers make irrigation system upgrades and habitat improvements that make water go further, improving not only ag operations but also boosting flows for fish and wildlife. In a region where water is for fighting, the programs also encourage collaboration among ranchers, sportsmen, agencies and other stakeholders to get things done. Check out this video “Water Partners” for some examples of how TU and ranchers are working together to restore rivers and flows.
Without Farm Bill conservation programs, a lot of these amazing shovel-ready projects would never happen. Congress is considering Farm Bill reauthorization this year–and as my colleague Chris Hunt ably pointed out, if you’re an angler, you have a stake in it. Tell your lawmaker to keep the conservation title programs funded so that ranchers and farmers can continue to find innovative ways to grow food while being good stewards of our rivers and streams.
Why do we care? Smart water and land management means healthy flows and habitat–and fishing opportunity downstream for you and me.