Impacts of Water Restriction on Surface Irrigated, Mountain Pastures

Mountain Region



(Eagle, Garfield)

Primary Topic:

Natural Resources and Sustainability

Other Topics:

Economic and Community Development, Emergency Planning and Resources, Food and Agriculture

Lead Mentor:  

Drew Walters

Agriculture Specialist

Internship Overview:

Water restrictions throughout the Colorado River Basin have been the result of a decades-long mega-drought and a high water demand for the basin. These water restrictions have resulted in uncertainty for local producers who rely on water shares or rights for their businesses. The need for increased understanding of how local water restrictions can impact their operation, financial implications, and tools/resources for navigating an uncertain future are greatly needed.
This internship will be located in Pitkin County. Pitkin County, is a mountain community consisting of a little over 10,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land. Most of this irrigated land is pasture, with flood irrigation a common practice. To understand how future water restrictions may impact these agricultural lands, Pitkin County is partnering with CSU Extension and the Roaring Fork Conservancy to begin localized studies on representative plots in the county. Shippee Open Space is one of these research plots, located just outside the town of Basalt, CO. Historically, 15-acres of the over 35-acre property have been flood irrigated with gated pipe and grazed with cattle. The forage consists of mixed grasses with approximately 10% alfalfa.
This internship program will work directly with Pitkin County Extension, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, and the Roaring Fork Conservancy to assist in field data collection on the Shippee property and possibly other properties in the area (time permitting).

Goals, Scope and Objectives:

Primary Goal
This is a multi-year research project and this is the first year of research. The primary goal for this internship will be to collect and analyze field data under normal, irrigated conditions, which will be instrumental in developing a baseline for each of the study plots that undergo various irrigation treatments in following years. Secondary goals may be to collect field data from plots with different field treatments to assess efficacy.

1) Developing testing methods for the site – this will be a multi-year study. With this being the first year, a key objective will be to assist in developing field testing methods for this site. These methods will be developed with the guidance and oversight of the research project partners and internship mentors.
2) Collecting field data – with the guidance and mentorship from Pitkin County Extension, this objective will entail:
a) Monitoring pasture productivity
b) Collecting soil samples
c) Documenting plant species and diversity
d) Applying and documenting appropriate irrigation rates
e) Monitor tail water runoff
f) Measuring soil moisture
g) Administering pasture health assessments
3) Analyze and interpret data – in a practical and easy to understand format, since these results will be viewed by producers and the general public.

The immediate scope of the project is local to Garfield, Pitkin, and Eagle counties, all within the Roaring Fork Valley (RFV). These three counties consist of a combined 55,789 acres of forage-producing agricultural land (USDA Census of Agriculture, 2017).

With which stakeholder group(s) will the intern work?

The intern will work directly with three stakeholder groups:
1) Pitkin County Open Space and Trails – The mission of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees is to acquire, preserve, maintain and manage open space properties for multiple purposes including, but not limited to, recreational, wildlife, agricultural, scenic and access purposes; and to acquire, preserve, develop, maintain and manage trails for similar purposes. Primary Contact – Drew Walters
2) CSU Extension – the internship will work under Pitkin County Extension and will be introduced to surrounding Eagle County Extension and Garfield County Extension agents. Primary Contact – Drew Walters
3) Roaring Fork Conservancy – an independent, 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization, the Roaring Fork Conservancy inspires people to explore, value, and protect the Roaring Fork Watershed. Primary Contact – Heather Terrersal Lewin

What student learning outcomes do you anticipate and what are the opportunities for professional development?

Anticipated Student Learning Outcomes:
1) Student will help develop and evaluate field methods for monitoring the research plot and will use them for monitoring field conditions under normal irrigation (baseline) conditions.
2) Student will analyze and interpret data collected from the field for local producers and stakeholders.
3) Student will collaborate with local stakeholders throughout the internship period.

Throughout the internship the student will be working with local governmental departments and non-profit organizations. This work will provide a great opportunity to develop professional skills in communication, collaboration, and networking. The student will also gain experience as part of a local research team, implementing methods, collecting data, and interpreting results. Being able to work on a county-led project will give the student real-world, field experience.
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