My great-grandfather moved to Kiowa County from Illinois and began our family's ties to rural Colorado in the late 1800s. Modern technology has changed our lives and most certainly how we work the land.
One thing that hasn't changed is how critical water is to making a living for farmers and ranchers. Our crops and livestock need water in order to survive. Without a reliable source of water, our farms and ranches fail, as do our rural communities.
Global warming is causing temperatures to rise. Here in Colorado, temperatures have been steadily rising for the last half-century and experts expect it to continue. Our average temperatures have increased by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit over three decades and we know that global warming, or the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is the cause.
The impacts of global warming in Colorado show no signs of slowing down - by 2050, temperatures are expected to rise by another 4 degrees Fahrenheit - exacerbating the strains that droughts and population growth already have put on our water resources.
A recent study by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on global warming projected a seasonal shift in precipitation for Colorado. We could see more mid-winter precipitation and, in some areas, a decrease in the late spring and summer precipitation. They also predict that lower elevation (below 8,200 feet) snowpack is likely to decline, with modest declines projected for high elevation (above 8,200 feet) snowpack.
The timing of runoff is projected to shift to begin earlier in the spring, which may reduce late summer stream flows. That earlier snow melt, increased evaporation and drier soils will reduce runoff for most of the Colorado's water basins, with a 5 to 20 percent loss just in the Colorado River Basin by 2050 alone.
Not to open up a can of worms, but it is likely our water rights will be impacted by changes in the timing of runoff and a reduction in late summer stream flows. too. Higher temperatures, timing changes of runoff and increased evaporation also will lower soil moisture and alter growing seasons.
This could impact agriculture in two ways: First, higher temperatures are expected to result in reduced water availability.
According to scientists, water strain will cause a decrease in grain productivity by as much as 33 percent.
Second, the hotter temperatures and reduction in water caused by global warming are bad for livestock and poultry.
According to a recent study, if dairy production decreased by just a fraction because of heat stress on animals, the Colorado dairy industry could lose $28 million annually. Lost revenue leads to job cuts.
The good news is there is a way to address these serious concerns while giving our economy a much-needed boost.
And here's how rural America can help. We can re-power America by developing clean energy sources. Farmers and ranchers can benefit by putting wind and solar projects on our lands.
Many producers have found developing small wind and/or solar projects to serve the energy needs of their own operation have helped reduce their overhead.
Others are supplementing their income by partnering up with neighbors and other entities to do utility-scale renewable energy projects to transmit energy to a local community or to send power over transmission lines.
We can refuel America and cut our dependence on oil. We can do that by increasing the efficiency in our cars and trucks and developing clean biofuels.
These clean energy sources provide infinite energy supply at stable prices and help to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.
It already is hard enough to make a living farming and ranching in Colorado. Our leaders need to act quickly to address global warming, or many Colorado families, farms and ranches could be in serious trouble in the years to come.
For the sake of rural Colorado, I hope our elected officials immediately make this issue a top priority this year.
John Singletary is a fourth-generation Coloradan and a farmer and rancher in eastern Pueblo County. He serves on the Colorado Agriculture Commission and is a board member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.