The Dolores River is the lifeblood of Montezuma County – and has a whole host of stakeholders, including boaters, farmers and recreationists.
In recognition of this, the Dolores River Boating Advocates hosted “Take a Boater Farming” on Oct. 12, focusing on the role of the river in irrigating local farms. It was held in conjunction with the High Desert Conservation District, the Montezuma Land Conservancy and Fozzie’s Farm, where the event was held.
The purpose of the event was to promote collaboration between river-related entities and to help people understand other perspectives, said Amber Clark, executive director of DRBA.
Fozzie’s Farm is on an 83-acre parcel of land in Lewis. It’s owned by the Montezuma Land Conservancy and serves as the organization’s educational hub, connecting young people to the outdoors through hands-on, agricultural learning programs.
The farm is managed by Jay Loschert, the conservancy’s outreach and education coordinator, who also lives there.
Irrigation was the main topic of discussion at the event. Loschert demonstrated how irrigation functions at Fozzie’s Farm, and Greg Vlaming of the High Desert Conservation District talked about various irrigation methods and water-saving techniques for farmers.
Fozzie’s Farm is at the northernmost edge of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co.’s coverage area – above it is served by the Dolores Water Conservation District.
Vlaming said that in his job with High Desert Conservation District, they’ve collaborated with DWCD to increase efficiencies. Eventually they plan to work their way south to do the same with MVIC.
Most of the irrigation in the district is operated through side rolls or center pivots, Vlaming said.
“That was a mandate when they built the McPhee Project, that if you were going to irrigate up there, which was traditionally dryland, as you all know, you had to achieve a certain amount of efficiency,” he said.
Construction wrapped up on the McPhee Reservoir and dam in the 1980s, and many of the side rolls and nozzles, implemented at that time, are “worn out,” Vlaming said.
“They achieve a certain level of efficiency, but many of these systems are old,” he said.
One of their past projects aimed at improving irrigation efficiency involved trying out a Dragon-Line, which attaches drip technology to a center pivot system, aiming to increase uniformity and reduce soil erosion and evaporative losses.
However, the Dragon-Line hasn’t seen much success here, Vlaming said, after experiments with the application rate and the filtration assembly. During water application, filters clogged, leading to a loss of water pressure, he said.
“So it’s not working,” Vlaming said. He added, though, that the experimentation had been a learning experience.
More effective for them have been flow control nozzles for side rolls, Vlaming said. The nozzles’ gaskets swell and shrink based on the water pressure, allowing the nozzles to “equilibrate” the flow of water, which may vary if the side roll is set up on a slope.
He found six farmers to try out the nozzles on their side rolls, and they reported saving 420 gallons per minute, he said.
At Fozzie’s Farm, there is no pressurized irrigation, Loschert said. Instead, they rely on gravity from the fields’ slopes for their side rolls. The lack of a pressurized system is time-intensive and requires a lot of manual labor, but it can save thousands in electrical costs, Loschert said.
On a field adjacent to the farm’s education center building, Loschert and whichever assistants might be around have dug furrows into the ground to help leftover water travel from high to low ground.
The farm’s goal is not only to be a sustainable site, but also to be “regenerative,” making the soil healthier and more conducive to growth, Loschert said. The farm has a partnership with neighboring cattle farmers – the cows graze at Fozzie’s Farm, which helps maintain the fields and grasslands.
The Saturday event closed out with a screening of “River of Sorrow,” which focuses on the Dolores River and the important role it plays for boaters, farmers, and community members. The film, produced by DRBA alongside filmmakers Rig to Flip, highlighted different voices and perspectives on what can be done to preserve the river and what water use should look like.