Water defines the West. In this sense, the West is the 17 States located on and westward of the 100th meridian. The precipitation rates east of the Great Plains average 40” or more but, beginning around the 100th meridian, much of the West sees less than 20 inches each year. John Wesley Powell, in his classic 1878 report on settlement possibilities in the region, pointed out that areas receiving less than 20 inches of rainfall annually would require supplemental irrigation to support agriculture.
As a direct result of the arid conditions of the region, irrigated agriculture is largely a western phenomenon. The West accounts for 91% of all US irrigated acreage and 82% of all irrigated farms. The USDA reports that about 27% of all harvested cropland in the West is irrigated, producing 66% of the value of crop sales in the region. In turn, irrigated agriculture is by far the largest water user in the West representing 78% of total water withdrawals in the region.
Surface irrigation using gravity remains the most common form of irrigation in the West. There are hundreds, if not thousands of irrigation diversions from rivers and streams in Colorado alone and Colorado water law allows diverters to use whatever reasonable means necessary to divert water for beneficial use. For most farmers of modest means this often necessitates bulldozing an annual gravel “push-up” dam in the river. Practices like these are destructive to the surrounding aquatic environment and create impediments to fish migration and safety concerns for recreational boating but are many times the only affordable solutions for those who make their livelihoods from irrigated agriculture.
Crane Associates is a leader in developing innovative solutions to in-stream irrigation diversions that meet the needs of all river stakeholders. Since 1998 this firm has been designing and constructing low-maintenance and sustainable structures that deliver full decrees of irrigation water while eliminating annual bulldozing and allowing safe passage for fish and boats. In many instances we have also identified and secured funding for these projects. We routinely work cooperatively with regulatory agencies, fishing groups, agriculture, recreation, environmental organizations, and industrial interests to design collaborative solutions and reduce conflict that meets the needs of all involved.