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Weld County commissioners plea for help for farmers

WELD COUNTY - County commissioners are making one last plea help save the crops for hundreds of farms in Weld County. Tuesday, they sent out 28 letters to senior water right holders downstream asking them for permission to temporarily turn on pumps in baking farm fields.

"If the Governor won't let us do it, if the Attorney General won't let us do it, maybe those senior water right holders will understand, because most of them are downstream and are engaged in agriculture business understand the ripple effect this disaster is going to have on the State of Colorado," Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said.

The Weld County Commissioners formally requested that Governor John Hickenlooper issue an executive order to allow farmers to pump ground water for 30 days. The amount of water pumped would be monitored.

The Governor's office says they have been advised twice by Attorney General John Suthers to not issue the order.

The supply of surface water from rivers ran out for farmers in Weld County two weeks ago. The farmers in Weld County are under strict limits as to how much groundwater they are permitted to pump by a 2006 ruling from the Colorado Water Court. The ruling protects the water levels of the aquifer and the water rights of those right holders downstream.

Some farmers in Weld County were only able to pump groundwater for a few days.

"I don't think there is anybody that doesn't have an issue," Weld County farmer Glenn Fritzer said. "I really don't know of anybody that is getting along fine."

Fritzer, like many others, is being forced to walk away from corn fields, because they do not have enough water to keep them alive.

David Eckhardt, a neighbor of Fritzer's, is letting almost a third of his corn crop, roughly 500 acres, wither and die in the field. The number of farmers impacted by the water shortage is in the hundreds and the number of acres of corn being left to die is thought to be upwards of 100,000.

"It is difficult when you come out and look day after day and see the condition of the field and knowing that there is a solution," Eckhardt said.

While the situation is having a direct economic impact on the farmers, it may soon be felt throughout the state.

"This agricultural disaster... will impact folks not just in Weld County and North Colorado, but the entire State of Colorado," Conway said. "This is a $1.5 billion industry in Weld County alone. Weld County is the largest agricultural county in Colorado, but more importantly it is the 8th largest agricultural county in the United States."

Positive news for farmers came when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack approved a request from Governor Hickenlooper to declare a disaster designation for counties in Colorado impacted by the drought.

Farmers living in counties impacted by the drought will be eligible to be considered for assistance from the Farm Service Agency, including emergency loans.