TOWAOC, Colo. — The water is flowing, and the crops are growing at the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe's farm in Towaoc, Colorado. But this year, only a fraction of the southwest Colorado tribal farm is green.
For the second straight year, the farm's water supply has been cut due to well below average mountain snowpack. Last spring, the Ute Mountain farm only received 10% of it's water allocation, and this year they will get 25%.
“So, this year, out of the 7,600 acres we’re dealing with 6,000 acres of weed-infested ground,” Simon Martinez said.
Martinez, who runs the Ute Mountain farm, said they have junior 1987 water rights assigned to them in the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act. He said if there is any water left after senior water rights are fulfilled each spring, the Ute-Mountain Utes get a portion of their 23,400 acre-feet allotment.
In 2021, they only got 2,700 acre-feet of water, and in 2022, they will get 6,000 acre-feet.
Martinez said they still have to pay the same bill whether they get 5 acre-feet or their full allotment.
“And when your water bill is over a half-million dollars, it’s hard to come up with a half a million when you’re only farming 15 fields,” Martinez said.
The limed water supply on the farm comes down a 40-mile-long canal system from McPhee Reservoir.
When their land is fully planted, Martinez said he can employ more than 60 people, most of which are tribal members. But with mostly barren fields in 2022, he had to let half of his workers go.
According to Martinez, there’s a unique story behind the way the Ute Mountain Utes grow a quality product in the middle of a desert in southwest Colorado.
“And I think the story, not only it being on the Indian reservation, but being a product and the people that make that happen is a big story,” Martinez said.
Martinez has big dreams for the Ute Mountain farm and this two-year drought is crushing them, but somehow he stays positive about the future.
“It’s not something that you yell out from the rooftop, you just do what’s important," Martinez said. "Is it challenging? Ya, but I think life’s challenging to everybody, just in different ways”
One thing that could help the Ute Mountain farm out a little would be an active monsoon season. There is a surge of monsoon rain in the forecast this weekend, but Martinez says the monsoon is nowhere near as impactful as mountain snowpack in the winter.
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