Critical change means more support for Colorado farmers

WASHINGTON-Congresswoman Betsy Markey and Senator Michael Bennet welcomed an announcement today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow more Colorado farmers and ranchers to participate in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) by increasing project enrollment from 35,000 to 70,000 acres, adding parts of Washington and Lincoln Counties, and consolidating and simplifying the payments made by the state.

"This is great news for farmers and ranchers on the Great Plains of Colorado," said Rep. Markey. "I and the delegation have worked tirelessly to secure this agreement. USDA's decision will allow even more farmers and ranchers to participate in CREP and to achieve their water conservation goals. The CREP agreement in the Republican River Basin is another great example of how successful the program has become."

Dennis Coryell, President of the Republican River Water Conservancy District, said, "This is a huge win for farmers and ranchers in Eastern Colorado. It will allow those farmers in Lincoln and Washington Counties to finally be eligible for the CREP program. Congresswoman Markey was instrumental in making this happen, and I cannot thank her enough for her hard work on this agreement. "

"This is great news for Eastern Colorado's farmers and ranchers. This decision will safeguard ground and surface water and protect our wildlife and natural resources while ensuring our state can meets its water-delivery obligations," Bennet said. "Congresswoman Markey and the rest of the delegation worked hard for this win and we will continue to push to make sure we are helping Colorado's farmers and ranchers."

The Republican River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a program through the Farm Services Agency (FSA) in which a water right is permanently retired and the land must be put into a grass habitat for 15 years and treated much like CRP ground. After the end of that 15-year period, the land may be used for grazing or dry land farming, but the well will have been retired.

The retirement of irrigated acreage in the Target Zone will achieve the same goals listed in the original Republican River CREP Agreement and the goals as stated in the proposed Amendment, specifically reducing irrigation water use, reducing soil erosion and pesticide use, and providing a mechanism for farmers and ranchers to assist in meeting State and local water quantity and water quality requirements. While the voluntary conveyance and dedication of ground water rights of participants who irrigate enrolled acres within the Target Zone to the RRWCD-WAE may assist the State of Colorado to comply with the Republican River Compact, it is also intended and will increase stream flows to enhance downstream habitat.

Full Text of the USDA's letter:

Mr. Peter Ampe
First Assistant Attorney General
State of Colorado Department of Law
Office of the Attorney General
1525 Sherman Street 7th Floor
Denver, Colorado 80202

Dear Mr. Ampe:

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss proposed changes to the Colorado Republican River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) Agreement and your follow-up letter dated July 27, 2009.

A proposed draft Agreement amendment labeled "Amendment 2" was forwarded to Farm Service Agency's (FSA) CREP managers by Tim Davis, TJD/LLC, on July 21,2008, which proposed amending the current CREP Agreement to include the statement under Section IV, PROGRAM ELEMENTS Subparagraph 8:

Participants who irrigate enrolled irrigated cropland within the target zone with ground water must submit to the Colorado Ground Water Commission a Change in Ownership Form GWS 11 and shall agree to convey and dedicate such rights to the Republican River Water Conservation District Water Activity Enterprise for compliance with the Republican River Compact by using such ground water right to increase stream-flow in the Republican River Basin.

At a meeting with you and representatives of the Republican River Water Conservation District held on July 15,2009, we were able to discuss the two remaining concerns regarding the above proposed pipeline language which included a targeted zone within the proposed amendment to the Colorado Republican River CREP project area. Our discussion and your July 27,2009, follow-up letter adequately addressed and provided clarifications to our concerns. We accept your language on page 2 of your follow-up letter which stated:

No portion of the State of Colorado, the RRWCD or their employees' or contractors' time or expenses related to the planning or construction of the Compact Compliance Pipeline, or the time or expenses related to acquiring the property rights necessary to implement the Compact Compliance Pipeline, shall be credited towards the 20% local cost-share.

In addition, you have addressed our concern that the conservation benefits realized outside the Target Zone will be similarly demonstrated within the Target Zone.

Based on those clarifications, FSA generally supports your proposed Addendum to the CREP Agreement which seeks to increase project enrollment from 35,000 to 70,000 acres, add parts of Washington and Lincoln Counties, and consolidate and simplify the payments made by the State. Although there are important topics that need to be addressed and resolved as we work together on finalizing the details, we are anxious to move forward on amending the Colorado Republican River CREP Agreement to encourage enrollment and re-enrollment into this highly valuable and successful CREP project, and we appreciate the continued efforts that you are putting into this valuable project to address the environmental concerns facing Colorado.

As previously discussed, this Agreement modification will require an Environmental Assessment (EA), as the modifications to the CREP may have an economic and environmental impact on the CREP project area. You have previously indicated that Colorado is prepared to adjust the financial burdens under the Agreement to reflect additional expenses to FSA for the Commodity Credit Corporation and obligate funding necessary to complete an EA according to 2-CRP subparagraph 510 D. Please work directly with Matt Ponish, National Environmental Policy Act Program Manager, and Lana Nesbit, CREP Program Manager, to coordinate the EA process and complete negotiations for your proposed CREP Addendum.

FSA's national CREP Team is looking forward to continuing our work with Colorado CREP partners to refine this proposal and enhance the already successful CREP project in Colorado through this proposed Addendum to the Agreement.
We look forward to working with you to expedite this expansion proposal.


Michael T. Scuse
Deputy Under Secretary
Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services

The Honorable Betsy Markey
The Honorable Mark Udall
The Honorable Michael Bennet
The Honorable Bill Ritter