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Water salinity, sodium harming farms†and fairways

Falcon residents are familiar with Colorado’s unique water laws and water scarcity. Recent problems with small farmers and golf courses show that the water the area does have could be harming crops and grass. At 7,000 feet above sea level, salt water is the last thing many landscapers and growers thought they would have to deal with.Whitmar and Lisa McConnell owned a 22,000-square-foot greenhouse on Murphy Road in Peyton. Water quality and quantity problems forced them to stop selling produce after growing a popular micro-farm business. By 2013, they were no longer able to grow enough to support their own family. They have moved to Kentucky and are selling the Peyton property and greenhouse.ìWe had fruit trees, strawberries, kiwis, all kinds of vegetables,î Whitmar McConnell said. Water quality was an ongoing issue, and having enough water to dilute the issues was the problem, he said.Antler Creek Golf Course in Meridian Ranch also has an ongoing problem with irrigation water salt content. ìWe’re always battling salinity in the water,î said Wayne Reorda, operations manager. The golf course superintendent spends a good portion of his time working on mitigating the impacts of salt on the grass, he said.ìBesides affecting crop yield and soil conditions, irrigation water quality can affect fertility needs, irrigation system performance and longevity,î wrote T.A. Bauder in a May 2001 paper for Colorado State University’s Extension service. ìBecause plants can only transpire pure water, usable plant water in the soil decreases dramatically as salinity increases.îSodium causes a decrease in the downward movement of water into and through the soil, according to the CSU extension paper. The United States Golf Association has commissioned studies to help course operators deal with the impact of water on sensitive fairway and greens grass. Water found in eastern El Paso County groundwater creates sodic soils, the USGA said in its Green Section Record. ìSodium causes the soil structure to deteriorate, resulting in poor water infiltration and percolation,î according to the report.A water quality sample taken March 7 on a well southeast of Falcon showed sodium levels of 152.72 parts per million in water drawn from the Laramie-Black Hills aquifer. ìThis level of sodium in the water will definitely cause a problem,î said Shawn Speidel, agronomist and owner of Soil Fertility Service. Speidel said 50 ppm is an upper limit for acceptable sodium levels, with 20 ppm or less being ideal.In addition to making it more difficult for water to reach plant roots, sodium causes other problems. ìSome plants are more tolerant than others to sodium, but eventually with the limited water use available and the dry air pulling water to the surface, sodium will accumulate in the root crown,î Speidel said. According to CSU Extension fact sheets, apricots, plums, tomatoes, peppers, corn and potatoes can be injured by spraying high sodium water on leaves during irrigation.Removing salinity from water is not an easy or inexpensive task. Reverse osmosis systems can cost between 40 and 45 cents per thousand gallons, said Glen Miller of the USGA. This could add more than $17,200 to the cost of irrigating a single 40-acre parcel of cropland per year.Diluting or flushing out the salt from soil using rain water is impractical or illegal in Colorado. Diverting rain water for beneficial use without owning senior water rights will result in $500 a day fines. A 2009 law allows for limited collection of rainwater from the roof of a primary residence on land that has a well. That amount of water is not enough to dilute the high-salt content of local aquifer water, Speidel said.ìIf water rights weren’t an issue, we could have stayed in Colorado,î McConnell said. ìThe politicians and developers want development because there’s revenue, but there’s also a large demand for local high quality food. But the priority seems to be development.î

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