This report could destroy irrigated agriculture

  • Patrick O'Toole

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Patrick O'Toole raises cattle, sheep and hay near the Wyoming-Colorado border. He serves on the Wyoming Open Space Committee, the Colorado River Coordinating Council and is a director of the Family Farm Alliance. The lone agricultural member of the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, O'Toole wrote a letter dissenting from the commission's report and issued a water report of his own:

Patrick O'Toole: "It's troubling that I couldn't sign on to the commission report. I have a lot of experience and am a solution-oriented person. The commission report represents an unrealistic and pessimistic view of Western water policy. (It) concludes that more federal regulation, more mandates and more bureaucracy are necessary.

"We can destroy irrigated Western agriculture by policy. Is the problem so onerous we should destroy this sector, essentially to fuel growth? The other day I drove from Denver to Wyoming through the backcountry. It is heart wrenching what we're doing to ourselves. The most remote valleys, the riparian areas, are just full of trophy homes and subdivisions. It is going so fast. Growth is driving policy instead of policy driving growth. That is what we should be concerned about. Instead, we're trying to focus so much federal energy fighting agriculture.

"Agriculture's rights to water are inherent with the state's ability to have control over the water within their borders. This (commission report) is about whether water rights that, in my view, were appropriately given to the states to manage, become federal. That's what this is really about.

"I've searched my soul and I believe holding together the states' constitutionally given rights and working together with the local infrastructure we've developed over the years is a more effective way to deal with these very, very complex governance problems.

"Let me tell you about Muddy Creek for just a moment. Muddy Creek is a high plains, desert tributary to the upper Colorado River. It's something our community has been involved in for a long time. It's a microcosm of the hopeful nature of solving water problems. It involves everything from grazing to oil and gas to the reintroduction of cutthroat trout to building wetlands - all those pieces.

"It has now become an example of why the system doesn't work anymore. You have all the federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the other varieties - all involved. It's become a catastrophe from the community's point of view. We have people who've won awards for Western conservation stuff. We have the best Natural Resource Conservation Service employee you could ever have. And they've got him hammered. It's threats and counterthreats. Its like a tag-team match among the federal agencies.

"You have to realize the federal government empowers people at the G-9, G-10 level, whose egos are so tied to controlling process they won't let the process work. Federal agencies are incapable of giving up responsibility. And the major commission report talked about that. But the commission also recommended basin-wide oversight with presidential appointees that innately, inherently, inevitably causes the same problems that everyone has problems with in the first place. It's ironic."

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...