No Chico Brush: Farmers Engaged in Soil Health and Irrigation Efficiency Research
A group of farmers in the Lower Gunnison River Basin, across Montrose and Delta Counties, have come together to proactively address concerns regarding the future of irrigated agriculture. Since 2013, a core group of concerned producers have been working on research related to pros and cons of increasing water use efficiency by studying crop water needs, water availability, soil health and productivity.
The group’s name refers to the woody vegetation that covered the Uncompahgre and North Fork valleys before the advent of irrigated agriculture. The group seeks to prevent the decline of irrigated agriculture and resulting return of chico brush, hence: No Chico Brush.
In addition to farmers, No Chico Brush has a diverse ad-hoc membership which includes Montrose and Delta County Commissioners, multiple Conservancy Districts, Domestic and Agricultural Water Users Associations, Municipal and Industrial Water Suppliers, Delta Montrose Electric Association, the Colorado River District, Colorado State University, the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and numerous private business interests.
The group meets on an ad-hoc basis (approximately monthly) and has an Executive Committee that helps to oversee several grants that help fund their activities.
No Chico Brush is working on two major initiatives to address their concerns related to the supply and demand of agricultural irrigation water while simultaneously contributing to the conservation of natural resource values such as soil health, critical habitat improvement for threatened and endangered species, and restoring minimum stream flows.
Irrigation Water Use Efficiency Research: The first of the two initiatives involves local, West Slope, on-farm irrigation and productivity research, led by CSU researcher, Dr. Perry Cabot. The multi-year research project is set up to evaluate and compare the effects of different water application techniques and crop production via side by side on-farm irrigation practices. This includes the intercomparison of traditional furrow irrigation with more advanced irrigation techniques such as center pivot sprinklers, drip irrigation systems and big gun delivery systems together with integrated soil moisture monitoring sensors and tailwater measurements. Dr. Cabot, has completed several years of data collection and analysis and this project that has been extended until the end of 2018.
This is the first in-depth, on-farm research of this nature in Western Colorado. Active farmer participation and farmer to farmer communication/outreach are critical components of this research. Primary funding for this project is from the Gunnison Basin Round Table and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The Lower Gunnison Basin Project is a cooperative effort, supported by No Chico Brush, that got its start in 2014 when the partnership obtained some funding from the USDA-NRCS under the Regional Conservation Partnership Project (RCPP), part of the 2014 Farm Bill.
The goal of this multifaceted project is to: 1.) increase water availability via the implementation of water use efficiency improvement projects (i.e., off-farm irrigation delivery improvements and integrated on-farm irrigation application improvements, 2.) increase water quality by decreasing deep percolation into and through saline and selenium-rich soils, 3.) encourage and implement on farm soil health practices to demonstrate the value of such practices that beneficially impact water use and ultimately lead to increased productivity, and 4.) help aquatic habitat improvement, by decreasing selenium (and salinity) loading to occupied critical habitat.
No Chico Brush in the NEWS
Press coverage of No Chico Brush activities
Water Education Colorado’s article profiling No Chico Brush as part of their WaterBlog
Montrose Daily Press article reported on a Ag Panel discussion that was held as part of the Colorado River District’s 2017 State of the Gunnison Rivers meeting (May 31, 2017)
Montrose Daily Press report on Agriculture Infrastructure (January 16, 2015)