One of the most promising strategies for water conservation in the arid west involves fallowing of agricultural lands. Done badly, it has earned the pejorative nickname “buy and dry”, as cities buy up ag water rights, take the land out of production and shift the water to urban toilets and taps. But done right – the fallowing agreement between the Metropolitan Water District and the Palo Verde Irrigation District is an oft-cited example – it can compensate farmers and keep ag economies robust and healthy.
Brett Walton at Circle of Blue explores an intriguing example in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado – fallowing some crop land in the valley to save water for other farms. So instead of farm-to-city, this is fallowing one farm to save another. But he also highlights a problem in this year of extraordinary commodity prices:
Though it is still being negotiated, the plan has a significant obstacle: the explosive rise in food prices, which are making the sums offered by the water-conservation program less enticing. Prices for the valley’s mainstay — potatoes — have increased 25 percent in the last five years. Wheat, alfalfa, and barley prices have done even better, more or less doubling over the same period.