Producer: Water essential to ag business

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Holly Cremeens checks on a cow on the Grand Valley property where she and her husband, Mark, live and operate Brands 2S Meat. The couple raises grass-fed beef sold directly 
to consumers. The operation depends, Holly Cremeens said, on the water that irrigates the property. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Holly Cremeens draws no distinction between the water that irrigates the Grand Valley agricultural property where she and her husband, Mark, live and the business they operate there. “There’s no water, there’s no farm.”

That’s why she closely follows developments related to water and says she’s increasingly alarmed about a future that includes threats to divert water from Western Colorado to slake the growing thirst of the Front Range or allow more water to flow downstream to lower basin states.

Cremeens deems the threats more like fear tactics in the Grand Valley, though, because of the quantity of the water available in the Grand Valley and the rights to that water. “For our valley, that’s just not true.”

The rights held by Grand Valley water associations and irrigation districts date back more than a century and hold seniority over rights established afterward, she said. Under Colorado law, those who’ve held official rights the longest are the last to be cut off from supplies during shortages.

Moreover, Grand Valley rights precede a 1922 compact prescribing water allotments among Colorado River basin states.

The Cremeens operate Brand 2S Meat, raising grass-fed beef they sell directly to consumers. The couple owns 22 acres and leases another 150 for the operation.

The Cremeens raise about 60 head of cattle a year without the use of antibiotics, chemical de-workers, growth hormones or other vaccinations. They feed their animals on pastures grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.

“We try to go all natural,” Holly Cremeens said.

The techniques produce what she said is more tender and flavorful beef that’s also healthier. The techniques also reduce operational costs.

Water to irrigate pastures and grow hay remains essential, she said. “If there’s no water, we’re not doing anything.”

That’s why she says she’s worried about discussions to divert more water to the Front Range or send more water downstream to satisfy the terms of the Colorado River Compact.

A lot of Western Colorado water already is diverted over the Continental Divide to the Front Range, and more divisions are proposed, Cremeens said. Yet, about half of that water is used for landscaping, she said.

Colorado historically has delivered far more water to lower basin states than what was required under the terms of the compact. But lower basins states have used far more water than what they were allotted, she said.

In the Grand Valley, Cremeens said it’s important for water organizations, elected officials and others to stand up for the continued use of water protected under senior water rights and disspell what she said are fear factors.

To do otherwise would be illegal, she said.

“The time has come to let the information out,” she said.

It should be a nonpartisan issue, she said, to protect the water needed to continue raising cattle, growing peaches and winegrapes and producing other foods in the Grand Valley.

“It’s about keeping the heritage of the valley,” Cremeens said.