The Agricultural Chemicals and Groundwater Protection Act took effect on July 1, 1990, and established the Groundwater Protection Program. Its purpose is to reduce agricultural chemicals’ negative impacts on groundwater and the environment. Agricultural chemicals covered under this legislation include commercial fertilizers and all pesticides. The goal is to prevent groundwater contamination before it occurs by improving agricultural chemical management. This report summarizes the first 15 years of the Agricultural Chemicals and Groundwater Protection Act and provides an overview of activities and monitoring data.
The program employs three primary functions to protect groundwater in Colorado:
1. Program oversight and regulation
2. Groundwater monitoring
3. Education and training
Program Oversight and Regulation
The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) is the program’s lead agency. One of the CDA’s responsibilities is to regulate agricultural chemical bulk storage and mixing/ loading areas. Pesticide facility inspections began Sept. 30, 1997, and fertilizer facility inspections began Sept. 30, 1999. By December 2006, approximately 1,300 inspections were performed at 177 facilities around the state.
As part of program oversight, the CDA also manages a waste pesticide collection program. Initiated in 1995, the program has collected more than 100,000 pounds of waste pesticide from public and private sources.
The monitoring program has prioritized its sampling in basins where agriculture predominates and rural homes utilize groundwater. These data form the backbone of the Groundwater Protection Program. They determine the need and priority for education and other program resources. The program completed sampling of groundwater systems in the largest agricultural and urban regions of Colorado. The aquifers sampled to date:
• South Platte alluvial aquifer
• San Luis Valley unconfined aquifer
• Lower Arkansas alluvial aquifer
• Denver Basin aquifer system and alluvial deposits on the Front Range
• High Plains/Ogallala aquifer
• Colorado River and Uncompahgre River alluvial aquifers
• North Platte alluvial and terrace formations in Jackson County
• Gilpin County
• Wet Mountain Valley
Monitoring data, vulnerability assessments, and chemical user survey data indicate there are areas in Colorado where water quality still is susceptible to contamination. Fortunately, the majority of wells sampled thus far are not contaminated at levels deemed unsafe for humans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Education and Training
The Agricultural Chemicals and Groundwater Protection Act specifies that Colorado State University Extension (CSUE) provide education and training on how to reduce groundwater contamination from agricultural chemicals. The CSUE has produced numerous publications on best management practices, or BMPs, and helped pilot the local BMP development process in four areas.
CSUE uses other avenues to provide information, such as applied research; field days; demonstration sites; continuing education through the Certified Crop Advisor program; a display booth; videos; and the Groundwater Protection Program Web site.
In order to assess the BMPs adopted by Colorado’s agricultural producers, surveys were conducted in February 1997 and December 2001. Overall, results of the two surveys suggest producers accept many of the irrigation, pesticide, and nutrient management BMPs that help protect water quality and farm profitability. Nutrient and pesticide management BMP adoption is generally higher than irrigation management BMPs. Irrigation system improvements, or structural BMPs, are common in most regions, but adoption of irrigation management BMPs used to determine when and how much to water is not as common.
Predictions are that population growth and urbanization, coupled with increasing land and water values, will reduce the number of acres devoted to irrigated crop production in several river basins (SWSI, 2005). These trends may also change cropping patterns from large acreage, low value crops to smaller acres of higher value crops. Often, these crops require different levels of pesticide and fertilizer inputs.
Like much of the West, Colorado is experiencing an increase of small acreage ‘ranchettes’ as larger farms and ranches are subdivided. The result is that one landowner may be replaced by many more individuals on the same land area. These land use changes may also affect Groundwater Protection Program activities and resources as the new rural residents also impact water resources through their land management activities. Thus, changes in educational and monitoring efforts will be required to protect groundwater quality under these new land use environments.
Additionally, the increasing and changing population dynamics in Colorado may refocus the educational and monitoring programs from primarily agricultural to urban and exurban areas. Keeping partnerships with federal, state, and other agencies working in water resource protection will continue to be critical, but other partners also may need to be considered, such as municipalities, the green industry, and other entities that work more in the urban environment.
The Groundwater Protection Program has been working with agricultural producers, the agricultural chemical industry and several state and federal agencies to prevent contamination of Colorado’s groundwater resources from point and non-point source pollution for more than a decade. This cooperation serves a good model for other programs working to protect Colorado’s water for future generations. BMP adoption results and groundwater monitoring data indicate these efforts are working to protect groundwater quality in Colorado.