State says farmers facing drought can’t use well water

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DENVER -- Farmers in Weld County who have been pleading Gov. John Hickenlooper to issue an executive order that would allow them to use existing wells to stave off a possible devastation due to drought conditions got bad news on Tuesday.

Hickenlooper's office issued a memo that, based on an analysis of state law by the Attorney General's Office, he does not have the authority to issue such an order as the Weld County Board of Commissioners, at the farmers' behest, had requested.

The farmers worry about losing millions of dollars this summer -- and a possible economic catastrophe that may ensue -- because the winter's record-low snowfall has left them without enough surface water to irrigate their crops.

Earlier this month, they argued that Hickenlooper could save their season by issuing an order that would allow them to pump supplemental groundwater from wells on their property to sustain their crops amidst record heat.

But, according to the analysis by Suthers, water law dictates that the well water could only be used if it can be replaced so as not to deplete the overall supply, which is legally the property of the public.

"The well owners intended to be covered by the requested executive order do not have sufficient replacement water to replace the depletions required under the decree," the Attorney General's Office writes in the memo. "Thus, pursuant to the provisions of applicable court decrees, the well owners may not pump their wells."