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In this graph, we compared the soil health scores of 181 sites with the number of days that supplemental irrigation water was available for each site. The red trend line shows that as irrigation water is available for more days, soil health scores tend to increase.
Over the last 70 years, rapidly growing Front Range cities have bought up senior agricultural water rights to supply city-dwellers with reliable domestic water. This has left growers with a limited agricultural water portfolio. The loss of senior water rights by Front Range growers limits strategies for improving soil health. Fall cover crops are an excellent soil remediation strategy for our short Front Range growing season, but need late-season senior water to germinate and grow. Boulder County Parks and Open Space is currently maximizing the yield of its agricultural water portfolio by installing pivot irrigation and upgrading irrigation infrastructure for its leased agricultural lands. This expensive effort will take many years to complete, but will allow our limited water supplies to stretch further and benefit more land. Water is life for soil microbes as well as us, and is key to increasing soil health on the Front Range.
Elizabeth Black is the producer of the Citizen Science Soil Health Project