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What Is The Master Irrigator Program?

“I’m here because I want to keep farming the same land my dad and grandfather farmed.”

“I’m here because I want agriculture to have a future in this valley.”

“I’m here because we are using too much water from the aquifer and we need to figure out this problem.”

“I’m here because I want to be sustainable.”

These were just some of the answers from producers on why they decided to attended the first Master Irrigation Program in the San Luis Valley. In January and February, CAWA worked with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) to run two classes of the Master Irrigator Program for farmers and ranchers in the San Luis Valley. Over four days totaling 32 hours, these producers were immersed in a comprehensive class focused on discussing the water issues of the region and paths forward to maintain production agriculture in the valley.

The first part of the class focused on “How We Got Where We Are Now,” which was more of a history seminar on water development in the valley, the Rio Grande Compact, changing administration, and what factors have led the Rio Grande River Basin to be overappropriated. Talking about the foundations of water in the region, allows everyone to get on the same page about how and why the compact is administered, why the subdistricts are different, the basics of water law, and contentious issues like the Closed Basin Project and water exportation from the valley.

The rest of the program was devoted to discussing strategies for better managing water on farms, cover crops, moisture sensors, making a water and financial budget, soil health, and other tools out there that can help conserve water but also maintain a profitable agricultural operation.

Despite having amazing speakers who donated their time for the program, in the first class one producer came up to me and said, “All the speakers are great, but I’m getting more information from the other participants now!” This was the best part of the program. After the first day, there is quite a bit of discussion and peer-to-peer learning took place between the participants. There were discussions of what practices people have been trying on their own operations, what has worked, and what hasn’t. Most days involved a panel of local producers talking about how they have been slowly changing their own farms and ranches do deal with a future with less water. However, what became apparent to me is that everyone, including the participants in the class, have been implementing their own practices and improvements to adapt to dwindling water resources. Hopefully, sharing these ideas, and finding what is relevant and a benfit to each operation, can really help us maintain agriculture in this region.

Before the class even began, we worked with an advisory committee of local water and agricultural experts in the basin for six months. The committee wanted to focus on providing the same background information for each class. The main idea the committee wanted to get across is why irrigators in the San Luis Valley are in the difficult situation that they are in now, and what hard choices are ahead to maintain viable agriculture into the future.

Annually, we will survey program participants about practices they are implementing and water use on one of their fields. We will also be hosting tours for participants to visit projects on each other’s farms and ranches.

The first two classes served 48 participants who manage over 8,000 acres of farm land in the San Luis Valley. There will be more classes in the San Luis Valley and the Republican River Basin in 2023. You can learn more at

2022 San Luis Valley Master Irrigator Program

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