Fraser resident John McKenzie works to improve agriculture through DARCA
January 14, 2017
When you live in arid Colorado water issues are never far from the forefront. This is especially true in Grand County.
There are many competing interests when it comes to water rights. Among them are the ditch and reservoir companies that crisscross the state and divert water to portions of the parched eastern plains, the high plateaus of western Colorado and all points in between. Those various ditch or reservoir companies have a helping hand when it comes to addressing their concerns on water issues, the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (DARCA).
DARCA works as an advocate and a resource point for irrigators in Colo. DARCA has members throughout the State but the organization is largely headquartered in Fraser where DARCA Executive Director John McKenzie lives.
"DARCA was created because we have many ditch companies in the state," McKenzie said. "But there wasn't an organization where they could help one another through networking and education. There also wasn't an organization to advocate for them."
McKenzie explained the idea of DARCA is to have the various ditch and reservoir companies help each other so everyone is in a better position to deal with Colorado's growing population and the demands on water they create. "We are working for the financial viability of ditch companies," McKenzie said. "So they can prosper in years to come. If we have healthy ditch companies we have healthy ag. The reality is there are very few crops you can grow here [State of Colorado] without irrigation."
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DARCA was formed in 2001, largely by the organization's first Executive Director Karen Rademacher, who traveled around the State giving speeches to various companies on the idea of forming such an alliance. McKenzie attended one of these talks in 2001 while serving as a Board member for a ditch company in the Boulder area. McKenzie was one of DARCA's founding Board members and has been with the organization since 2001.
Over the years DARCA has worked to educate ditch companies while also advocating for their needs with local governments and State officials. McKenzie said during his time as Executive Director he has focused much of his attention on working with municipal and county governments to "see if they will help in some capacity with ag and ditch companies. I believe we can find good solutions at the local level."
Working with local governments takes on many forms but according to McKenzie DARCA often works to address land use issues from zoning restrictions to easements. "We look at how we can change local ordinances to help facilitate running a ditch company," McKenzie said.
McKenzie and DARCA also work closely with ditch companies to develop long-term operational plans. "Ditch companies need to plan for the future," he said. "A lot of times they are just focused on running water for the season. But they need to be looking five, 10 and 50-years ahead."
There are about 225 members of DARCA currently, according to McKenzie. The companies hale from throughout the State with the highest percentage of representation coming from the Western Slope and the South Platte area. The organization also has members that are not specifically ditch or agricultural companies but have a vested interest in how they are operated such as the City of Aurora and the Colorado River District. Northern Water is also a member.
DARCA will hold their 15th annual convention in Ignacio Colo. from February 15 to the 17 this year. The convention is an opportunity for DARCA members to network, hear updates on various issues and discuss plans and strategies. Grand Lake resident and ecologist Ken Fucik will give one of the presentations at this year's convention called "Transmountain Diversions – Compensating for the Impacts".