Impacts of agriculture on water quality addressed

Larry Hoozee, Todd Wickstrom, Margo Mesch, Angela Woerner and Stephen Smith. Board and management of the Morgan Conservation District. (Jon A. Yamamoto / Fort Morgan Times)

Morgan Conservation District addresses a number of issues within the county


By Jon A. Yamamoto, Times Staff Writer

About 33 people showed up for the Morgan County Conservation District’s 62nd annual meeting held last Thursday, at the Home Plate Restaurant in Fort Morgan.

Much of the discussion was centered on a state regulation, enacted in reaction to a federal one, regarding the Clean Water Act. Both of these regulations may become a moot point depending on the direction the EPA takes under the Trump administration.

For the time being, the Morgan Conservation District is trying to take a proactive approach in case the EPA Regulation 85 stands. Speakers at the meeting were Bill Hammerich, CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association and Andrew Neuhart of Brown and Caldwell, an environmental engineering and consulting firm.

Hammerich expressed an optimistic view that agricultural activities within our community have a minimal impact on nutrients (nitrogen & phosphorous) affecting the quality of our water. He pointed out that much of this is due to current farming and ranching techniques.

Neuhart spoke about the Clean Water Act and addressed the nutrient regulations and their impacts on agricultural operations. He stressed that the community needs to be prepared to meet the requirements of Regulations 31 and 85 provided that they remain in effect.

The Morgan Conservation District wants to work with the community to determine what impact agriculture within the county has on water quality. By participating in the study, the agricultural community can prove that they are below the threshold in contributing nitrogen and phosphorous to the state’s water.

As of now, the Morgan Conservation District and Hammerich and Neuhart are taking the approach that the EPA and state regulations will take effect as planned.

They addressed issues facing the agricultural community and the impact of Regulation 85. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the regulation. It is part of the Clean Water Act from 1972 and established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits Program.

In response, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Water Control Commission came out with Regulation 31 which addresses the nutrient criteria. This regulation covers the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll values in lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers. Meeting the state criteria is set for May 31, 2022.

Both regulations at this point do not cover agriculture and are still under consideration at the state and federal levels.

The Morgan Conservation District wants to be proactive in partnering with landowners for soil and water testing. The participants will remain anonymous, but their information is vital to see where Morgan County stands at this point regarding the potential regulation requirements.

The testing will help to determine how much of the nutrients are occurring naturally and the quantity that is coming from agriculture.

NPDES affects agriculture within the county in multiple ways. First is the farming side which uses fertilizers (nitrogen and phosphorous) and water. The second part is the ranching side which has to do with manure which can pollute the water. The third way could come from industry within the county. And finally, some of the nutrients could be coming from the cities and towns in the form of run-off through storm sewers. All have to do with the potential contamination of the South Platte River.

Morgan County Commissioner Laura Teague spoke about the county’s push to create a countywide weed and pest control district partnering with the Morgan Conservation District. This is in response the state’s (noxious) weed control act.

Part of her presentation included informing members of what is required to create a countywide weed and pest control district which starts with a petition, followed by ballot process and if approved what it would mean for residents in Morgan County. If approved, it could result in higher property taxes.

C.W. Scott, District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture also made a presentation.

Some of the plans and programs the NRCS offers to producers are financial plans which offer funding. Other service that they offer producers helps them with soils, plants and crops.

The annual meeting also covered the need for pivot corners for wildlife habitats that farmers can create on their land. These pivot corners are where native grasses and shrubs are planted along the irrigation ditches along the borders of their land. The areas would then provide a safe haven for birds and wildlife.

The annual meeting also covered the Morgan Conservation District’s programs of education, walk-in hunting, tree and seed sales and scholarships.

For more information or to join contact the Morgan Conservation District, 200 W. Railroad Ave., Fort Morgan at 970-427-3362 or by e-mail at

Jon A. Yamamoto: 970-441-5103,