Here’s a look at one Bessemer Ditch shareholder’s view on the proposed bylaw changes coming up for a vote soon along with the Pueblo Board of Water Works plans to buy shares, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
Mike Bartolo is proposing a different path that would keep water rights in the hands of irrigators while guaranteeing Pueblo the ability to use some of the water when it was needed. His idea – which he admits is sketchy – is for the Pueblo Board of Works to buy the development rights shares in the Bessemer Ditch rather than purchasing shares outright. That would ensure that the water would stay in the ditch, while a portion of it would be available to Pueblo as it is needed. “The city would have to dish out less, maybe about $4,000-$5,000 an acre, rather than $10,000 to purchase rights,” Bartolo said. “The grower would retain the rights and the city could lease up to 30 percent when they need it.”[…]
Bartolo is also aware of Pueblo’s track record on past sales of the Booth-Orchard and Twin Lakes that left behind wastelands in Pueblo and Crowley counties and doesn’t trust the Pueblo water board’s promises that the same thing wouldn’t happen on the Bessemer Ditch. “I think the Board of Water Works has failed miserably to understand that they are not buying a chunk of a ditch, but are destroying the autonomy of it,” Bartolo said. “They are destroying the value of the Bessemer Ditch.”[…]
Bartolo is not opposing the right of anyone along the Bessemer Ditch to sell, and said he understands the reasons some of his friends and neighbors want to sell at this time. He believes more time investigating the potential impacts of the sale and the alternatives is needed, however. The Bessemer Ditch has been a target for urban water sales since the 1980s, when other ditches in the valley sold. Because there is not one large block of shares immediately available, as there were on the Rocky Ford Ditch and Colorado Canal, no sales ever materialized. The current sale was born from a failed effort in 2007-08 that happened in a very public way. The second time around, the water board lined up sellers through a broker at a higher price that lured more takers. While some shareholders met in the 1980s to prevent sales at that time, there has been little public discussion in the past 20 years about whether water rights should be sold or what other options are available.
Bartolo recently joined Super Ditch – a land fallowing, water management program – in an effort to share in the research into the value of ditch rights by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. He doesn’t know if the idea of selling water while while keeping the water rights through long-term lease contracts is practical, but said the idea needs to be investigated. Bartolo’s own idea is taken from practices used in some conservation easements, where the future development rights are purchased to maintain a property’s character. The price is the difference between the current worth and the value of developing the property – in this case, water rights. “It preserves the rights of guys who have worked hard and want to cash in their chips,” Bartolo said. While he’s pitched the idea to shareholders through a handout at this year’s annual meeting, to the Lower Ark board, to The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board and at an informal meeting with some members of the water board, Bartolo has found few takers so far…
The water board’s proposal amounts to a “pig in a dress,” that would buy and dry farmland, Bartolo said. “They would lease it back for 20 years, but that’s pathetic,” he said. “When it comes time, the water board will make a business decision with the goal of providing cheap water for Pueblo. The water they are leasing to Aurora could generate five to six times the revenue in agriculture. They haven’t been a good partner to the valley.” Not all of the consequences of what could happen to the Bessemer Ditch’s water rights have been explained, Bartolo added.