Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: A plan to keep cities from picking off farms one by one

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The two congressional town halls in the Arkansas Valley held last week were called to talk about legislation that would allow Aurora to use Fryingpan-Arkansas facilities to move water out of basin. However the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company was discussed at length. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Super Ditch is needed as a way to keep cities from picking off farms one-by-one to harvest their water, supporters said. Some argued water should be tied to the land and no dry-ups, even temporary, should occur. Farmers countered that without programs like the Super Ditch, there will be more buy-and-dry transfers like the valley has seen in the past. Farmers believe that including Aurora increases the value of water that is marketed, while others contend that the water can be just as successfully marketed within the valley.

The main issue discussed last week centered on whether Super Ditch should be used to move water out of the valley to Aurora – mirroring the purpose of the visits from Reps. Betsy Markey, John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter, all Colorado Democrats…

Gary Barber of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, while arguing for cooperation, said that group signed a memorandum of understanding three years ago to buy water from the Super Ditch. Economic studies for the Super Ditch by the Lower Ark showed El Paso County water users were willing to pay 67 percent more than Aurora for annual purchases of water.

During the town hall meetings, it was also pointed out that Aurora has an existing arrangement with the High Line Canal in Rocky Ford to buy – under a lease agreement that temporarily dries up farm ground – the water it needs. Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water, said Aurora is constrained by weather conditions and the limits of previous agreements on the amount of water it can take from the valley outside the water rights it owns…

Those who wish to market water through the Super Ditch, however, say they ought to be able to deal with whomever they wish, and the valley market alone isn’t big enough…

Heckman was one of many farmers speaking for the Super Ditch. Their stories, shared in the hallways outside the town hall meeting as well as those formally presented, had the same plot: Farmers are an aging group of businessmen who have worked hard to develop the value of their land without realizing the full monetary reward. For irrigated farms, the value of the water is far greater than the land itself. The water is tied to a property right. If their children don’t wish to continue farming, they face a decision on whether to cash out and sell the farm Ñ cities pay top dollar. Marketing strategies like Super Ditch provide a profitable option…

“The Super Ditch gives us a choice,” [Dale] Mauch said. “You wouldn’t have seen so many sales if we’d had something like that in place … Leasing is the only way we can survive.”

There were frequent testimonials from farmers who either sold water rights or temporarily sold their water to Aurora. The High Line Canal lease agreement in 2004-05 saved farms and Aurora made improvements on the canal. Aurora helped Rocky Ford farmers who sold their water rights install drip irrigation systems and let them continue using some of their water for 10 years in order to give the farmers time to find replacement sources. “I can give you the names of 13 shareholders (on the High Line) who the bankers were lining up to sell,” Dan Henrichs, High Line Canal superintendent, said. “Because of the lease, they are still here.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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