Pueblo Board of Water Works closes most of the deals for Bessemer Ditch shares

A picture named thefang.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The water board has purchased more than a quarter of the Bessemer Ditch, although some contracts have been extended beyond today’s deadline. The board has spent more than $53 million so far, including $30.45 million from the sale of the Columbine Ditch to Aurora and Climax Mines and $23.37 million in revenue bonds. The board expects to spend $60 million on the ditch shares, using money from its water development fund – from outside water sales, also called leases – to make up the difference. Pueblo water rates are expected to be hiked 5 percent, with 3.5 percent going to refinance the bonds. The final rate will be set at a Nov. 17 budget hearing. As of Thursday, the board had wrapped up 62 purchases totaling more than 5,220 Bessemer Ditch shares, said Executive Director Alan Hamel. The board paid $10,150 per share. Four contracts for about 100 shares were extended to give the board and sellers time to work out details, Hamel said…

Every contract came with an option to lease the shares back from the water board for the cost of ditch assessments for up to 20 years. Hamel told shareholders in May that the water board probably won’t need the water for another 20-30 years, barring a severe drought. Water from 84 acres of the total will not be leased back, giving the board an opportunity to test conditions in Pueblo County for revegetation – something that will have to be done on all the farms in the purchase eventually. “In 2010, we will begin to put together a revegetation plan,” Hamel said. “Aurora has done a lot of work on its farms down in Rocky Ford, but conditions here aren’t necessarily the same.” At any time during the 20 years, irrigators can choose not to lease the water. In that case, the shares could still be used within the lateral or the ditch as a whole…

The water board still must take the shares to court to change them to municipal and other uses before it can directly use the water. The change case should be filed within 18 months to two years, Hamel said. “We still have engineering work to do, and we’re looking at a Pueblo County 1041 application,” Hamel explained. It won’t be the first time a change case has been filed on Bessemer shares. The St. Charles Mesa Water District has purchased about 2,000 shares, 10 percent of the ditch, and is converting them at this time. Its service area lies mostly within the Bessemer Ditch boundaries…

The board expects to net about 1.5 acre-feet per share – about 8,000 acre-feet total – based on the average annual historic use for crops. That number will be refined by engineering reports on each property…

The Bessemer Ditch was started in 1873 as a town ditch for South Pueblo. It was owned for a time by Colorado Coal & Iron, but incorporated as a shareholder-owned mutual ditch company in 1894. About 43 miles long, it irrigates nearly 20,000 acres, mostly east of Pueblo, although there are couple laterals west of the city. All of the water board’s purchases are east of Pueblo, Hamel said. The Bessemer Ditch has water rights dating back to 1861, and diverts its water directly from Pueblo Dam. It also has some storage rights in Lake Pueblo through the winter water program.

More Bessemer Ditch coverage here and here.

Leave a Reply