Arkansas Valley: Future of farming depends on keeping water in the valley

A picture named irrigation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

When it comes to water, however, [Ryon Sallee, who farms on the Oxford Ditch near Fowler] is not interested in leasing it to help cities grow, saying he’s soured on the Super Ditch, an enterprise he helped incorporate in 2008. “I’m concerned about them taking any water out of the valley. If they take it above us, will we be able to get the same amount?” Sallee asks. Still, he says, the Super Ditch might benefit some farmers, just not him. “Up to this point, the only ones who’ve made money on the Super Ditch are the lawyers and engineers.”

He’s even more concerned about proposals such as Woodmoor’s plan to buy shares on neighboring ditches, after watching how areas like Rocky Ford and Crowley County have been decimated in past water sales. Sallee also doesn’t like proposed irrigation rules that might limit his ability to make efficiency improvements in the future — he says the state “sold us down the river” to Kansas in adopting them. “We already have to buy our own deeded water to use the wells,” he said.

And, studies that purport to measure consumptive use on an entire canal bother him too. “Each piece of dirt on each farm is different, it can be steep, flat or have rocky soil,” Sallee said. “Every canal’s different.”

Here’s an update on the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District’s efforts to move water to northern El Paso County from the Arkansas River, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District will have to convince two counties and three ditch companies its plans won’t harm others’ water rights before it is allowed to move water upstream. Woodmoor is committed to spending $10 million to acquire water rights on the Holbrook, High Line and Excelsior ditches in Pueblo and Otero counties. The net effect would be to dry up more than 1,500 acres of farm ground…

Woodmoor plans to move the water through exchanges, but is also open to using the proposed Southern Delivery System, if it is built, to physically move the water. “Our outlook is to work with the ditch company boards, all of them,” said Jessie Shaffer, manager of the Woodmoor district…

Last month, the High Line Canal board initially rejected Woodmoor’s proposal because the ditch company’s bylaws will not allow water to be moved to the northern El Paso County community. Woodmoor has contracts for about 48 shares on the High Line with several owners near the end of the ditch. Each share irrigates 10 acres, so about 480 acres would be taken out of production. Shaffer does not see the situation as a deal-stopper. “We have to work not only with the property owners, but the board. We will have to discuss the bylaws,” Shaffer said. “We’re still moving forward with the High Line contracts.”

This week, the Holbrook Canal board began to contemplate Woodmoor’s attempt to buy an announced 937 shares on the canal — Shaffer said Woodmoor is talking to other shareholders. Each share irrigates an acre. The first meeting between the Holbrook board and Woodmoor is scheduled in September. “I don’t know that we have a whole lot of information to offer at this point, we plan to present our plan in September,” Shaffer said.

On the Excelsior, Woodmoor has entered a contract with Stonewall Springs LLC to acquire a reservoir site and buying 771 shares, which could yield 326 acre-feet of water. While there is some irrigation on the Excelsior, it is used chiefly to provide augmentation for the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association.

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.

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