Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Called the Super Ditch, it’s not really a ditch at all. Instead, the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is a corporation formed in 2008 that hopes to gain the support of ditch companies in the Arkansas Valley to stop the pattern of buy-and-dry that has ravaged agriculture in the valley for 60 years. The basic philosophy of the Super Ditch is to pool water rights from seven ditches to create one-stop shopping for municipalities or others hunting for water. Backers say this will lessen the chances that water rights are purchased, and the water permanently taken from the land.

A study by The Pueblo Chieftain earlier this year found that at least 145,000 acres — a third of the valley’s farmland — could be dried up if cities were using all of the agricultural rights they already have purchased.

“It may be 30 years, 100 years or 150 years, but there will be a time. . . . As short as we are on water, there will be a day when it will not be economical to run water from the Continental Divide through dirt rivers and dirt ditches to my headgate,” said Lamar farmer Dale Mauch. “You can wish and think you can make ’em go away. They’re going to keep coming because they need this water.”[…]

“If anyone in this country thinks the cities are not going to try and buy the whole thing, they haven’t been paying attention,” [John Schweizer, president of the Super Ditch] said. “This way the farmer gets to keep the water to sell as another crop.”[…]

Ray Smith, president of the Oxford Canal, was asked to resign from the Super Ditch board after he opposed the company’s application for a right to exchange water in Division 2 Water Court. Smith still contends that taking any of the water out of the river would reduce the water needed to carry water to his fields. “Once this water is removed from the river, there will be a direct effect on the amount of water and water quality to the major ditches in the Arkansas Valley,” Smith said. He also said the amount farmers are being offered in initial leases of the Super Ditch are insultingly low and the 40-year terms tie up the water too long.

Smith brought his concerns to the October meeting of the Super Ditch board, but other members argued no farmers are required to participate in any lease, and that it will be valuable in the long run to have a mechanism in place that avoids the historic buy-and-dry deals…

By the year’s end, ditch companies and their shareholders were debating the pros and cons of the Super Ditch. Interest is especially high — 80 percent or more — on the Fort Lyon Canal, which already has seen many of its shares sold to outside water interests. The Catlin Canal changed its bylaws to allow for leasing outside the ditch. The Fort Lyon, Bessemer, High Line and Holbrook canals already allow for lease programs, while the Otero will consider the proposal in January. Of the seven ditches envisioned to participate, only the Oxford has rejected the idea, although some individual shareholders of the Oxford have expressed an interest.

Be sure to click through and read Mr. Woodka’s short bio of John Schweizer.

More Super Ditch coverage here and here.

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