Here’s a in-depth look at drying up agriculture to water suburbs, from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
“You get kind of nervous when you have people who are on the New York Stock Exchange saying they’re going to put agriculture back into production,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, devoted to retaining farming water rights across a five-county area. “I’m skeptical,” Winner said, “because from the amount of money they’re sticking into this project, it looks like it’s a big agriculture-municipal transfer.”
When pressed, Two Rivers’ [Gary] Barber acknowledged that the $27 million deal was indeed done with an eye toward eventually selling water to suburbs.
The stealthy and not-so-stealthy shifting of control over Colorado water has continued despite economic doldrums and may be gaining momentum. Farmers often are willing participants, cashing in as relative scarcity makes water more valuable.
Among recent deals:
• Pueblo bought the Bessemer agricultural canal.
• Aurora, Thornton, Brighton and Adams County invested in the Fulton Ditch northeast of Denver.
• Cherry Creek and Arapahoe County water authorities, though still facing court scrutiny, have staked claims to water once allocated for farming.
Also, in the Colorado Springs area, the Donala Water and Sanitation District, which bought a 711-acre ranch near Leadville for its water rights, now is pursuing a change-of-use ruling in state court so that farming water could be harnessed for Front Range housing and lawns.
Similarly, satellite cities Fountain and Widefield spent $3.5 million to acquire developer Mund Shaikly’s 480-acre H2O Ranch at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The plan is to sustain an anticipated military housing boom by using mountain creek water that once irrigated hayfields. Fountain will let the creek water flow into the Arkansas River, then trap it in Pueblo Reservoir, said Fountain water engineer Curtis Mitchell. “Certainly we’re not in the land business.”
North of Colorado Springs, Woodmoor’s new 1,900-foot-deep municipal wells appear uncertain enough that suburban leaders are mobilizing to buy water rights from farmers in the Arkansas River Valley and plan to construct a delivery pipeline.
Along the Arkansas River, state records indicate suburbs petitioned courts at least 116 times over the past decade to convert agricultural water for municipal use.
Here’s a report about Crowley County and the after effects of Aurora’s purchase of the Rocky Ford Ditch, from Mr. Finley and The Denver Post. From the article:
Concrete-lined irrigation ditches that once delivered water now are bone-dry. Draining water that once irrigated crops to supply suburban housing, lawns and golf courses makes it impossible for farms and the towns that depend on farming to survive. “Once you move water out, it ain’t coming back to the land,” the 74-year-old Valliant, now an irrigation specialist for Colorado State University’s Cooperative Extension station in nearby Rocky Ford, said recently as he rolled past the weeds and a slumping farmhouse surrounded by garbage.
Built in the 1890s, after the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Colorado Canal were completed, Crowley and its neighbors prospered growing sugar beets, with canning plants, grain elevators, schools, newspapers and even an opera house. One company here broke wild horses and supplied the British army. Residents reveled in a pioneer spirit of transforming a harsh environment — average annual rainfall 12 inches — into a livable town. But farmer debts mounted after a sugar-beet plant closed in 1967. Some farmers eventually gave in as water brokers representing expanding cities approached them offering deals. Today, Crowley ranks among the poorest towns in the poorest county in Colorado. The town population is dwindling — to 162 today from 187 in 2000 — continuing a decline that began when Foxley and others in the 1980s sold off their water.
More Arkansas River basin coverage here.