Colorado Water 2012: Jay Winner — ‘Acquiring irrigation water is the easiest, most efficient and lowest cost way for growing Front Range municipalities to obtain additional water supplies’

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Today, Jay Winner, General Manager, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, discusses rotational fallowing. In particular he explains the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch project being spearheaded by the Lower Ark district. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2002, residents of the Lower Valley voted two to one to create the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (“Lower District”) to protect the Valley’s water resources, and with them, their social and economic future.

While the Lower District has aggressively fought additional agricultural to municipal transfers, it has just as steadfastly worked to develop an alternative that will meet inexorable municipal demands while protecting and enhancing the value of remaining irrigation water.

LEASING. Water leasing, pioneered during California’s 1990s drought, emerged as the most promising answer for several reasons.

First, leasing would not require current irrigators to sell their water to realize its current value, preserving the long-term ownership of the water in the Valley.

Second, most irrigated land would remain in production every year.

Third, water leasing would create a “new crop,” one with a predictable cash flow that irrigators could use for on-farm improvements, debt reduction, equipment upgrades and the like.

Fourth, cities could obtain the water supplies they need – an irrigated field is functionally equivalent to a reservoir that can be tapped (dried up) when needed for municipal uses…

Shareholders of the Rocky Ford High Line Canal, Oxford Farmers Ditch, Otero Canal, Catlin Canal, Holbrook Canal, and the Fort Lyon Canal (later joined by the Bessemer Ditch) met in Rocky Ford on May 7, 2008. They incorporated the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company, a Colorado for-profit corporation managed by a Board of Directors elected by Valley irrigators. The Super Ditch negotiates on behalf of irrigators to make water available to other water users through long-term leases, interruptible water supply agreements, and water banking.

Meanwhile, Aurora is assuring the Arkansas Basin that their new contract with water bottler Niagara Bottling will be for single-use, non-transbasin water. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s an industrial use in the city of Aurora,” said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water. He said there are few other industrial users in the Denver suburban community.

Aurora gets about one-quarter of its supply from purchases of water rights it has made in the Arkansas River basin, one-quarter from the Colorado River and half from the South Platte.

“This is single-use water, so the paper accounting for it will be from the South Platte,” Baker said.

Return flows from water brought in from either the Arkansas or Colorado basins can be reused, and Aurora built the $650 million Prairie Waters Project to directly recapture those flows.

A bottled water plant would use all of the water, however, so Aurora will credit supplies to its Platte River water resources.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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