Arkansas River Farms denies it has plans to move water to cities — The Pueblo Chieftain

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An attorney for Arkansas River Farms told the Fort Lyon Canal board Monday that the partnership’s plans do not include selling water to Front Range communities.

“That’s not what this program does,” attorney Steve Sims said, referring to suggestions in a recent Chieftain editorial that the $50 million purchase of farms on the Fort Lyon Canal were a first step toward permanent dry-up.

Sims explained afterward that the plan to shift some of the water into well augmentation plans and dry up other acres is a way to make the farms more valuable in the future.

“It’s really just moving into corporate farming,” Sims said.

Karl Nyquist, who talked in 2011 about moving Lamar Canal water to the Front Range, issued a statement to the board that his company, C&A, has invested in the area for 20 years and is now working with the Syracuse Dairy in Kansas to supply forage from 10,000 acres of farm ground.

He also said his new partners, Resource Land Holdings, are interested in investing another $15$20 million in developing the Fort Lyon land and working with other farmers to create more valuable dairy or vegetable farms.

Not everyone was convinced.

“I think there’s going to be a demon in the shadows,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, who was among about 75 people, mostly shareholders, who attended the hearing. “Nyquist said he was going to move the water off the farmland, and this is just a parallel path. A leopard can change the color of his spots, but he’s still a leopard.”

The Lower Ark will wait until a water court case is filed to formalize its objections to the ARF plan, Winner added.

Arkansas River Farms asked the Fort Lyon board to initiate bylaw changes and approve an operating agreement to change the timing of irrigation as part of a plan that would dry up 6,400 acres in order to improve irrigation on 6,200 acres clustered near Las Animas.

The board plans at least another day of hearings to answer more questions.

Fort Lyon shareholders were invited to attend the daylong public meeting at St. Mary’s School, and to question the engineers and partners in the Arkansas River Farms about the perceived effects. The partnership requested the meeting at last year’s annual meeting as a way to iron out canal company issues before a case is filed in water court to change 7,500 shares of the 17,413 shares ARF owns from agricultural to well augmentation.

The board’s concern is whether the plan leaves enough water in shared laterals to properly serve remaining shareholders and how canal drains, the way water is returned to the Arkansas River, would be affected.

“I’m scared to death of what will happen on the drains, where they could do anything they want,” said Don McBee, who farms near Lamar.

The amounts of water ARF suggests for mediation for laterals are not measurable and longterm impacts on water quality 10 years down the road are unknown, McBee said.

“If they get an agreement, what will the next guy to buy these farms get away with?” he asked.

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