Selling 17 of his 21 water shares was the practical thing to do, even if Chuck Sylvester feels a little guilty.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said.
Sylvester and the Hays family, both of LaSalle, recently sold water shares to the city of Aurora. Sylvester feels guilty because of his ancestors. They not only owned the water, they helped dig part of the ditch with oxen — that’s how far back the ownership goes.
He didn’t say how much he made off the shares, but with the growing demand for water in municipalities and agriculture alike, shares are not cheap. Even so, the shares Sylvester sold were decreasing in value. Now was a good time to unload.
It’s rare for farmers to just sell their water, so when he approached the city of Aurora about buying shares, it was something officials weren’t going to turn down.
But those in Aurora are just in planning mode, accounting for an expected population increase within the next 40 years, according to Greg Baker, manager of Aurora Water public relations.
Since Aurora didn’t immediately need the 33 total shares — 17 of which were Sylvester’s — both families are leasing the water back from Aurora. This will allow the families to continue their operations as they’ve been.
The sale gives him a chance to continue farm operations for the time being. But how long he could sustain those crops is a bigger question, which prompted his decision to sell.
He said his inability to pump the land is leaving water under his property that makes the ground too soggy to grow crops. The state shut in more than 400 wells in 2006 to preserve groundwater in the South Platte Basin, and the rights of those who had seniority over the water. Junior rights-holders are at the mercy of the senior holders in a given year.
But since then, high groundwater has become a concern, and the state directive on preserving that groundwater hasn’t changed. With extra supply, that reduces demand, and therefore the price.
Sylvester said he doesn’t see the value going up anytime soon either. That’s why he decided now was the right time to sell.
“I see this getting worse and worse. I’m going to a state that has better water law,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester won’t be moving to Wyoming, but he plans to invest the profits into a farm out there to give a younger farmer a chance to stay in agriculture. Sylvester already owns three farms in Wyoming and plans to sell one of them. He said reinvesting in the next generation makes him feel less guilty about selling the shares.
While Sylvester wouldn’t reveal the price he fetched for the sale — which were South Platte River shares — he likely took home a nice nest egg…
Attempts to contact the Hays family about their reasons and plans were unsuccessful.
Until the water is needed in Aurora, the purpose will stay agricultural. When the leases are up, and city demand increases, officials will decide the water’s purpose — stay as is, or divert it for urban use.
If the water use stays as is, it’ll be used as a way to replenish the city’s current water source, or city officials can petition to get the water use changed for municipal use. The city wants the water either way, like most cities, for expected population increases.
It’s common for many cities to own water in areas away from the city. The city of Thornton in the
1990s [ed. purchase was in the 1980s] purchased water in the Pierce area, a water bank, of sorts, for future demand.
“They’re looking to the future,” Sylvester said.
So is he.