From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
In the two years he’s been butting heads with the state Division of Water Resources, [Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal] has not been able to reconcile how irrigating with sprinklers could increase water use. There are so many variables — the market price of crops, the type of crop planted, how much water is running down the ditches, whether it just rained, how much water your neighbor is using, whether he’s just cut hay and is bypassing flows, whether it’s raining on the hay just cut, whether a hail storm has wiped out more valuable crops …
“This is not about a bunch of old farmers who want to sell their water and move to an island,” Henrichs said. He ticked off the names of a dozen young farmers who’ve bought farms in the 10 years he’s been superintendent on the High Line.
It’s getting harder to buy land because speculation has driven water prices up. Land under the High Line has sold for as much as $5,700 an acre, more than double what it was a decade ago.
Circumstances vary, but it’s usually farmers “born and bred into the life” who are purchasing the land with the intent to farm far into the future…
The High Line board has given Henrichs unusual latitude as superintendent to travel widely and represent it on water issues. Henrichs is a member of the citizens advisory group for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District and on the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.
He was a forceful presence in the Vision Task Force that led to the Fountain Creek district. He constant registered complaints as part of the task force looking at consumptive use rules.
There’s a reason for all that. “Where are they going to come next?” Henrichs said, reviewing the Pueblo Board of Water Works foray into the Bessemer Ditch, Aurora’s purchases on the Rocky Ford Ditch and water grabs that sucked Crowley County dry. “They’re going to come to the High Line.”[...]
The events since the historic drought of 2002 bear that out. Rather than sell their water rights after the worst rain year in history, the High Line farmers worked out a lease agreement to sell water to Aurora in 2004-05. Colorado Springs joined in the second year of that deal. Most farmers on the High Line will tell you that the Aurora deal was nothing but a blessing. It allowed them to pay off debt or make needed improvements after a farming season that could have bankrupted them. Soon after, High Line and Aurora jointly filed in Division 2 Water Court to make exchange rights permanent so that if the need for another lease deal arose, they could avoid a time-consuming substitute water supply plan. The High Line-Aurora deal set the stage for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, a water lease-fallow land program that includes shareholders from seven ditches, including the High Line. High Line countered with its own leasing program and plans that could include a pipeline to the thirsty cities of the north. This year, a new wrinkle was added when the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District contracted to buy several farms at the end of the High Line Canal. Moving the water would require a change in the ditch company bylaws, so for now the High Line board will not approve the transfer.
Many High Line farmers do not oppose the sale of water rights — they see it as their right as property owners to sell to whomever they want and bristle when outsiders tell them they cannot. Still, they are wary that taking water out of the ditch could reduce the flows that carry water to their own headgates, and will do what it takes to protect the ditch.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
…Vernon John Proctor, is a board member of the High Line Canal and takes a longer view of the problems agriculture has faced. The current recession began in 2008, but farmers hardly noticed, other than when fuel prices increased, Proctor said. “We’ve been in a suppressed economy for years. Everything we buy is at retail, and everything we sell is at wholesale,” he said…
Proctor was among farmers who leased water to Aurora in 2004-05, and was a member of the board that negotiated the details. He said the lease prevented him from having to sell the water rights. “I’m not looking at selling, I plan to pass everything on to my sons if possible,” Proctor said. “When you can’t produce a crop, you need something to fall back on. As long as you can stay above water, it’s a good life. You are your own boss. “But if you get into trouble, the land and the water are your only assets.”
More Arkansas Basin coverage here.