From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. not only plans to continue farming, but wants to expand its operations on the Bessemer Ditch. But the company is facing challenges from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District that it violated a conservation easement by not irrigating a property it owns. “We’re here because we want to grow vegetables,” John McKowen, Two Rivers CEO, shot back Wednesday as he surveyed newly planted rows of sorghum on the 15-acre property. “This is a great place to farm and the only people trying to move water out of this valley are the Lower Ark district and (its manager) Jay Winner.” The Lower Ark board last month notified Two Rivers of a potential violation of the easement. Two Rivers answered the complaint, saying it is in compliance with the easement. McKowen has bumped heads with Winner in the past over his plan to build reservoirs on the Excelsior Ditch.
“So far, he’s taken two potshots at us and neither one is true,” McKowen said. “We’re walking our talk. He’s not.” He produced documents filed with the federal Farm Service Agency showing wheat, corn and hay were planted on the ground last year, while there was a failed crop of onions earlier this year.
In fact, the land is getting more water from its 36 shares of the Bessemer Ditch under Two Rivers than it would as a freestanding farm, said Russ Dionisio, who manages Two Rivers’ farms. “The way we combine our water (from Bessemer shares and augmented wells), we’re able to irrigate 15 acres,” Dionisio said. “If all somebody had was this farm, this year it would be about 5 acres.”
Two Rivers, which also has farms in other parts of Pueblo and Huerfano counties, has plans that include lease-fallowing possibilities similar to the Lower Ark district’s Super Ditch in the future. But for now, the company is focused on farming. It’s planning to double vegetable production next year and create opportunities for neighboring farmers in the process. “We’re a private enterprise that wants to improve the value of farming, not a government agency,” McKowen said. “If Jay Winner cared about agriculture, he would be asking us about that story.”
Winner defended the Lower Ark district’s action, saying nothing appeared to be growing on it. If crops are now planted on it, that’s all that the district had asked for, he said.
“We represent the people of the Arkansas Valley, not a Wall Street farmer who lives in Denver,” Winner said. “People receive a huge amount of money for conservation easements, and as a land trust, it’s our duty to see the ones we hold are enforced.”
On the water question, Winner reiterated his past statement: “We have not moved a drop of water out of the valley.”
More about Two Rivers from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Box upon box of cabbages the size of volleyballs line a refrigerated warehouse at Dionisio Farms near Avondale. “This is our cooling facility,” Two Rivers Water and Farming Co. CEO John McKowen shouted over the hum of a refrigeration unit. “We’re planning on expanding it, doubling the size, next year.”
The cabbages grown in nearby fields have to be cooled to 38-40 degrees before shipment to processing plants in Colorado Springs, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Most of the cabbage will wind up as cole slaw for restaurant chains.
The purchase of Dionisio Farms by Two Rivers last year has allowed nearly full planting of the acres dedicated to vegetables this year, while grain crops have been cut back due to drought, said Russ Dionisio, who oversees all Two Rivers farming operations. “Two Rivers has benefitted us, because we’ve been able to farm 60 percent of our ground this year, while only about 40 percent of the ground is planted on the rest of the ditch,” Dionisio said. Two Rivers made water available from a five-year lease with the Pueblo Board of Water Works this year to its own and other farms in the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association. While many other farmers have had to cut back production, Dionisio will ship more than 10 million pounds of cabbage this season.
In addition, another 100 acres of pumpkins will be harvested, and some corn is being grown for the first time in decades on Two Rivers land in Huerfano County. McKowen said the vegetables are important crops. “The corn will bring about $800 an acre, but the cabbage will be many multiples of that,” McKowen said.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. is refuting the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s claim that the terms of a conservation easement on the Bessemer Ditch were violated. “Water from the 36 Bessemer Ditch shares has been and continues to be used solely on the property to aid in the production of agricultural crops,” Two Rivers attorney John Keilbach of Pueblo wrote last week. His letter was in response to a July 17 letter from the Lower Ark district claiming the property was not in agricultural production, which is a condition of a conservation easement placed on the property by a former owner.
Dionisio Farms, owned by Two Rivers, grew corn on the land last year, planted onions which froze this spring and is now growing 15 acres of sorghum on the farm, according to the letter. “In comparing the general agricultural purposes of the easement, the specifically authorized crops and the fact these crops are commonly found in the community surrounding the property . . . we do not understand your conclusion that no irrigated agriculture is being practiced on the property,” Keilbach’s letter stated. “Nothing that Dionisio Farms or Two Rivers has done would indicate or even imply any interruption of agriculture or any intent to move water rights off the property.”
The letter also says the inspection was made without informing Two Rivers, although the easement has a notice requirement.