Withering agrarian dreams
By The Pueblo Chieftain -Editorial
IT REALLY is just as we feared.
For years we have been sounding the alarm about the impact that the sale of agricultural water rights for municipal use could have on Southern Colorado’s agrarian nature. And now we’re on the cusp of seeing it play out, firsthand, on the idyllic CB Ranch.
The ranch is located at Coaldale, off of U.S. 50 west of Canon City. For the time being, CB specializes in cattle and hay. But for how long?
We were alarmed to learn earlier this week that the Security Water and Sanitation District purchased the ranch late in 2013 for its critical water rights. The district serves Security, a bustling El Paso County bedroom community of about 19,000 people and 7,400 taps that is located some 100 miles from the rural ranch.
The sanitation district paid $1.25 million for the 200-acre spread and $480,000 for about 80 acre-feet (roughly 26 million gallons) of water each year. While Roy Heald, the manager of the Security Water and Sanitation District, said there is no immediate plan to tap those water rights, he also made it clear the district will make good on its investment.
“We want the water,” he told a group of concerned neighbors at an informal gathering last week. “To the extent we can meet your concerns we will. But I’ve never bought a ranch or revegetated one. There are requirements in water court and we’ll meet them.”
And therein lies the key — if there is one — to saving the CB Ranch.
The sanitation district’s water decree is still going through the legal processes in water court.
We resoundingly challenge our water and conservation leaders — including the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District — to file a formal objection to Security’s decree. Before we simply accept the bullish water claim, we must ensure that everyone, especially the courts, understand the impact that this drain would have on not just a productive ranch but on an entire community.
We also call on our hard-working friends and valued allies in the agricultural industry to take a lesson from the below-the-radar sale of CB Ranch. It may seem dramatic, but the future of the Arkansas River is in your capable hands.
It is the farmers and landowners who are the first line of defense against water-greedy municipalities further up the Front Range. These insatiable water buffalos must not be allowed to snap up water rights to the detriment of smaller, rural communities here.
We have seen the impact that these water grabs have had on cities like La Junta, Las Animas, Ordway and Rocky Ford. Is the same fate in store for our friends in Canon City and Salida? It’s not too far-fetched an idea.
If the municipalities to the north aren’t stopped, we fear that what remains of our agricultural lands — and the communities that surround and rely on them for survival — could wither, dry and eventually blow away.