Colorado Springs Utilities plans to share water with Eastern Plains farmers

Courtesy of Colorado Springs Utilities
Mark and Caleb Wertz (left to right) on their family’s farm in Bent County. They’re installing similar pivot irrigation on their farms nearby.

A new water purchase and sharing agreement in the Lower Arkansas River Valley will help Colorado Springs Utilities plan for future needs.

Two Bent County farmers will shift away from flood irrigation to more efficient agricultural sprinklers that circle around a center pivot. Colorado Springs will acquire the rights to use the water saved by this change.

“We want to make sure the hard-working farmers are sustained, from a farming perspective they’re more efficient, viable businesses that we want to be supportive of,” Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin said of the farmers.

The total cost for this acquisition is about $2 million. Additionally, the farmers will rotationally fallow their fields three years out of every ten and Colorado Springs Utilities will lease that water. 

In all, it's a small amount of water, but Benyamin said it's the first of a series of similar deals the utility is working on as it diversifies its water supply portfolio.

Growing Front Range municipalities have, in the past, purchased water rights using what’s known as “buy and dry,” meaning that land in rural areas was often left barren and unfarmable.

Councilmember Wayne Williams, who chairs the utilities board, said that “buy and dry” has far-reaching negative effects on rural communities that results in a declining population in Colorado’s Eastern Plains.

“A farm closes and there is one less person going to the hardware store, one less person going to the Wendy’s or whatever or the little mom’s cafe down on the corner,” he said. “So by helping to support, economically our neighbors, we are doing things that are positive and respectful of our environment, respectful of our agricultural heritage and our food supply but at the same time securing critically needed water for our community.”

Colorado Springs City Council approved the agreement Tuesday. Next, the city will complete the purchase and submit the permanent water transfer request to the state.

That process can take years to go through water court, but Colorado Springs Utilities staff said there’s an administrative approval process to allow the water to be immediately available for municipal use.

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