Pending purchase of a farm, Otero County could eventually send billions of gallons of water to Aurora

irrigation water flows over a small concrete dam with trees on the horizon and a cloudless blue sky above
Courtesy of Aurora Water
Shares in the Catlin Canal in Otero County are included in a farmland purchase by Aurora Water.

A pending $80 million real estate deal includes transferring more than 4,800 acres of agricultural land and about 7,500 acre-feet of water rights in Otero County to Aurora Water.

The property in southern Colorado is in a region hit hard by drought in recent years. The area has also already seen water siphoned away by sales to growing Front Range cities, leaving some agricultural land dry and unproductive. The trend largely started in the 1970s, according to the Colorado Water Plan.

“This purchase is a cost-effective way for Aurora to increase the reliability of our water system to meet current and future demands, especially during droughts and other water shortages,” said Aurora Water General Manager Marshall Brown in a press release. “This purchase is designed to keep the farm productive long-term and avoid buy and dry.”

Under the plan, the city can use the water three out of every 10 years — and only when the city’s storage reservoirs are at 60 percent or less in mid-March. This would align with agreements the utility signed in 2003 with “several Arkansas River Basin entities,” according to the announcement from Aurora Water.

Otherwise, they said, the land and water will be used for agriculture through a lease and water-sharing agreement with the current owner, C&A Companies. The real estate and resource investment company has other farm operations in the region and plans to grow smaller grains, grass hay, alfalfa, and other crops on the land included in Aurora Water’s pending purchase.

Courtesy of Aurora Water
Farmland in Otero County that is part of a pending purchase by Aurora Water.

The property currently under contract is irrigated by canals that are part of the Arkansas River Basin, including shares in the Catlin Canal, Pisgah Reservoir, Otero Ditch, and Larkspur Ditch companies. 

Aurora Water already owns other water rights in the Arkansas River Basin, including majority ownership in the Rocky Ford Ditch.

Other existing water agreements, called exchanges, allow the utility to bring water through pipelines from the Upper Arkansas River to the Platte River Basin.

Critics of the deal say the water-sharing agreement is simply not enough to prevent the drying of the land or increased costs for farmers and other negative economic and social impacts to the area.

The purchase is tentatively expected to close on April 11.