Series 2022 - A Case Study - Exporting Water
Fifth in a series on local water issues provided by the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District
Most who live here believe that “Huerfano Water Stays in Huerfano County.” That is certainly the view of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District (HCWCD). Not everyone, however, agrees. Other parties with the intent to transfer and use water outside of Huerfano County aggressively cast their eyes on what little water we have, it being the lifeblood of our county.
There are several examples, including Two Rivers, various Case brothers companies and, perhaps, the apparent successor to Two Rivers, Great Plains Irrigating Company.
Just last year, HCWCD was approached by Family Ranch Holdings, LLC and CVR Water Company (Family Ranch), both of Colorado Springs, and affiliated companies of Case International Company. They asked HCWCD to cooperate, support and participate in a “Phased Approach to Optimization and Integration of Huerfano and Cucharas River Water Rights.” That plan was detailed in an Engineering Report of December 2020 by Lytle Water Solutions, LLC, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado (Lytle Report). The HCWCD website contains a link to the full Lytle Report. https://www.hcwcd.net/. HCWCD turned down the overture because the District will not support, directly or indirectly, the export of water from the county.
Because the Lytle Report so clearly lays out its approach, the Family Ranch project is helpful to study because it includes a common approach to speculation and the export of water. Family Ranch claimed to have interests, along with Two Rivers, in the water rights for the Robert Rice Ditch, Orlando Reservoir, Butte Valley Ditch, Cucharas Reservoir, Huerfano Valley Ditch, and Huerfano Valley Reservoir.
How Water Rights are Valued
In these types of projects, the essential point to understand is that a water right is valued primarily by its average annual historical consumptive use. For irrigation rights, the historical use is measured by the evapotranspiration of the crops grown from the irrigation water. The more acres of crops that the water right has irrigated over many years, and thus the more water consumed by the plants through evapotranspiration, the more historical consumptive use and value it has. As in any speculation, the key is to buy low and to sell high. In the water right context, a speculator (1) pays very little to purchase a water right with diminished historical consumptive use, (2) takes steps to enlarge the consumptive use of the water right over years of re-instituted irrigation for the intended purpose of later sale and transfer, and then (3) asserts to have a very valuable right – one which is then sought in Water Court to be
quantified, its use changed, and then sold for a very high price, or one which the owner itself asserts to use for a more profitable purpose.
Enlarging Senior Water Rights
Turning to the Family Ranch project, although nominally addressing “optimization and integration” of those water rights, the Lytle Report instead details a plan to dramatically enlarge little-used senior irrigation water rights through sprinkler irrigation on increased acreage. The proposal would increase consumption of the water rights by 170 times. The Lytle Report for Family Ranch quantified the current consumptive use of the water rights to be about 130 annual acre feet. The Lytle Report projects the future optimized consumptive use yield to be over 9,000 annual acre feet. Of that 9,000 acre feet, some 5,400 acre feet would be exported annually from Huerfano County to Colorado City and surrounding area in Pueblo County. The remainder would support a new town, “Crown Valley,” just South of the Pueblo-Huerfano County line and east of I-25 under land use proposals by Family Ranch to the Huerfano County Commissioners for a planned unit development and establishment of metropolitan district.
A Matter of Priority
The project would undoubtedly assert that the priorities of its water rights are senior to many existing water rights, thereby calling out and curtailing those local water uses. The litigation could go on and on. Consequently, it is the view of HCWCD that any proposal to export water out of the county should be discouraged and contested from the outset for the protection of Huerfano County water rights used in Huerfano County. We encourage community support in these efforts.