San Isabel partners on Fremont Co. ranchland

 

San Isabel Land Protection Trust remains engaged in western Fremont County, advocating for the agricultural use of water and ranchland preservation. Toward this end, the Gates Family Foundation has awarded San Isabel $210,000 toward purchasing water rights and a conservation easement on the Maverick Ranch, located along the Arkansas River five miles downstream from Salida.

San Isabel is partnering with the Trust for Public Lands, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Central Colorado Conservancy and others to purchase the 200-acre property, provide public access for fishing and keep the property undeveloped for wildlife habitat. The Maverick Ranch hosts some of the best fishing on the entire Arkansas River.

With the Gates Family Foundation funding as leverage, the long-term goal is to secure the water rights from the Maverick Ranch – where they would not be used under new ownership – and transfer them 15 miles downstream to re-water the CB Ranch in Coaldale.  Security Water District, just south of Colorado Springs, purchased the CB Ranch property in 2013 for its water rights. If successful with the water rights transfer from Maverick Ranch, San Isabel hopes to find a conservation-minded buyer for the CB Ranch property, and then raise funds to protect it and other irrigated properties in Coaldale. 

This may be a long shot, but we’re hopeful that our partners will seize on this opportunity to put water where it needs to be in order to maintain the viability of agriculture in Coaldale and the larger region, said Ben Lenth, SILPT executive director. “By keeping the Maverick Ranch water in agriculture, this project will benefit not only public recreation and wildlife habitat, but also agriculture and river flows, too.

San Isabel has been working with the Coaldale Alliance, a group created to give Coaldale area residents a voice in the debate over Security’s water rights transfer and to reduce the impacts of Security’s decision to dry up the CB Ranch. In recent months, the land trust and the alliance have succeeded in conveying to Division 2 water court expert opinions on revegetation of the property and have forced Security to maintain very high standards. Our goals for the CB Ranch remain: 

 - To limit the impacts on other irrigators and families on Hayden Creek.

 - To ensure adequate revegetation and erosion control to prevent damage due to the loss of irrigation on the ranch.

 - To keep the land in irrigated, agricultural use for as long as possible.

 - To maintain agricultural use and preserve wildlife habitat and scenic open space.

Security has received comments on its proposed decree and engineering from those opposed to its plans. It has an Aug. 29 deadline to respond to comments and the division engineer’s report, revise its proposed decree and submit additional engineering.

The next status conference will be Sept. 5. Parties will decide then whether a settlement may be reached relatively soon on Security’s application.  If so, the case will remain on the referee’s docket and the deadline to reach a settlement extended six months. The deadline now is Oct. 31. If not, the case may go back to state water court. Even still, the alliance and San Isabel will work to settle with Security before trial.  

The work of participating in water court is expensive, and we are grateful to our donors with the Coaldale Alliance and elsewhere for your assistance. We cannot do this work without you.

Photo by Kate Spinelli

Ben Lenth

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