Standing Room Only at the July 24 Coaldale Community Meeting

“We’re all connected together. If one sells their water, it affects us all.”

--Frank Mc Murray, Chaffee County Rancher

Nearly 100 people gathered at the Coaldale Community building on Thursday, July 24 for a Western Fremont County water meeting hosted by San Isabel Land Protection Trust. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of agricultural land and water in Fremont County and the sale of CB Ranch in Coaldale.

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The CB Ranch borders Hwy 50 and CR 45. The ranch, along with the associated water rights, was purchased by Security Water District in Colorado Springs. This is a special ranch as it is located along the river corridor on Hwy 50 and has senior water rights dating back to 1873. With the dry-up of the ranch, the Western Fremont County community will lose a piece of its heritage, forever. Read more about the purpose of the meeting and the transfer by clicking here.

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Frank McMurray (Nathrop, CO) began the meeting by sharing his experience as an adjacent landowner to the Hill Ranch in Nathrop, Colorado. The 900-acre Hill Ranch was purchased by Pueblo West for its water and was dried up. This caused the water table on the McMurray Ranch to drop significantly, dramatically reducing the productivity of his land. Ongoing weed management issues also continues to be very costly.

The Hill Ranch story may foretell what the Coaldale community might expect from the dry-up of the CB Ranch.

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San Isabel Land Protection Trust Board Member Keith Hood (Westcliffe, CO) discussed the possible process and timing of the CB Ranch water transfer.  Keith is also a member of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and is very knowledgeable about local and state-wide water issues. Keith encouraged the Coaldale community to create a volunteer coalition. When time, the group can file an objection in Colorado Water Court to stay informed, as well as to voice their mitigation requests. He expects the 'change of use' will be filed in water court toward the end of 2014. At that point, individuals will have only 60 days to file an objection. To stay current with Colorado Water Court, Division 2 (Arkansas River Basin) click here. Specifically, review the water resumes on the right.

Additionally, the Coaldale community needs to consider the impacts of the transfer and to discuss mitigation measures.

Potential Mitigation Examples Discussed

  • Nearby landowners should measure baseline conditions of groundwater, including their wells, before dry-up occurs, so as to quantify any impacts
  • The standards for reclamation to dry prairie need to improved. Re-vegetation is a complex issue which requires ongoing monitoring and ability to adapt practices.

Mitigation could also potentially include financial compensation or funding for:

  • Weed & insect management
  • Ongoing reclamation investments
  • Neighboring land values and wells
  • Infrastructure investments back into the community
  • Leaseback arrangements to ensure proper re-vegetation over time.
  • Exploration of creative land uses following dry up:
    • What land use will follow?  Could Security provide creative options other than maximum density development?  Are there ways the utility could give back to the community in some way?

HB 1041 Regulations and Water

A portion of the evening was dedicated to the discussion of 1041 regulations. While Fremont County does not have 1041 regulations, Chaffee, Pueblo, Huerfano and other Colorado counties do. The purpose of 1041 regulations is to give Counties authority to regulate and require mitigation of land-use changes that significantly impact the community and state.  Dry-up of irrigated land is one such change that can be addressed on 1041s.

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District 3 Fremont County Commissioner Ed Norden spoke to the audience about the history of HB 1041 regulations in Fremont County. Historically, 1041 regulations have not been favored by the County due to the cost to develop them. Additionally, voters have viewed 1041 regulations as an extra layer of government involvement that they aren't interested in.

To view the HB 1041 Regulations fact sheet provided at the meeting, click here.

Increasing Development Pressures Threaten Colorado Agriculture

With the Southern Delivery Pipeline almost completed and the Colorado Water Plan on the horizon, there are many pressures on agricultural landowners to sell their land and associated water rights. Agriculture water is a primary target of municipalities on the Front Range. Transferring water out of agriculture into municipal use will have significant impacts on rural Colorado.

Key issues facing Colorado agriculture

  • Colorado's population is projected to double by 2050. Population increase will primarily be on the Front Range.
  • New infrastructure to support population growth will make transfers of water easier, e.g. the Southern Delivery Pipeline System
  • Between 500,000 and 700,000 irrigated acres could be dried-up by 2050 to provide for these water needs.
  • Such large-scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture would have adverse economic and environmental impacts and poses a threat to the food security of our nation.
  • The Colorado Water Plan is in development and is an opportunity for your input. It will outline how agriculture, cities and industries will coexist in the future. Agriculture needs to have a stronger voice in the plan!

The future of agricultural land and water lies in the hands of the landowners.

Private agricultural landowners are crucial to preserving our rural heritage and beautiful, wide open spaces. The good news is, conservation easements are an alternative to 'buy and dry' and can provide income to landowners to NOT sell their water. While the revenue generated from a conservation easement isn't nearly as much as a direct sale of land or water rights, conservation easements offer more.

By keeping water on the land a landowner:

  • Sustains agricultural productivity & provides food security
  • Supports the local economy
  • Provides wildlife habitat and scenic beauty
  • Supports a high quality of life, for all

To learn more about conservation easements, click here.

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A passionate Tim Canterbury (Howard, CO) reminded us at the end of the meeting that ranchers need greater financial returns when choosing to protect their ranches and water with a conservation easement. One way to do that is to increase the Colorado State Tax Credit cap. He encouraged audience members to contact their local representative to voice their opinion.

Preserve agriculture!

  • Consider a conservation easement on your land.
  • Preserve rural agriculture with your voice AND your vote.
  • Spread the word about land protection
  • Get involved. Consider volunteering and supporting your local land trust.

Visit these websites to learn more about Colorado water and conservation:

 To download a copy of the July 24th meeting handouts, click here.

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A large crowd from Western Fremont County and beyond were in attendance.

 

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Area ranchers, landowners, and San Isabel Board Members listen in on the presentation.

 

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A special thank you to Roxann Moore, John Walker, Laima Wish and Donna Nicholas-Griesel for the delicious assortment of food and refreshments provided that evening. And to the Coaldale Community Building Association for allowing us to use the building!


For questions or more information, contact:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Director of Development/San Isabel Land Protection Trust

719.783.3018

Email