If you own shares in the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, I know how much your water means to you. Just like the land you own, under Colorado Water Law, it is a property right.
As a shareholder in a company that has water decrees that predate the infamous 1922 Colorado River Water Compact, you take comfort that your water is protected by law. Certainly, you expect the most fundamental duty of MVIC Directors that you elect is to protect that right, whether you own one share or a thousand shares. Human nature being what it is, you accept that not all adult humans are equally good. We all want to believe we all start out that way, but life experiences and events alter pathways. Perhaps that neighbor you vote to put on the Board will serve you well. Sometimes it isn’t even about personal motivations and strength of character that can lead you to question any given person’s decisions. Sometimes it becomes an issue of outsmarting the two-legged wolf at the door. The wolf that is hungry for your water, that is sly, deceitful, and patient to wait before he strikes.
I have been closely watching an on-going discussion of water issues as it pertains to the Montezuma Valley. Everybody should be paying close attention because our water rights are on the negotiating table. With every negotiation come winners and losers, and nobody likes discovering that with changing times, attitudes can change perceptions of who gets marginalized.
Grand Junction’s Grand Valley is undergoing transformation. Hedge fund investors are buying up farmland under what is being termed as buy and dry. Pay what seem exorbitant prices for land with water rights. Maybe lease it locally for awhile and as water becomes more valuable, sell off the water, leaving the land dry. As of this writing over three thousand acres in the Grand Valley have been purchased by a hedge fund out of New York. Water for sale, to the highest bidder.
There is nothing wrong with a land owner with water rights deciding to sell. There are good reasons to get out of farming these days. The kids don’t want to work that hard, if they even live locally. We raised them to be Doctors and lawyers and such. The economic times are tough, and Colorado seems to be headed in a direction that feels wrong.
Some may think land conservation easements are the answer to keep agricultural land preserved. I would advise caution on that line of thought. Two legged wolves also wear sheep’s clothing; oozing charm, good intentions, cash, and glossy photo portfolios. There are horror stories out there about conservation easements.
What is concerning me most at the moment is a possible change in Water Division 7 provisions. Our watershed area has been exempted from participation in Colorado Water Conservation Board demand management programs. In February, the Southwest Water Conservation District voted unanimously to support removing this exemption by Colorado Statute. Non profits such as the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited support demand management policies because it creates a large pool of water subject to instream flow decision that is paid for by taxpayers. These decisions are made by an unelected Board that is increasingly leaning away from agriculture-oriented water policy. For the moment, that legislative bill is on hold. I don’t expect that to last long.
The statute in question that preserves our exemption is CRS 37-92-303 (3) (c). There was a spirited discussion of the possible elimination of our waiver from the CWCB demand management program at the February 25, 2020 Montezuma County Board of Commissioner meeting. The BOCC decided to send a letter opposing any elimination of our exemption. Despite that, the issue is not resolved.
Ronald Reagan once said, trust but verify. Honestly, my trust level is just about zero, especially as it applies to water issues. The irrigation ditch that supplies our water is named for the shape of the ditch as it crosses our place. My husband’s family sacrificed a significant piece of land in order to turn the dream of irrigation water into a reality for the Lewis area. I am going to be writing more about our water in the near future.
Valerie Maez writes from Lewis, Colo.