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Colorado Springs Utilities Board condemns recent water rights purchase by City of Aurora

Posted at 10:37 PM, May 22, 2024

COLORADO — During a board meeting on Wednesday, the Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) Board of Directors condemned a decision by the City of Aurora to purchase more water out of the Arkansas River Basin.

Last month Aurora bought a 5,200-acre farm in Otero County along with its water used to irrigate 4,800 acres for $80.4 million. Most of the water used to irrigate the land is through Catlin Ditch shares, along with other water rights in the Arkansas Valley.

The CSU Board said this purchase potentially violates a 2003 intergovernmental agreement between the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Aurora, which prevents Aurora from purchasing any additional agricultural water rights and transferring those rights out of the basin for permanent use.

"We see this purchase by Aurora as not really willing to work together with others," said Abby Ortega, CSU's General Manager of Infrastructure and Resource Planning. "It takes water away from agriculture in the lower Arkansas Valley, which we've been working really hard to sustain."

Greg Baker with Aurora Water said the purchase does not violate the agreement since it has no plans to permanently transfer the water out of the basin. He said the city can only take water three out of 10 years if its reservoirs are at or below 60%.

"This purchase is unique for Aurora Water in that the water will retain its agricultural rights that can only be used for municipal purposes under specific terms. When the city can’t take the water under the IGA provisions, Aurora will lease the land and water to C&A Companies to support continuing agriculture in the region," said Baker.

However, CSU said it needs more documentation from Aurora showing its intent to keep the water in the Arkansas Valley for a minimum of seven out of 10 years.

"They don't yet have anything legally binding them to that commitment," said Ortega. "That's a lot of money to spend on water...that you don't plan on permanently transferring outside of the basin."

CSU Board Member Brian Risley said Aurora's purchase of more water rights could affect Colorado Springs' ability to access water out of the Arkansas River Basin.

“It could impact our ability to actually obtain water and it could also increase the cost of acquisition, assuming that there is water rights available for us to secure going forward," he said.

During Wednesday's meeting, Risley expressed his concern about "Denver Metro areas" making decisions that could impact other areas of the state.

"The Denver Metro area will make a decision assuming that the rest of the state will just get in line with it, not understanding the implications or the problems that that would cause for certainly rural parts of Colorado," said Risley.

The CSU Board pushed a resolution to the Colorado Springs City Council that would formally oppose Aurora's recent purchase of farmland and water rights.

'Not another one,' three people rescued from Arkansas River, one still missing

The Otero County Sheriff's Office, La Junta Fire, and several other agencies are searching for a man who went missing in the Arkansas River on Wednesday morning.

Rescue crews search for 19-year-old boy around Arkansas River

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