Water is the Source of Colorado’s Great Agricultural Tradition

Ron Ruff

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Ron Ruff | Fort Collins-Loveland Water District Board of Directors, Vice-Chairmain

Water is a source of tremendous passion for me and my colleagues at the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (FCLWD). It’s also the source of our state’s rich agricultural tradition. From the moment the Colorado Territorial Legislature adopted water laws in 1861, the business of water and agriculture were officially bonded in a very significant way. It was Colorado farmers who created our region’s original irrigation infrastructure. Many of those ditches are still in use today.

In the years since 1861, water rights have grown increasingly complicated. Water is a multifaceted and dynamic resource in our area, as it is throughout the state, country and world. Competition is more intense than ever, and so are the stakes for securing water rights. At the FCLWD, our main source of water comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) project. Although the FCLWD is not projected to reach 50 percent of our water tap capacity until 2030, the pace at which the region is growing prevents us from becoming passive about the future. Water providers across our region are rushing to secure water rights through a variety of sources, including agriculture.

“Buy and dry” is the common phrase used to describe the process of purchasing a farm and its water rights, and then forever separating the two entities. After the purchase, the farmland is often commercially developed or converted and sold as a dry farm, which is a farm that relies primarily on rainfall to grow its crops.

Separating a farm from its water is a legal process that involves the Colorado Water Court. Several municipalities in our region have recently gone through this process. While breaking this historic bond of farm and water is symbolically significant to those of us at the District, we realize that it’s a financial transaction that benefits all parties involved. We also realize that with growing pressure, it is becoming a necessity for many municipalities and water providers.

Still, here at the FCLWD, “Buy and Dry” is one approach to water rights that we have not historically pursued, but may in the future. Perhaps our mantra of “Growth to Pay its Way” has inspired more creative approaches. Or, likely, it’s our access to substantial water at Horsetooth Reservoir (part of the CBT) that has made the purchase and unbinding of farm water rights unnecessary. But despite this access, the FCLWD is still very actively pursuing the acquisition of water to ensure a healthy and thriving future for the District. On top of purchasing additional CBT rights—which can be very expensive—we’ve also explored groundwater and ditch rights.

With each passing day, the ability to secure water rights grows more difficult. Still, FCLWD customers can trust that the District is doing everything to deliver enough water now and into the future. We greet each new opportunity with responsible growth in mind, and with reverence for the tradition of agriculture in the state of Colorado.