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Michael A. Cox is a Montrose-based content provider. He may be reached at michaelc@agwriter.us

It is not a new story. It has happened before. They made a movie, “Chinatown,” about it when it happened to the Owens Valley in California. The big cities want the water and they will figure out a way to get it. That’s what the Western Slope of Colorado is up against.

The Colorado River District staged an open Zoom meeting yesterday to discuss the fact that a Manhattan Hedge Fund, Water Asset Management (WAM), is buying up farmland in Mesa and Delta counties, not so they can farm it, but so they can own the water rights. They are counting on something called the Demand Management Plan that is in the eyes of some Colorado officials. The whole idea raises the hackles on pretty much everyone in Colorado agriculture.

A sharp young man with a screenplay name, Luke Runyon, KUNC-TV investigative reporter and veteran water warrior Colorado Rep. Marc Catlin laid out the issues and the process by which Colorado farmers are already giving up valuable water rights as they sell their farms to the investors. According to Runyon, who has been working on the story for more than a year, the hedge fund has spent $16.5 million to buy 2022 acres or 7% of the ag land in Mesa County as of March this year.

“The Water Assets Management people won’t talk to us on the record about what they are going to do with the land,” Runyon told the Zoom audience. “They haven’t said what their purpose is, but hedge funds only invest in things that make money.”

Runyon said that it does not appear that the hedge fund has the best interests of the Colorado agriculture community in mind. He, and many others, speculate that the fund will eventually take the land fallow and leave it that way until the price of water gets high.

The WAM charge in Mesa county is being run by former director of the state’s top water policy agency, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, James Eklund. Eklund was one of the architects of the Drought Contingency Plan, the document that made the case for a demand management program throughout the Upper Basin.

While Eklund and his hedge fund snap up the land, the state of Colorado is off on a fool’s errand, developing his so-called demand management program, which Catlin labels as a “theoretical exercise.” Catlin pointed out that farmers have been practicing demand management for decades. But it is nothing like the bureaucratic maze being suggested by the politicians in Denver.

“Colorado is the water capital in the Southwest. We have the water and a lot of people want it,” Catlin said. Catlin suggested that rather than the demand management chase, we ought to be working on delivery management and storage.

“We need to be looking at storage, as much as we can do, and then manage the delivery of that stored water,” said Catlin. Catlin added that we need to be strong in our resolve and not to fall for the demands of the downstream folks.

Catlin gets passionate when he talks about the plight of farmers. In response to the question of demand management on the farm, he talks about what farmers already do.

“Over the years, farmers have made do with the same (sometime less, sometimes more) water. But we use it efficiently. The price we got for beans last year was the 1983 price, we held our own, because we raised yields with better farming practices and more efficient water use,” he said.

I will be following upon the WAM story and Mr. Catlin’s thoughts about storage in subsequent issues of the Daily Press.

Cattlemen rally for rural Colorado

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) missed its live annual convention this past summer. But the need to remain a cohesive and connected advocate for Colorado producers, 2020 President Janie VanWinkle and rest of the officers and staff are on the road this week for a series of backroads camp meetings where the We Are Colorado Proclamation and Pledge are being unveiled. VanWinkle and the association issued an invitation for cattle producers and their friends to attend 14 rallies being staged this week in locations ranging from ranches to fairgrounds, parks to event centers.

The We Are All Colorado Proclamation and Pledge is gaining traction throughout Colorado. It is a bold and urgent movement to energize rural and urban connectivity. Beef producers at CCA’s Rally for Rural Colorado 14 tour stops will have an opportunity to become part of this call for collaboration and action that empowers all of Colorado. Along the way, CCA will be hosting signings of the proclamation with its local affiliates, elected leaders and organizations who want to engage and empower our state’s future.

The Montrose rally was held today at the fairgrounds. The only other Western Slope gathering will be in Bayfield, northeast of Durango. Mesa County rancher and CCA President VanWinkle hosted the Montrose event.

Smoke gets in your eyes

After a month of smoky skies from fires in our own region, that smoke that got in your eyes Monday morning of this week came all the way from Utah and Big Creek, California — about 700 miles as a singed crow flies. And it got a little more personal for the Coxes.

One of my daughters lives in Big Creek (and here in a second home). Her husband is a control center operator on the Southern Cal Edison (SCE) hydro facility there.

They left Big Creek last Friday to come here for some family time. Shortly after they left, a fire broke out a few miles down the Big Creek Canyon. Only 24 hours later, moving like a banshee through the mixed fuel that choked the narrow granite canyons, it made contact with Big Creek, while burning nearly 24,000 acres of the Sierra watershed. About 50% of the homes and the community school in Big Creek were destroyed. Their house was saved. The hydro station and the control center were spared and continue to function.

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