Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Monday, June 15, 2009

Irritating irrigating

GAH! It's June and we're scrambling/begging/borrowing anything we can to obtain some irrigation water since the days are getting hotter, the skys are nothing but deep blue, and the fields are starting to bake. Except that... they aren't.

Much to the contrary, this year it has been raining like mad for weeks, nay months, on end. We had very little snow early in the year. So much so we were very concerned about our pastures and thus made the mental note that this year we really had to get proactive about irrigating.

But then we started scheduling equestrian gatherings late March, and it started snowing, or raining, EVERY WEEKEND. And its still doing it. This past few weeks its gotten out of hand in that the Denver / Front Range has had like 10 tornado sightings with the daily afternoon thunderstorms. Boy, last night we had the lightning and thunder storm to beat all others. At 2 am of course.

So we can't complain about things drying up, we're pretty well soggy wet, brilliantly green, and madly overgrown since our tractor broke and we've been unable to mow. The dogs are hysterical -- we're talking large dogs who disappear into the grass in the dog yards. They are having so much fun bounding through the grass.

Never the less, irrigation is something one NEVER turns away so we're still scrambling. Our neighbor has always been our connection to the water. When we bought the ranch we purchased 2 shares of "New Ish" ditch water. We were warned they weren't terribly valuable, but what the heck, we thought, some water is better than none. Only - the Ish Reservoir hasn't filled up enough in the past few years for the New Ish ditch to flow at all, so in fact we've had none.

The neighbor has typically been able to rent or obtain water from other places, and has always been so good as to obtain some for us as well. Last year he was unable to get any - we were both essentially entirely dry last year.

It really doesn't feel great always being so dependent upon him, and this spring we determined we just had to obtain better water rights for ourselves. Thus started a rather convoluted and long series of calls to find out about this water business.

It started off, actually, because a property behind us was for sale and the sign advertised water rights as well. I called to see if they might be willing to sell the water separately from the land. I found out that that property had not only shares of Supply Ditch, but also CBT (Colorado Big-Thompson) The realtor didn't know much about it, except she said CBT units are typically really sought after because they are never locked to a piece of land, where as other ditches such as Supply Ditch may be locked to the land and can't be sold separately.

So we started looking into buying some CBT units. Found out that indeed CBT units are unrestricted by your property address, but that there are restrictions on how much any one entity can purchase --- basically you have to establish that you have land that you will actually be irrigating with the water. They cracked down on this recently as people started speculating in buying and selling these units. So we needed to get a Field Exam performed before we would be approved. We got on the list back in early May, and writing this now I'm recalling that we never heard back from them. I shot off an email this morning and just heard back that indeed, they still haven't gotten to us but we are still on the list. (Low and behold, I started writing this entry last Friday, and guess who called me this morning, Monday? The inspector!) (** see below for an update)

The Colorado Big Thompson project was a massive water project that pumps water up over the continental divide and dumps it into the Big Thompson river that flows through Estes Park and down to Loveland. It goes through several hydro electric plants on the way. CBT units are very valuable because they produce water every year - even when the other sources are meager or dried up. I priced them and found that a unit is going for about $8K.

Got that far, and then asked - but if we own CBT units, how do they get delivered to us? That person explained that we had to designate a ditch company who would be the carrier. So I called our ditch company to just confirm they could be our carrier for CBT units. Oh.... not necessarily. *crud*

We own shares of the New Ish ditch, which flows from the Ish Reservoir not far from our house. It was only this year that I found out that the New Ish, and Old Ish ditches are physically different ditches. We had previously thought same ditch, but the Old Ish shares just had seniority. It's a fact that the Old Ish shares represent the bottom X feet of the reservoir, and the New Ish shares represent everything above that. So obviously, in dry years, New Ish shares have nothing to divy up amongst themselves.

But they actually are separate ditches, run by different ditch companies. Oh joy. The woman warned me that if we got our CBT units into the Ish Reservoir, if there wasn't enough water in the res, then we might never be able to get that water out of there. Obviously this isn't a risk we're willing to take. She suggested we should be able to talk to Old Ish and make a deal with them to be our carrier for our CBT units only.

But recall Old Ish is a different ditch company entirely. They didn't seem too keen to help me out... AND then he told me the Old Ish ditches couldn't even deliver water to my address. I had to take his word on that - I have no clue where these things go! He did say that there was this 'bypass' ditch that could put water into the New Ish ditch directly, without going through Ish Reservoir, but that to his knowledge that hadn't been used for years. I asked if we could ask that it be used for us, and he said that wouldn't help - because the shrinkage would be so great it is possible that our entire allotment of water would just be absorbed by the (dirt) ditch since it was so dry.

Instead, he recommended we look into buying shares of the Supply Ditch. We do know that Supply water can get to us, as that is the water our neighbor frequently does get. But we'd heard that Supply is sometimes locked to the land, so how can you EVER purchase it? I started calling around to try and figure out who to talk to. Unfortunately I had to wander my way through 3 different ditch companies with "Supply" in their name before I'd found the right one. Because there really isn't any information about these companies out there on the web - they are entirely archaic and the concept of having a web page with which to communicate to their shareholders is a completely novel idea.

This gentleman knew our neighbor. He was quite helpful, and said that since there has been a history of using Supply water on our property we could probably purchase shares. AND, he being the superintendent of that ditch, he also acted as a broker and could put us in touch with someone interested in selling. SCORE!

1/2 share of Supply ditch is running... $8K. Odd that that is exactly the rate for 1 CTB unit, but I guess that's the going rate for water. However, he pointed out, the Supply Ditch does not run ALL the way to our property, we will also have to purchase rights in another ditch, the Howard Lateral. *groan* But our neighbor has agreed he could sell us one, or part of one of his shares.

So - I feel like we've made a lot of progress and have hopes of obtaining some real, valuable, water shares that not only typcially deliver water (except for the most extreme drought years,) but also can deliver CBT units to us were we to purchase or rent CBT water in the future.

No wonder we've been relying upon the neighbor all this time. I'm sure anytime we've tried to have these conversations in the past we just got avalanched under the red tape and decided it was too daunting to tackle.

Meanwhile, the water is in fact running this week, in addition to the near daily thunderstorm deluges we're getting. Shore is lush out there.

** UPDATE 3:30 PM: the CBT folks called me to say our Field Exam was completed today. The good news is that we do qualify to purchase CBT water. The absurd part is that we're only qualified to purchase 22 Acre Feet of water, which conveniently translates to 22 Units of CBT. (1 Acre-Foot of water is the amount of water to cover 1 acre, 1 foot deep) Given that each unit is $8K, um... yeah. I don't think we are in danger of desiring more than we're allotted!




Blogger Birdie said...

Gorgeous shots! But I laughed out loud at those pictures of the dogs even before I read a word. Doggy grins are so obvious; those dogs are clearly having a blast. (But does the grass bring fleas?)

Visiting your ranch was the first time I'd seen water rights in actual practice. I know it's all bureaucracy to you, but this post is a real education to me.

6/15/09, 2:31 PM  
Blogger Monica said...

Hi Birdie -- Yep, educating all my non rancher friends (which are about 99% of my friends, LOL) is my aim. We are still bowled over by alot of this stuff, so I figure it might be interesting. Even if only from a - 'oh thank goodness I don't have to deal with that' perspective. ;-)

Fortunately Colorado really doesn't have flea issues. We're too dry for them to surive. (suuush, don't tell them we're having a wet year!) But the long grasses definitely provide good habitat for the mosquitos. We have a new tractor now (*groan*) so I'm hoping some mowing got done today.

6/15/09, 3:23 PM  

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