Weld County farmers sell water shares to the Aurora | TheFencePost.com

Weld County farmers sell water shares to the Aurora

An irrigation machine spraying water on a large field.

Selling 17 of his 21 water shares was the practical thing to do, even if Chuck Sylvester feels a little guilty because they were owned by his ancestors.

"It's bittersweet," he said.

Sylvester and the Hays family both of LaSalle, Colo., sold water shares to the city of Aurora.

City officials are in planning mode, accounting for an expected population increase within the next 40 years, according to Greg Baker, manager of Aurora Water public relations.

Since the 33 total shares — 17 of the shares were Sylvester's — sold to Aurora aren't immediately needed, both families are leasing the water they sold.

For Sylvester, it gives him a chance to have farm operations continue on his land for the time being, while searching for new land.

But how long crops will be sustainable on the land is a big question, which led to his decision to sell in the first place.

The underground water wasn't a problem, until he and other farmers in his area were told they could no longer pump the water, because the senior water rights holders for South Platte live in the Sterling, Colo., area. Those who have senior rights get first priority for the water. Anyone with shares are at the mercy of how much the senior holder needs in a given year.

"With rising water underground, it's questionable whether or not crops grow," Sylvester said.

He said dumping practices, along with the inability to pump water out makes it too wet to grow crops. And with the underground water seeping up onto the ground, it decreases the value of the surface water — which is the shares he sold.

And he doesn't see the value going up anytime soon.

"I see this getting worse and worse. I'm going to a state that has better water laws," said Sylvester, who owns three farms in Wyoming, and plans to sell one of them so he can use the profits from that sale and the water shares to purchase another farm. He also has plans to sell one of his farms to a young farmer.

Using the profits to help another generation of agriculture helps him feel a little less guilty about selling water shares, which have been in his family for four generations.

Attempts to contact the Hays family about their reason for selling water shares and about their future plans were unsuccessful.

Baker said the city of Aurora made four purchases of South Platte water in 2016, which included the purchases from Sylvester and Hays.

It's not common for farmers to sell their water shares, which is why the Aurora officials were eager to buy water when it was available — as long as there is a way in the future to use the water.

What that will look like for Aurora is unknown at the moment. But until the water is needed in Aurora, the purpose will stay agricultural. Then, when the leases are up, and there is a need in the city, officials will decide if keeping the water under augmentation use will be the right move or if it would be better suited to use as municipal water.

"They're looking to the future," Sylvester said.❖