Q and A with Jim Yahn: A look at the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative

Staff Reports
Jim Yahn

Finding new ways to stretch water as far as possible will be key for agriculture in the near future, and that’s precisely the goal of the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative.

Initially called the Lower South Platte Water Cooperative, the Water Coop is being formed for the purpose of facilitating the maximum, beneficial use of certain water rights along the lower South Platte River in northeastern Colorado, and doing so without injury to senior water rights and within the current water law framework.

Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District and member of the South Platte Roundtable, took time this week explain the Water Coop — made up of entities and individuals from Kersey, Colo. to the Colorado-Nebraska stateline that own decreed or pending water decrees for augmentation.

Q: How long has the project been in the works?

A: The Water Coop arose out of a discussion in a meeting of reservoir managers in Fort Morgan, Colo., in early 2008.

Mike Groves, a farmer in the Orchard area and president of the Bijou Irrigation District, which operates the Empire Reservoir, was at the meeting.

Groves convened a group of water people to discuss the possibility of forming some kind of entity to facilitate the exchange of recharge accretions between well augmentation plans in a timely and efficient manner.

Q: What benefits have been discovered so far through the project?

A: From that initial meeting, the Water Coop group has been able to secure funding from the Alternative Transfer Method program through the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Water Supply Reserve Account through the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

Using this funding, the idea that recharge accretions could be exchanged in a more timely and efficient manner was confirmed.

It was found that a substantial amount of water could be re-timed into recharge ponds or stored during certain periods, particularly in the March through June time frame, and used later to offset well pumping.

It was also found that there may be an opportunity to utilize some of these recharge accretions for other uses including municipal or industrial use.

The Water Coop could help provide water for agricultural and be a strategic component in meeting the Colorado’s future municipal water needs.

Q: What setbacks or difficulties have come to light?

A: The only difficulties are meeting with the numerous reservoir and ditch companies in Districts 1 and 64, getting input from the water users and crafting an entity which can meet the objectives originally envisioned.

Q: How much longer will the project continue, and what are the next steps?

A: The Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Business Plan, Membership agreement and other pertinent documents are all in draft form and will be discussed at an open meeting on May 1 at the Morgan County REA building in Fort Morgan, Colo.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m.

It is hoped that there will be a good turnout, so that a comprehensive discussion of the documents can be had and water users will voice any concerns that they may have so that the Water Coop will be able to move forward.

If there is sufficient interest, the Water Coop should be formed by the end of 2013.

Q: What similar projects are being done around the rest of the state, and how are they similar or different to this Water Coop?

A: The Water Coop is unique, mainly because it is using junior recharge water rights, and potentially could couple the junior rights with old direct flow ditch and reservoir storage rights to meet both agriculture and municipal needs into the future.

A similar project is the Super Ditch group on the Arkansas River in southeast Colorado.

However the Super Ditch is predominately looking at leasing old direct-flow ditch rights on a rotational basis. ❖