Mar 10, 2004

Colorado's Largest Ever Water Lease Signed

The federal Bureau of Reclamation has approved a 12,600-acre-ft water lease between Aurora and 152 Arkansas Valley farmers, the largest temporary water transfer in state history.

The $5.5 million agreement between Aurora and shareholders of the High Line Canal water will allow the city to partially refill its drought-depleted reservoirs.

The deal was the result of revised state legislation allowing temporary water transfers, and lengthy negotiations between Aurora and the High Line Canal farmers.

The agreement will allow Aurora to get as much as 4.1 billion gallons of water, about 8 percent of the city's total supply, while allowing farmers to keep their water rights and earn some income in a dry year when they could expect only limited success growing crops.

The Aurora water lease will take an average of about 40 percent of the High Line farmers' crop land out of production this summer.

The final step in the deal was approval by the BLM, which operates Pueblo Reservoir, where the water will be stored as part of the transfer.

The BLM found no significant environmental impact for the 12 months of the contract.

Elliott said the leased water will be used to replenish the city's reservoirs, which fell to as low as 26 percent of capacity last year. The reservoirs are at about 46 percent of capacity and city officials are trying to get them back to at least 60 percent.

The cost of the lease will be paid by Aurora customers through a drought surcharge.