A tight-lipped Western Colorado irrigation association is remaining neutral on the growing presence of private investors in their sizable pool of senior water rights.
The Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA) sent a letter to its nearly 1,700 individual water users in late June regarding recent purchases of agricultural land and associated water rights within their delivery area. Water Asset Management (WAM), a Manhattan-based private equity firm, has been active in the Grand Valley since 2017.
"Recently there has been a lot of discussion about Water Asset Management's (WAM) purchase of land with appurtenant water rights under the GVWUA system," reads the letter from GVWUA general manager Mark Harris. "Some folks are even asking what GVWUA's 'position' is regarding WAM."
WAM's purchases of at least 2,222 acres in the valley was one of the topics explored in Cash Flows, a collaborative reporting project from Aspen Journalism, KUNC, KJZZ and the Nevada Independent. GVWUA representatives declined to comment for that series.
In the letter, Harris says his association will not be speaking publicly in favor or against WAM's investments, and would remain neutral on the issue.
"To the best of GVWUA's knowledge, all the land purchased by WAM under the GVWUA system is currently still being farmed," Harris wrote. "While we may have no assurances that this will continue indefinitely, it is simply not GVWUA's role to tell its shareholders what they can or cannot do with their land."
Through its $16.6 million spent on agricultural properties and water shares in both the GVWUA system and the Grand Valley Irrigation Company, WAM has become a prominent, yet relatively reclusive, member of the valley's agricultural economy. Harris's letter confirms the investment firm is now the single largest shareholder of water within the GVWUA system.
"This has caused a stir statewide and West Slope legislators have called for a renewed look at Colorado's water laws on anti-speculation in water," Harris continues.
In March, Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 48, which instructs Dan Gibbs, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, to create a work group to study the state's anti-speculation rules and recommend changes.
GVWUA members draw from the Colorado River to irrigate more than 23,000 acres of farmland across a broad sweep of the Grand Valley, near the communities of Palisade, Grand Junction, Fruita, Loma and Mack.
This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.