In November 2002, 64% of voters in Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent and Prowers counties approved an initiative to form the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (LAVWCD). The Board of Directors was appointed that December, and the new District held its first meeting.
While the District is fairly new, the history behind its formation can be traced back to the 1970s. It was at this time that Front Range municipalities began to buy water rights in the Arkansas Valley river basin. Since that time, over 100,000 acre-feet of agricultural water has been transferred and exchanged within and outside the Arkansas Basin to municiple use. The Colorado Canal and Rocky Ford Ditch transfers dried up approximately 78,000 acres. According to a Brown & Caldwell study in 2002, the Arkansas Valley loses an average of one job for every 140 acres dried up.
In 2002, however, things got much worse. The Arkansas Valley experienced the worst drought in an estimated 300 years. The Fort Lyon Canal ran dry. And, 1874 water rights were called out by High Line Canal senior right. The Fort Lyon Canal faced another threat by the High Plains A&M Investment Group. This group began to buy canal shares in an attempt to gain majority voting rights in hopes of amending by-laws to facilitate change in use. It is believed that this group plans to pipe water out of the Valley, and act as a water broker to Front Range cities.
This same year, commissioners from five counties — Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo — signed an intergovernmental agreement. Each county appointed a representative to an advisory group. This group was formed to enact local measures to protect the Valley’s water resources. They hired Brown & Caldwell Environmental Engineers to evaluate the water resource situation, develop a Arkansas Valley Water Preservation Management Plan and assist them in forming a new water conservancy district.
Cirulli Associates were hired by Brown & Caldwell in June 2002 to do a public opinion survey in July based on water issues. The results of the survey were really what made the Ark Valley Preservation group decide to pursue the ballot issue for the Conservancy district.
When asked what the most important issue of the day was:
34% Water/Drought ranked as top issue
11% Education second in importance
10% Jobs/Economy third in importance
90% Disapproved of out-of-basin water sales
82% Approved the conservancy district formation
78% Favored 1.5 mill levy increase to support district to raise $1.6 million
84% Important to keep water in farming and ranching for future economy
34% Favored use of water for wildlife and recreation
89% Important for the state of Colorado to deal with the drought
Since its inception in 2002, the LAVWCD has passed a resolution to form the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy Land Trust. In April of 2003, they hired a full-time staff. By May of that year, LAVWCD established the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Activity Enterprise. They also signed an option agreement with a Prowers County landowner. In August, the LAVWCD purchased 100 LAWMA shares and became a shareholder on the Catlin Canal, by receiving a donation of 1/10th share of the canal.