Recent Reports Highlight Wall Street’s Renewed Interest In West Slope Water

Two decades of drought and the certainty of a hotter, drier future in the Colorado River Basin have generated no shortage of media attention in recent weeks. Two recent articles, however, have created no shortage of controversy on the Western Slope and throughout the Centennial State.

On January 3, the front page of the New York Times business section included a bold headline that proclaimed: Wall Street Eyes Billions in the Colorado’s Water.” The article that followed featured Colorado’s former Colorado River Commissioner, James Eklund, and his close ties with Water Asset Management, a New York-based investment firm that in recent years has been purchasing historic agricultural lands and their associated water rights on the Western Slope.

Three days later an opinion editorial piece was published in the Denver Post by one of  Water Asset Management’s advisors and business associates, Brian Richter. The headline of Richter’s write-up read bluntly: “Western Slope needs to suspend irrigation to avert water shortage catastrophe.”

In his quarterly memo to the Colorado River District’s Board of Directors, General Manager Andy Mueller provided a straightforward analysis of both articles. Mueller noted that the timing of the two articles did not appear to be accidental and that taken together, the pieces appeared to be “indicative [of] a significant push by investors looking to benefit themselves and their representatives from the monetization of water rights in Western Colorado.”

In addition to concerns expressed by Mueller and the River District’s Board of Directors, the New York Times article and related opinion editorial by Richter elicited a multitude of responses from water officials and leaders throughout the state, including Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Becky Mitchell, Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg and Grand Junction Sentinel columnist Greg Walcher. A number of non-governmental organizations, including American Riversthe Family Farm Alliance, the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, also weighed –in outlining their concerns regarding for-profit investment firms’ efforts to speculate on Colorado’s water future.

Last year, the River District actively lobbied in support of Senate Bill 48, which was brought forward by a bipartisan group of West Slope legislators concerned about the acquisition of agricultural lands and historic water rights by out-of-state investment firms like Water Asset Management. Senate Bill 48 passed with broad bipartisan support and led to the creation of Colorado’s Anti-Speculation Law Work Group. The Work Group is currently in the process of examining ways to strengthen Colorado’s anti-speculation laws and plans to make recommendations to the state legislature this summer.