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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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April 18, 2000: Investing in Local Water

Q: I understand that since last September, Big-T water shares have gone from selling for between $2500 to $3000 a share to over $21,000 today!! How do I invest in water?

A: The first thing to remember is that not all water legally is the same. As a result of court decrees or contract limitations, some water rights are restricted as to use, to particular ditch systems, or to certain land. Thus, some water rights have either stayed the same in value or even decreased during the past year.

But let's briefly look at Big-T water. First, the water is not represented by shares, such as water owned by a particular ditch company or investment group. Big-T water is based upon units a contract right to receive the designated percentage of one acre foot of water per unit as declared annually by the Board of Directors for the Northern Colorado Conservancy District. (For the year 2000 each unit will be entitled to .7 of an acre foot.)

Next, this is "supplemental water" so you can not own Big-T units unless you also own enough other water rights to support your number of units of Big-T, all as is determined by the Board of Directors.

You must also own land in the District, be able to have the water delivered to that land, and put all of the water owned to beneficial use. The units can not be purchased and held without some attempt to use them. If a speculator happens to sneak through the process but is later discovered not to have met all of the requirements, the units can be voided.

Those of us in Fort Collins, for example, pay an annual assessment because the City of Fort Collins' water supply is in part based upon Big-T water, even though most of us could not meet all of the foregoing tests if we tried to buy Big-T water and tie ownership of it to our lots.

So the bottom line is that this particular water investment is unavailable to almost all of us, even though all of us hear and talk about it.

As an aside, we would not have this water today if it were not for area farmers back during the years of the depression and World War II who pledged their ground, betting that this project would work financially.

And next time you are driving on Highway 14 east of Ault, where the road diagonals to the northeast and then straightens out to the east again, look to the north and try to picture hundreds and hundreds of square miles of irrigated crop land, stretching north to the Wyoming border and from the Grover road west past I-25. Although not exactly like the Big-T project, the area is dry today because Colorado lost a Supreme Court case to Wyoming, where the majority opinion was written by the only Supreme Court Justice ever to serve from the State of Wyoming, or so I have been told. (Yet another example of questionable legal representation and legal strategizing that has plagued Colorado before the Supreme Court.)

In fact, if you fly over the area, you can still see parts of the main ditch and laterals, all dusty, ghost-like, and looking out of place, built in anticipation of the water that never arrived.

Today, maybe a number of groups would applaud what happened. But if that water project had been instituted, northern Larimer and Weld counties would be very different than they are today and maybe Big-T water would not be attracting investment interest at $21,000 a unit.


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