First-of-its-Kind Water Conservation Project on Sold Colorado Ranch

Ranch Broker Daniel Carter, along with co-broker Mike McGarry, recently represented Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) in the sale of the Little Cimarron Valley Ranch in southwestern Colorado, a property that is part of a unique water conservation project. WRC is a non-profit conservation organization devoted to conserving outstanding river ecosystems in the western United States. 

In today’s blog, Daniel takes us through the details of the first-of-its-kind water conservation partnership at Little Cimarron Valley Ranch.

Daniel Carter worked diligently to close this unique water conservation project.

Unique Water Conservation Strategies

The sale of Little Cimarron Valley Ranch represents a successful partnership with a number of different stakeholders and the culmination of an innovative water conservation initiative that sets precedent for a new approach to Alternate Transfer Methods within the Colorado Water Plan. This solution is an attractive alternative as it alleviates the need for “buy-and-dry” transfers (which take agricultural lands out of production permanently). 

This kind of split-water agreement, whereby water rights are utilized for both irrigation and in-stream flow, has never been completed in the western US until now.

In an effort to restore flows to the Little Cimarron River, while simultaneously protecting the valley’s agricultural heritage, Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) acquired the ranch and its 5.8125 CFS of senior water rights. WRC then partnered with the Colorado Water Trust (CWT), another non-profit conservation organization, to implement a cutting-edge irrigation plan that allows continued agricultural operations while keeping the water in the river when the river needs it most.

Why was this needed?

The upper Little Cimarron River is a healthy fishery and important tributary of the Gunnison River and overall Colorado River Watershed. The Little Cimarron has consistent year round flows, but when the river reaches the irrigation ditches of the lower valley, it is historically de-watered and re-watered due to late-summer irrigation diversions. This damaging cycle is harmful to fish, wildlife, and the valley’s overall riparian ecosystem.

Water Conservation Project

A Water Use Agreement

WRC conveyed the water rights to CWT, and through a legally binding agreement, CWT now allows the ranch to use the water for irrigation at no additional cost. Each year, no later than April 1, CWT will inform the ranch owner of exactly how long he or she will be able to irrigate the ranch’s meadows and pastures. This decision will be informed by a flow forecast tool developed by Bishop-Brogden Associates, Inc., a well-respected water consulting firm.

Using historical water and live snowpack data, the flow forecast tool gives a good indication of how future years may play out. In a year with typical moisture the ranch can utilize the water rights to irrigate through June or July, with all water remaining in-stream after those dates. During abnormally dry years, the ranch may be required to keep water in-stream for the entire season, but during very wet years, the ranch will be able to irrigate for the full season. 

Once the use agreement that memorializes the irrigation plan was completed, WRC was ready to sell the property to a new owner who would continue to operate under the new program. Mirr Ranch Group was selected to market the ranch given our expertise and experience with conservation properties, complex water rights, and sophisticated conservation strategies.

Ranch Marketing Expertise

Mirr Ranch Group (MRG) worked diligently to become familiar with the details and stakeholders involved with the property and water agreement. Once we were up to speed on the ins-and-outs of the operation and water conservation project, we began strategizing about the positioning and marketing target for the ranch.

We knew the eventual buyer would need to be conservation-minded, or at least open to the idea of a new way of looking at irrigation rights. We also evaluated the best end-use for the property considering the potential restrictions as well as the other resources of the ranch and unique benefits of the surrounding valley. 

Ultimately MRG’s marketing attracted a great buyer who had recently acquired other land nearby and will be working the property into their larger ranch operation. It was important throughout the marketing and transaction period to provide clear and concise information to the parties involved so as to not confuse or over-complicate the water scenario.

“When it came to listing our property for sale, we needed a brokerage that could both grasp and communicate the intricacies, goals, and limitations resulting from a first-of-its-kind water sharing agreement.  The crew over at Mirr Ranch Group accepted this challenge, and ran with it. Daniel and Mike were a fantastic team to work with, and guided us through the pricing, marketing, showing and closing processes. Communication was seamless, and ultimately, we found the perfect buyer for the property. We will definitely work with Mirr Ranch Group to market our conservation properties in the future.”

– Dieter Erdmann, Interior West Program Director, Western Rivers Conservancy

Thanks to the innovative partnership between Western Rivers Conservancy, the Colorado Water Trust, and now the new owner, the Little Cimarron Valley Ranch is able to continue its history as a productive agricultural operation – while also contributing to the overall health of the Little Cimarron River and surrounding valley. We are always pleased to work on an exciting water conservation project such as this and greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with such wonderful partners like Western Rivers Conservancy.

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