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Colorado work group fails to reach consensus in anti-speculation report

The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund, has been buying up parcels of land that are irrigated with water from the canal. BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

By Heather Sackett
Aspen Journalism 

After nearly a year’s worth of meetings, a work group has not reached a consensus about what Colorado should do to prevent investors from profiting off of speculating on the state’s water. 

A report released this month by a group of water managers, policy experts and users — who were convened to explore ways to strengthen current anti-speculation law — lays out a list of concepts but does not give clear direction to state legislators about which concepts to pursue. 

“Due in part to the drawbacks that the Work Group identified for each of the brainstormed concepts in Section 5, and a lack of consensus, the Work Group does not recommend any of the concepts for implementation,” the report reads. 

The work group was made up of representatives from across water sectors, including Front Range municipal-water providers, Western Slope agricultural-water users, nonprofit organizations and others. At the direction of state lawmakers, the work group looked into how legislation could be enacted or amended to crack down on investment water speculation. The group defined investment water speculation as the purchase of water rights with the primary purpose of profiting from the increased value of the water in a future sale. 

The lack of consensus or recommendations underscores how difficult it is to answer the thorny question at the heart of the issue: How can the government balance protecting a public resource from profit-seeking investors without infringing on private-property rights? 

“The lack of consensus is informative in and of itself,” said state engineer Kevin Rein, who co-chaired the work group. “That tells the (Water Resources Review) Committee a lot right there.”

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