Savior of Rural Landscapes or Solomon’s choice? Colorado’s Experiment with Alternative Transfer Methods for Water (ATMs)

by Lisa Dilling, John Berggren, Jennifer, Henderson, and Douglas Kenney
Water Security, 2019

Abstract: This article focuses on the emerging landscape for Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs) in Colorado, USA. ATMs are developing within a legal landscape of water rights governed by prior appropriation law, growing demand for water in urban centers driven by population growth, and an aging rural farm population whose most valuable asset may include senior water rights. Rural-urban water transfers in the past have been linked to the collapse of rural economies if pursued to the extreme extent of “buy-and-dry,” where water rights were purchased outright and permanently removed from agricultural land (e.g. Crowley County). This article focuses on the emerging innovations of ATMs, which seek to accomplish the same purpose of providing additional water to growing cities but through more flexible mechanisms, such as rotational fallowing, interruptible supplies, and water banks, that aim to preserve rural economies as well. We review the history and context for water allocation in Colorado, the history of rural-urban transfers, and focus on ATMs and their pros and cons. We conclude with implications of ATMs for water governance and providing flexibility and sustainability in a changing climate. Read more …

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