“Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” 

Water — cities, ranchers, individuals have fought for water rights since the West was settled. Water is one of the most important considerations for economic development and prosperity in the arid West.

Until recently, Colorado Springs aggressively pursued water rights to guarantee the natural resource would match planned growth. After all, this is the city that spent nearly $1 billion to build a pipeline to bring Arkansas River water from Pueblo Reservoir — a move ratepayers were told would assure the city’s water needs for the next 50 years.

And now we’ve learned (Click here to read) that Colorado Springs Utilities has been negotiating with Philip Anschutz and The Broadmoor to sell city water rights from Rosemont Reservoir southwest of Colorado Springs. The negotiations came to light mere weeks after CSU triumphantly switched on the Southern Delivery System.

Apparently these negotiations have gone on in secret, behind closed doors. While CSU officials acknowledge they’re negotiating with The Broadmoor and have been for at least a year, they aren’t saying much else.

The closed-door conversations lead to many questions: Why did the city agree to negotiations? How much water might be sold? Does CSU need the money? Would the transfer be permanent? How much money is The Broadmoor willing to pony up for the guarantee of pristine mountain water for its hotels and golf courses? Would CSU use money from The Broadmoor deal to secure other water rights? And doesn’t Anschutz already own 1.5 million acre feet in subsurface water rights under Douglas County’s Greenland Ranch? Is this an exchange agreement?

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The secrecy is troubling. Instead of clandestinely hammering out the details of the deal and presenting it to a skeptical public as a fait accompli, wouldn’t it be better for the publicly owned utilities to include the public in the discussion?

Right now, there are more questions than answers. And since no one is really talking, there’s no way to examine the agreement and see whether it benefits the ratepayers.

It seems the city hasn’t learned its lesson. Negotiations for Strawberry Fields might not have been so acrimonious if the residents had been included earlier in that process — instead of being presented with a final agreement that wasn’t subject to change no matter how many people expressed their concern.

And while The Broadmoor built Rosemont Reservoir in 1932, it’s been part of the city’s water system for decades. It’s been called one of the crown jewels of the system. CSU has been too secretive for too long. Think about the 2002 agreement that sold potable water to The Broadmoor at lower non-potable rates — during a historic drought.

While the agreement might prove to be a win for CSU’s ratepayers, the secrecy is a problem. Ratepayers have a vested interest in understanding the deal and the reasons behind it.

Right now, there’s too much at stake for Utilities to continue negotiating in secret — even if it ends up benefiting the city overall. CSU’s leaders have a responsibility to conduct business in a transparent, open manner.

Now we’ll have to see wait and see what sort of an agreement the city will enter into if it chooses to sell a very limited Western resource.