Fracking vs. Farming at Water Auction

While any good auction brings a fierce bidding war, and water auctions are probably more heated than most, today’s contenders for water in Colorado aren’t just farmers — now farmers have the oil and gas industry to bid against.

As the Denver Post reported yesterday, an auction hosted by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District for excess water diverted from the Colorado River Basin saw top bids coming from companies who work in hydraulic fracturing like A&W Water Service Inc., raising the average price paid for water at Northern Water’s auction from around $22 an acre-foor in 2010 to $28 this year.

It’s not just a matter of changing prices, water uses are changing– and it’s expected that we’ll need increasing amounts of water for fracking. As the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Published:

State officials charged with promoting and regulating the energy industry estimated that fracking required about 13,900 acre-feet in 2010. That’s a small share of the total water consumed in Colorado, about 0.08 percent. However, this fast-growing share already exceeds the amount that the ski industry draws from mountain rivers for making artificial snow. Each oil or gas well drilled requires 500,000 to 5 million gallons of water.

Quoted in the Denver Post, Nicole Seltzer with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education said:

“The future is upon us. There’s always been competition for water in Colorado. As industries develop, and industries fade, you’ll see a shift in who can afford to pay the price.”

Colorado’s state-backed round-table process for addressing water challenges “has made preserving agricultural water in this state a priority,” Seltzer said. “But you have to balance that with a free-market economy.”

Then again, any energy development in Colorado is likely to be water and land intensive– read more about the water/energy/land nexus in What Does a New Energy Economy Mean for Colorado’s Water and Agriculture?

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