Water auction at Boulder County Fairgrounds draws buyers for Colorado-Big Thompson Project units

Feb. 14—Water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was up for grabs at an auction held Wednesday at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont.

Run by the Eaton-based company Hall and Hall Auctions, the event brought farmers, municipalities and other interested buyers together to bid on 90 Big Thompson water units offered in 37 tracts.

The auction saw 33 registered participants, along with several guests and spectators, gather in a barn at the fairgrounds to stake their claims for the water units. Bidders could buy as many units as they could afford, from one to all 90.

"All of you probably know exactly what you want and what you're willing to pay, and that's all you need to know," auctioneer Scott Shuman told the bidders. "If you came to buy water units, today's the day."

The water units were sold by the Yoakum family, the members of which owned a farm just north of Longmont for 57 years. Carol Yoakum attended the auction in person.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project delivers supplemental water supplies to 615,000 acres of irrigated farmland in northern Colorado. The project also serves more than 1 million people in the northern part of the state.

Northern Water, the water conservancy district that operates and maintains the Colorado-Big Thompson Project alongside the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, will manage the delivery of the water units sold in Wednesday's auction.

Jeff Stahla with Northern Water explained that the amount of water per unit depends on the water quota set for the year. If 100% of the water unit is approved by the quota, the owner has access to an acre foot of water, essentially a football field covered in a foot of water.

"The fact that Boulder, Longmont, Fort Collins and Loveland are big cities is because that water allowed them to become something more than just a farm town," Stahla said. "It's gratifying to see, but...(agriculture) is still a giant part of the economy, even if we don't see it every day."

The first two units went for $72,000 and $66,000, followed by a dip in which most ended up being sold for $46,000 each. By the end of the auction, the average price per water unit was $52,481. Major purchases included the acquisition of 12 units by one bidder and 10 units by another.

After a final call inviting buyers to outbid the listed prices, Shuman announced that all the units had been sold. Yoakum ended up with $4,723,950.

"I expected them to go around $50,000," Yoakum said of the units. "Since I can't use them and had to sell them, hopefully they made a lot of people happy."

Jim Docheff with Docheff Dairy Farm just east of Longmont walked away from the auction with eight water units for around $400,000 total. Another local farmer, Bill Markham, bought one water unit for $48,000. Markham will use the water as irrigation for the barley he grows on M&M Farms east of Berthoud.

"I've raised barley for Coors for 62 years," Markham said. "It's nice to come and support the (Yoakum) family."

Bidders representing local municipalities also attended the auction, including David Brand from Platteville.

"(The water) is just adding to the town's portfolio to make sure we can continue to serve our citizens," said Brand, who purchased five units.

Not every auction guest was there to actually place a bid of their own. Mackenzie Stoaks, a banker with American AgCredit in Greeley, came to the fairgrounds to build connections with the agricultural producers in attendance.

"We finance farmers and ranchers, so we would finance any water purchases if they were to use it for their farmland," Stoaks said.

Shuman, the auctioneer, said he enjoyed watching so many local farmers come to make bids.

"That's pretty neat to see," Shuman said. "Agriculture is so important in Colorado."