The Amish are coming! The Amish are coming! To Colorado, that is:
“The reason we moved out West is the farm land is a little bit cheaper and it’s not as heavily populated, a little more open space and a little more opportunity for young people to get started with their own farms,” said Ben Coblentz, a 47-year-old alfalfa farmer from Indiana.
“The general public seems to have a little slower pace of life than what it was back East. Everybody here respects us.”
Of an estimated 231,000 Amish nationwide, more than 60 percent still live in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
But from 2002 to 2008, Colorado’s Amish population went from zero to more than 400, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Pennsylvania’s Elizabethtown College.
The headline of the Denver Post article is “Colo. land prices luring Amish,” and it states that “Cropland is worth an average $1,400 per acre in Colorado, compared with $6,000 in Pennsylvania and about $4,000 in Ohio and Indiana, according to a 2007 census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cropland values jumped 17 percent from 2006 to 2007 in Pennsylvania, but only 6 percent in Colorado.”
Uhm, has anyone explained to them exactly why land in the San Luis Valley is so much cheaper than in the East? Because it doesn’t include water rights! Unlike Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where it rains on a regular basis in the warm months, irrigation is mandatory, not optional. And whereas Eastern landowners have “riparian rights” to any bodies of water that border or flow through land they own, every drop of water in Colorado is already encumbered and owned by someone else. Yes, if you spit in the street, someone else owns the rights to your spit:
The early miners are credited with finding a solution to the problem. By custom, they all accepted the fact that the first miner who used water from a stream to work a placer claim was protected against latecomers. Soon this custom expanded to include the use of water for all purposes, not just for mining. Finally, as the land was organized into territories and then into states, the custom became law through express recognition by court decisions, constitutional provisions, and state statutes.
. . . . . . . . .
Under appropriation doctrine, the oldest rights prevail. The earliest water users have priority over later appropriators during times of water shortage. Another fundamental philosophy expressed in western water law is that public waters must be used for a useful or beneficial purpose. The appropriator can use only the amount of water presently needed, allowing excess water to remain in the stream. Once the water has served its beneficial use, any waste or return flow must be returned to the stream.
Yep–them what got here firstest got the mostest, and they get dibs in a drought, too, under this “appropriation system” of allocating water rights. So in addition to buying land, which may appear cheap, one must purchase water rights from someone else, and water rights are hard to come by. Western water law is more difficult, intricate, and arbitrary than Canon law, and makes Chicago politics look transparent and fair by comparison.
I wish all new Colorado farmers the best of luck. It will be interesting to learn how Amish farm families decide to adapt to the High Plains Desert.
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