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Legal pot growers are big buyers of bulk water here

September 29, 2016

A recently installed bulk water vending system at the Round Mountain Water District shop allows customers to pump water without a staff attendant being present. Unlike the previous practice, where a staff member would manually pump out bulk water at a fire hydrant, now an ATM-like panel records the customer account number, amount of purchase, and collects the payment. This convenience, along with Round Mountain’s current unique water rights and availability position in the area, has elicited about eight or nine inquiries from legal marijuana grow facilities in Pueblo and Huerfano counties regarding opening business accounts for the purchase of water. According to George Medaris, district manager, he has, with board consent, informed the growers by letter that they, like any other business, may establish an account and purchase bulk water at the vending site. To date, only one grower has done so, and has been purchasing water on a fairly regular basis for about four months. Yeti Farms purchased 35,163 gallons in August, for example, for $527.45. They were one of 29 customers that month, who purchased a total of 101,090 gallons from the district, amounting to $1,516.35 in sales. Yeti Farms, in 15 trips to the vending site, accounted for the largest volume purchased that month, and constituted roughly 35 percent of the sales total. Yeti Farms is a medical “full sun” growing facility based in Pueblo, and according to its website——plans to be providing recreational marijuana sometime later this year. “Most of our bulk water sales at the vending site are to customers who will use this source only temporarily,” Medaris points out; “they are in the process of procuring their water rights, and until they do so, need a source for their water.” The district currently has an abundance, even an excess, of water at this time, allowing it to open its taps to those who want to purchase the district’s water “as is.” Commenting on the fact that the district can shut this off at any time, Medaris added, “If we don’t have it, we can’t sell it.” Right now, the district does, and has exercised due diligence in looking into the legalities of their selling irrigation/agricultural water to legal marijuana growers. For example, the board examined the status of grant applications to federal agencies, should they be, as they now are, selling to legal marijuana growers. The district has been assured there is no consequence whatsoever. The question was looked into of course, because the Colorado state laws, rules, and regulations, are still in conflict with the federal status of marijuana as an illegal substance. Yeti Farms is a legal entity, and the district has a legal right to sell its water to them. “We have no authority to make a moral judgment,” Medaris says, “and we treat these growers like we treat any other legal business.” There are those who think poorly of the reality however, wondering how a special district inside a county that has banned all aspects of the legalized marijuana industry can proceed with such sales to companies outside the district. “Our water rights include agricultural and irrigation usage,” Medaris notes, “and none of our supply is associated with federal projects; we are one of the few water districts having more water than we need, and so are one of the places where growers in temporary need can turn…some of our references are being made, actually, from the state water engineers.” It costs $20 to set up a new account with Round Mountain, with an additional $5 set up fee; $15 is in turn credited to the new account. Yeti Farms is currently charging medical marijuana dispensaries $450 a pound for processing and packaging, and features this as a $1,675 profit on their return. – W.A. Ewing