The Colorado River District in a public webinar Wednesday will focus on concerns about a New York hedge fund’s purchases of local agricultural land.

The agency’s latest “Water With Your Lunch” webinar will be a discussion about Water Asset Management, which due to its acquisitions is now the largest shareholder in the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

According to a river district news release, the company’s local land purchases “have stirred up curiosity and concern on the Western Slope.”

As The Daily Sentinel reported in 2018, the company’s 2017 purchase of a 330-acre farm in the Grand Valley spurred questions about the company’s long-term plans for the water rights on its property.

The river district said in its release, “So began a concern that modern-day speculation in western Colorado water was underway with investors buying land not for its agricultural production but for its water — water that could net profits at some point in the future for its value outside of the Grand Valley.”

This year, Aspen Journalism, KUNC in Colorado, KJZZ in Arizona and the Nevada Independent reported, as part of a series on investors banking on water scarcity in the West, that Water Asset Management has boosted its local ownership of agricultural lands and associated water rights to at least 2,222 acres.

They reported that the company has spent $16.6 million on land and water shares in the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Grand Valley Irrigation Co.

In July, KUNC reported on a letter users’ association General Manager Mark Harris sent to shareholders about the New York hedge fund.

“The water under the GVWUA system cannot be separated from the land, but we understand that what WAM is doing in the valley can be viewed positively or negatively, depending on your perspective,” Harris wrote.

“… To the best of GVWUA’s knowledge, all the land purchased by WAM under the GVWUA system is currently still being farmed. While we may have no assurances that this will continue indefinitely, it is simply not GVWUA’s role to tell its shareholders what they can or cannot do with their land.”

The river district has invited a WAM representative to participate in the webinar. District spokesman Jim Pokrandt said Friday that the representative hadn’t yet committed to do so. District General Manager Andy Mueller and state Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, who is a farmer and also sits on the river district board, are scheduled to participate. Catlin also sits on the river district board.

“Anti-speculation doctrine is written into Colorado water law to prevent hoarding of water that does not have a specified, immediate beneficial use. Water Asset Management’s activities inspired new legislation (passed) in 2020 to study the issue,” the river district noted in its release.

“The Grand Valley Water Users’ water rights are for irrigation and are central to sustaining the valley’s agricultural economy. The Colorado River District was founded in 1937 to protect the water security for western Colorado. If water were to be taken from the land, the loss of economy, food production, culture and working landscapes would devastate the region.”

The Zoom webinar will be held from noon to 1:15 p.m. Wednesday. To register, visit bit.ly/WWLGrandValley. Those unable to join the live event can receive an emailed recording of it by still registering.