Colorado Springs business family ensures water for Venetucci Farm

By: matt steiner
May 8, 2013
photo - Ellicott Elementary School teacher Shannon McGee, right, and her first grade class get to put their hands on a draft horse during a school trip to Venetucci Farms Tuesday, May 7, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Ellicott Elementary School teacher Shannon McGee, right, and her first grade class get to put their hands on a draft horse during a school trip to Venetucci Farms Tuesday, May 7, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Long-time Colorado Springs business owners came through with much needed water for this year as the Venetucci Farm was on the brink of dying of thirst.

Sheila Venezia, 72, and her family stepped up in late April and agreed to lease water to the Colorado Springs community icon at 'a very reduced rate, ' according to Eric Cefus, director of philanthropy for the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which owns the farm.

'Without the Venezia family, we would not be in business this year, ' said Cefus, noting that even a partial closure or discontinuation of the famous Pumpkins for Kids progam would 'directly impact the future of the farm and the future of the community. '

The Venezias run Vintage Communities, Inc., a real estate development company in Colorado Springs.

On Feb. 20, the foundation received a letter from the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association that no augmentation water would be available for the Venetucci Farm in 2013.

Several ranches and farms in southeast Colorado depend on the CWPDA, which takes requests for pumping in January of each year and then allocates a certain percentage of those requests that can be pumped from the Arkansas River Basin.

Cefus said agricultural water rights for the farm property on U.S. 85 just south of the city are owned by members of the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company. The FMIC provides augmentation water to the CWPDA.

Cefus said water rights on the land, purchased by Nick and Bambi Venetucci in 1936, have been sold over the years. Cefus said the Venetucci's sold a bulk of the rights to the towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield for municipal use.

He added that as part of the agreement, the farm would be allowed to use some of that supply for drinking and other 'municipal water ' uses.

The deal was made because the Venetucci's were able to lease agricultural water for next to nothing.

'But with the drought, times have changed, ' he said.

The CWPDA had allowed its members 70 percent of their requests for the 2012 pumping season, but were forced to deny any pumping for the 2013 season that began April 1 because overdrafts from the river basin have put the organization in a deficit situation.

CWPDA general manager Ann Lopkoff said water augmentation is like a banking system. Supplies depleted during a drought in the mid 2000s and the present one that began in 2011, have forced the CWPDA to replenish the Arkansas River this year.

The Venezia family's generosity combined with smaller efforts by two other water lenders will help Venetucci Farm get the 100 acre-feet of water needed for 2013. Cefus said that number is an estimate and could change depending on rainfall.

Tim Lyda, a 48-year-old Pikes Peak region resident who worked on the farm in the 1970s, said the Venetucci's set an example of generosity for the entire community.

'One of the thing's I learned from them is that giving back is a good deal, ' Lyda said.

Cefus said the Venezias 'understand what that legacy means. ' More than 6,000 pumpkins were given to area kids in 2012 and more than 5 million kids have benefited from the pumpkin program over the last 70 years.

'It is ingrained in who we are as a community, ' Cefus said. 'We refuse to let that program fade away. '

While the 2013 water problem is solved, Cefus and foundation executive director Mike Hannigan are working with the board of directors to find a long-term plan.

The board is exploring long-term leasing options. It is also mulling the notion of buying back water rights for the farm.

The foundation would need to raise $2 million to reclaim its water rights, Cefus said. One thing is for sure, however, the foundation will do whatever it can to make sure Venetucci Farm thrives in the future.

'It will be important for our community and for the next generation to come, ' Cefus said.

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