By The Associated Press

FORT MORGAN, Colo. (AP) -- A Fort Morgan farmer believed to be the first sent to jail by a Colorado water court on allegations of stealing water is now free but owes penalties to the state.

Water in Colorado is first come, first served. To protect senior water rights holders, wells in the South Platte Basin cannot be pumped unless there is first an agreement with the state to replace the water.

District Water Engineer Jim Hall told the Greeley Tribune that Craig Kroskob, 44, of Kroskob Farms was pumping water from the basin from five of his wells though he didn't have a legal right to it and kept pumping for about 100 days from each well despite a cease-and-desist order in 2005 from the courts.

Kroskob said he was growing alfalfa during a drought at the time but contends the water he used was his own.

"When he violated our order, I think he was trying to grow crops, and therefore he wanted to use the water even though it was creating injury to other water users," Hall told KUSA-TV in Denver. "It's the first time the court has ever put someone in jail for violating an order and continuing to violate. So it is unique in that way."

A water court judge fined Kroskob $100,000. When it went unpaid, the judge found Kroskob in contempt of court and had Kroskob taken to jail Friday.

Kroskob said he was freed Wednesday after paying about $100,000. He has until March to pay other costs of more than $25,000.

"It's going to be a struggle," Kroskob told The Associated Press. "You can't come up with this money. It breaks you."

He said his daughter took time away from college to help his wife and sons tag newborn calves and complete the corn harvest while he was in jail.

Kroskob said he was truthful about depletions of water and contends the water he used wasn't stolen. He said he told water officials he has water to replace what he took and that there was no immediate harm to senior water rights holders.

He is now dryland farming.

Copyright 2009 The AP.

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