Falcon residents are familiar with Colorado's unique water laws and water scarcity. Recent problems with small farmers and golf courses show that the water the area does have could be harming crops and grass. At 7,000 feet above sea level, salt water is the last thing many landscapers and growers thought they would have to deal with.
Whitmar and Lisa McConnell owned a 22,000-square-foot greenhouse on Murphy Road in Peyton. Water quality and quantity problems forced them to stop selling produce after growing a popular micro-farm business. By 2013, they were no longer able to grow enough to support their own family. They have moved to Kentucky and are selling the Peyton property and greenhouse.
“We had fruit trees, strawberries, kiwis, all kinds of vegetables,” Whitmar McConnell said. Water quality was an ongoing issue, and having enough water to dilute the issues was the problem, he said.
Antler Creek Golf Course in Meridian Ranch also has an ongoing problem with irrigation water salt content. “We're always battling salinity in the water,” said Wayne Reorda, operations manager. The golf course superintendent spends a good portion of his time working on mitigating the impacts of salt on the grass, he said.
“Besides affecting crop yield and soil conditions, irrigation water quality can affect fertility needs, irrigation system performance and longevity,” wrote T.A. Bauder in a May 2001 paper for Colorado State University's Extension service. “Because plants can only transpire pure water, usable plant water in the soil decreases dramatically as salinity increases.”
Sodium causes a decrease in the downward movement of water into and through the soil, according to the CSU extension paper. The United States Golf Association has commissioned studies to help course operators deal with the impact of water on sensitive fairway and greens grass. Water found in eastern El Paso County groundwater creates sodic soils, the USGA said in its Green Section Record. “Sodium causes the soil structure to deteriorate, resulting in poor water infiltration and percolation,” according to the report.
A water quality sample taken March 7 on a well southeast of Falcon showed sodium levels of 152.72 parts per million in water drawn from the Laramie-Black Hills aquifer. “This level of sodium in the water will definitely cause a problem,” said Shawn Speidel, agronomist and owner of Soil Fertility Service. Speidel said 50 ppm is an upper limit for acceptable sodium levels, with 20 ppm or less being ideal.
In addition to making it more difficult for water to reach plant roots, sodium causes other problems. “Some plants are more tolerant than others to sodium, but eventually with the limited water use available and the dry air pulling water to the surface, sodium will accumulate in the root crown,” Speidel said. According to CSU Extension fact sheets, apricots, plums, tomatoes, peppers, corn and potatoes can be injured by spraying high sodium water on leaves during irrigation.
Removing salinity from water is not an easy or inexpensive task. Reverse osmosis systems can cost between 40 and 45 cents per thousand gallons, said Glen Miller of the USGA. This could add more than $17,200 to the cost of irrigating a single 40-acre parcel of cropland per year.
Diluting or flushing out the salt from soil using rain water is impractical or illegal in Colorado. Diverting rain water for beneficial use without owning senior water rights will result in $500 a day fines. A 2009 law allows for limited collection of rainwater from the roof of a primary residence on land that has a well. That amount of water is not enough to dilute the high-salt content of local aquifer water, Speidel said.
“If water rights weren't an issue, we could have stayed in Colorado,” McConnell said. “The politicians and developers want development because there's revenue, but there's also a large demand for local high quality food. But the priority seems to be development.”
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The Civil Air Patrol has been in existence since one week prior to the Pearl Harbor attack that took place Dec. 7, 1941. In the late 1930s, civilian volunteers, “with a love for aviation argued for an organization to put their planes and flying skills to use in defense of their country,” according to the CAP website.
Capt. Terry Brookham, public affairs officer of the Banning Lewis Cadet Squadron RMR-CO-190, said that CAP is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and is chartered by Congress as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation. The CAP website dates the official law establishing the Civil Air Patrol as a permanent auxiliary to the Air Force as May 26, 1948.
Brookham said there are three primary mission areas of the Civil Air Patrol: cadet programs, aerospace education and emergency services. According to the CAP website, aerospace education has two audiences: CAP volunteers and the general public. Educational programs include aerospace technology and advances.
CAP emergency services’ missions helped Colorado Springs residents during the Hayman, Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. They flew over burn areas and took aerial photos. “The aerial photographs are being used by the city of Colorado Springs and emergency management to document mitigation and remediation efforts,” said Maj. Paul Schoen with t CAP. “They've put up debris barriers and flow controls in the Waldo Canyon area.”
Squadron CO-190 is part of the cadet program, which focuses on leadership training, physical fitness, character development and volunteerism, Brookham said. Cadets – from age 12 to 18 – are held to standards similar to those in the military. Brookham said they have the same rank titles as the Air Force, and cadets can advance in rank every 60 days if they follow the guidelines and pass the required tests, which include online materials and education, as well as physical fitness tests. All members are volunteers, and any youth can participate.
Cadet Squadron CO-190 is the newest squadron in Colorado, said Capt. David P. Stark Jr., deputy squadron commander. The squadron is having its official “standing-up” ceremony, establishing it as a squadron in April. The date hasn’t been determined.
Brookham said they accept associate members as well – those who don’t want to fully participate in the program but want to help in some way.
Cadet Riley Newcomer said she heard about CAP through Roundup Day at her school – Banning Lewis Ranch Academy. Newcomer became curious when she noticed fellow students wearing battle dress uniforms to school. She found out more about the program, and told her mom she wanted to participate. “I actually have a dream of going to the Air Force Academy,” Newcomer said.
“My grandpa was a technical sergeant in the Air Force. I thought it would be a neat experience because not many girls are willing to be in the military. Not many girls are willing to run and be so disciplined in this modern society.” Newcomer is the only girl in her eighth grade class in CAP. She has spoken with her grandfather about his experience and asked him about her options. “He says there are a lot of options going into the military, and I'm interested in becoming a physician or anything that deals with church,” she said. “There are so many things I don't even know about yet, and I'm wanting to explore those.”
Newcomer said CAP is a good experience and one of the best extracurricular offerings at school. “There's so much discipline, but it's fun,” she said. “We're learning to be friends, learning how to get along and make ourselves better. Her CAP goal is to get ready for the Air Force Academy.
The Banning Lewis Squadron plans to participate in local community events, such as the El Paso County “Tackle the Trash” roadside cleanup April 27. Their cleaning zone is on Meridian road, from Woodmen Road to Rex Road. They will be wearing orange vests provided by the county.
More information about “Tackle the Trash” can be found on the El Paso County website: http://news.elpasoco.com/Pages/default.aspx?ReleaseID=882.
More information about CAP is available at http://gocivilairpatrol.com. Information about the Colorado Wing of CAP is at http://coloradowingcap.org.