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Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 8 August 2019  

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Bill Radford

  Faces of Black Forest
  Advocating for water quality and quantity
  By Bill Radford

   Donna Duncan was 4 or 5 years old, growing up in New Mexico when the family’s septic tank had to be redone. After that,"We became the most careful people with water,” she said.
   Since then, Duncan has always lived in areas where water was a concern, with the exception of eight years in New Hampshire. Although, even with a bountiful supply of water, people there would fret about it, Duncan said. "If it doesn’t rain for two weeks, they sit around and tell each other they hope it rains because they need the moisture. No, they don't."
   These days, Duncan leads the Black Forest Water and Wells group, a committee of The Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan. The committee's mission is to educate people about, and advocate for, groundwater quality, quantity and sustainability.
   Most of the water in Black Forest wells comes from the Dawson Aquifer, part of the Denver Basin system. The Denver Basin aquifers provide the primary source of water in El Paso County, the county's Water Master Plan notes. Those aquifers are considered nonrenewable because they recharge over long periods of time –- centuries, in fact, according to the plan.
   In other words, Duncan said, "We are not effectively replacing the water in any sense of the word." That is why she becomes alarmed when she hears of planned developments in the area that would result in greater density and "really scary plans for the water."
   Donna and her husband, Dennis, have called Black Forest home for nearly 30 years. There were water worries from the start; Dennis was told back then by people at the state engineer's office that the Dawson Aquifer "was already oversubscribed."
   Donna and Dennis met in high school in New Mexico — specifically in an algebra class that Dennis breezed through, while Donna made C's and "kissed the ground for them." They married as sophomores in college; they’ve been married 50 years. Throughout the years, Donna Duncan worked for Digital Equipment Corp., taught high school science and did technical writing. Dennis Duncan served in the U.S. Army for a few years and has also worked in corporate America.
   For the last several years, they've operated High Altitude Rhubarb, a pick-your-own organic rhubarb farm on their land. That is mostly her husband’s project, Duncan said. “We’ve decided that two chiefs trying to run a business doesn’t work." She is happy to report that rhubarb prefers a drier climate.
   With adjudicated water rights, the Duncans must report their water usage to the state.
   "I feel like I can talk to people about the aquifers until their eyes cross and they remember they have other important things to do in life," Duncan said. "But when you go to various government agencies, they've been monitoring well water levels for years, sometimes decades, and so you can look and track and see what happens with well water."
   Duncan encourages all well owners to monitor their usage and their well water levels. Gauging the usage is easy; there is a monitor on the pump. There are various ways to measure the water level, including sonic devices and electronic tape measures.
   In addition to water quantity, there is water quality to consider. While Duncan sometimes hears about concerns, she said, ”My understanding is our well water quality is very, very good"
   The Water and Wells Committee began in February and meets every two to three weeks. Other members are Janet Fortner, Joanne Przeworski, Monika Eckmann, Doug Lollar and Dave Schneider. The group plans to have a presence at the Black Forest Festival, Aug. 10, at the Black Forest Community Center; they'll have information on well monitoring and perhaps an old-fashioned pump to show children the effort it takes to pump water.
   "These people bring their own level of interest and competence and abilities" Duncan said, of her fellow committee members. "And together, I think we're the latest group of ants who are determined to move the rubber tree plant."
   (To learn more about The Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan, visit You'll also find information on well permits and measuring your well water level.)
Donna Duncan leads the Water and Wells Committee of The Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan. Photo by Bill Radford
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