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Water issues: to care or not to care

Larry Stanley, president of Protect our Wells (POW), a local grassroots group focused on private wells, discussed water issues at the August meeting of the Falcon Professional Development League.Larry had about 25 minutes to address the audience and answer questions about a complicated subject.I commented at my surprise that people do not respond to our articles on water issues. In return, long-time Falcon resident and FPDL Vice President Sam Leffler said that people don’t respond to issues unless it directly affects them. “It’s kind of like a toothache,” Sam said. “You don’t go to the dentist until your tooth hurts.””But, Sam,” I said. “Some people do go to the dentist to have their teeth cleaned – as a preventive measure.”However, preventing disastrous outcomes in anything from health care to county or city infrastructure is not the American way. It’s all about fixing the problems.Well, there’s another fix in the works, and this one affects large agricultural and municipal well owners.Stanley explained at the FPDL meeting that the wells “plugged” into the Upper Black Squirrel Basin, an alluvial aquifer that sits on top of the Denver Basin (which services much of northeast El Paso County) may be experiencing water restrictions by the end of 2005.The UBS is in trouble; studies indicate the aquifer’s life span may be less than 30 years. I wrote a story in the May 2004 edition of the NFH on the Schubert Sod Farm and mentioned that, according to a report filed by TZA Water Engineers, Inc., ground water depletions (in the UBS) are exceeding the amount of renewable recharge from precipitation. I also referenced a 1999 study by Leaf Engineering in the report indicating, “The useful life of the Upper Black Squirrel alluvium is, at best, another 34 years.”To ensure the remainder of the alluvial aquifer’s life, the state has given authority to the Upper Black Squirrel Groundwater Management District Board to restrict those wells.Kathy Hare, UBS board member, said the board has already cut the amount of water for new homeowners who live on 2.5 acres to 40 acres. “We cannot close down small wells because they are exempt under state law, however that doesn’t mean they are not in danger of drying up with rest of the aquifer,” she said.During a follow up phone call with Stanley, he said the UBS board is tossing around a couple ideas to exercise that authority. One is to honor senior water rights, which means those holding junior water rights could have reduced water supplies, and that includes the Cherokee Metropolitan Water District. The latter district sells water to Woodmen Hills. Hmmm … I can’t imagine Woodmen Hills without water. Hare said the restrictions could affect about 161 wells.Another idea is to cut water usage for large capacity, agricultural and municipal well users by 50 percent. If that happens, you might be able to shower just every other day. Or perhaps people with last names that begin with A, B or C will be able to do laundry only on Mondays; D, E or F on Tuesdays, etc. What about “no gardens allowed”?And it could be mandatory that each well has a meter to measure the amount of usage.Picture this: trying to sell your home while explaining those water restrictions. Stanley said someday homeowners may be legally bound to disclose water supply limits to buyers. Hare said there was already a disclosure note posted on the plat map in a portion of the Claremont Ranch subdivision. The note reads, “The state engineers’ office finds there may be an insufficiency of water for this development.”The above scenarios aren’t scare tactics to thwart growth. I am not anti-growth, but I am against disturbing our resources, our environment and our ability to co-exist peacefully with one another.Some have said the water issue is all about emotions, not facts. Bull. The engineers have nothing to gain by making false statements about water levels. I bet everyone will be a bit emotional when they are forking over thousands of dollars to dig new or deeper wells. I’ve talked to at least a dozen people in this area who say their water supply has significantly decreased, and many have already been told “dig deeper.”This issue is about common sense. It’s about keeping a watchful eye on our resources. It’s about taking responsibility for the environment and generations to come. Relying on the government alone to find answers for depleted water sources is irresponsible. Government officials are struggling with how to maintain Colorado’s water supply.All of northern and eastern El Paso County is living on borrowed time when it comes to water resources. Stanley said Douglas County commissioners are just now waking up to studies that show their water supply is dangerously low.Stanley, Hare and others are trying to wake up our own El Paso County commissioners. A couple weeks ago, Stanley speaking for POW, made a presentation to the commissioners recommending the county hire a hydrogeologist and begin monitoring water levels in the most vulnerable aquifers, the Dawson and Denver aquifers. Seems like a no-brainer to me.Of course, the commissioners want to know where they will get the estimated $73,000 for the program’s first year and the $43,000 each year following. Stanley said POW suggested an increase in developer fees and an annual $10 assessment on all private well owners. I say, whatever it takes – get the money, before our property values plummet and areas like Falcon, Elbert, Ellicott, Peyton and Calhan become ghost towns. I don’t understand why only a small number of wells have been monitored all these years. And I don’t understand why community developments, like Woodmen Hills, monitor their wells but aren’t required to report their findings.It isn’t just the responsibility of developers, either, although Stanley said that Ray O’Sullivan, the Santa Fe Springs developer, is drilling wells right now on the proposed land to assess the water availability. If there isn’t enough water – Stanley said they are hoping for 50 gallons a minute – O’Sullivan has promised to reconfigure his plans.There is still time to prevent further disaster. All of us should write or call our county commissioners and support POW’s request for a county hydrogeologist and additional monitoring of wells. Common sense tells me that we’ve assumed too much and taken for granted one of our most precious resources – water.And common sense tells me that the “fix” for our lack of preventive measures will be a lot more complicated than a trip to the dentist to mend an aching tooth.Marylou@newfalconherald.comNote: POW is holding a public meeting at Falcon High School on Sun., Sept. 25 at 1 p.m.

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