NOREEN: When it comes to water, ignorance apparently is bliss

April 9, 2009

It's widely known there is a big problem in much of unincorporated El Paso County.

It's known that this problem is getting worse and many years from now it may be catastrophic.

Those in officialdom and in the development community know of this problem, but they don't want to learn more about it because they're afraid of what they might hear.

The problem is the long-term water supply.

Most of the people in the northern and eastern portions of the county get all of their water from the Denver Basin, a vast pool of groundwater that stretches from Colorado Highway 94 to the Denver metro area.

There is a lot of water in the basin; no one knows how much. No one knows how much water is pumped. It's agreed that we're pumping water out far faster than the aquifer can recharge. No one disputes that if the pumping continues, the basin will run dry at some point. It's generally understood that estimates made in the 1980s overstated the amount of water available, but no conclusive studies have been done since then.

Growth in El Paso and Douglas counties has exploded. There are about 26,000 wells in El Paso County and many more on the way.

"There are places that are already suffering," said Julia Murphy, a hydrologist who owns Colorado Springs-based Groundwater Investigations. "I've seen wells that are about the same, and I've seen some go down by four or five feet a year."

When will the basin run dry? "It may be 30 years, it may be 300 years," Murphy said, adding that the only way to get a more precise answer would be to drill monitoring wells to measure depletion rates.

Murphy, representing a group of residential well owners call Protect Our Wells, urged such monitoring in 2005, but El Paso County was not interested.

"We need to be sure private well owners have a say," said Sandy Martin, president of the 250-member POW. "It's like no one is taking us into consideration."

Water districts are scrambling to find surface water supplies.

If the county knew where the basin was being depleted, it might restrict the number of new homes there. Developers wouldn't like that. Thus, ignorance is bliss.

The county took a revolutionary step in 1986, becoming the only Colorado county to require proof of a 300-year water supply for unincorporated subdivisions. Since then, though, the county has granted waivers to the rule and there will be a meeting soon to talk about loosening the rule further.

Douglas County, our fast-growing groundwater-dependent northern neighbor, began assisting its residential well owners last year, helping with the formation of the Rural Water Users Authority. It gave residential water users a voice and it gives them information.
Those are essential elements missing for El Paso County citizens who don't want to be left high and dry.


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