A free artesian well at Gillette Flats near Cripple Creek will stay open until April to give thousands of users time to find alternative water sources, the state Division of Natural Resources announced Monday.
Instead of capping the spigot and removing the water tank from South Colorado 67 at mile marker 57 in November, as planned, the state will stop the supply in April, said Bill Tyner, water engineer with the Colorado Division of Natural Resources.
“We had solid indication that some homeowners were attempting to get permitted wells drilled and were running into delays due to the drillers’ work schedules,” Tyner said.
“We also understood that there were some logistical issues for folks attempting to arrange for water to be hauled to their homes or to get geared up to haul water from municipal service locations.”
The division sent a letter to Teller County governments Friday, alerting them to the postponement.
“It doesn’t really affect our residents. We provide good clean water to our citizens,” said Victor City Manager Deb Downs. “But for folks who live outside of municipalities who apparently don’t have wells, I’m assuming that will be good news for them. At least it’s a delay, but it’s going to happen, so it gives them time to get a well permit and drill their own wells.”
Residents have been upset about the impending closure since the Florissant Water and Sanitation District announced at its Sept. 11 board meeting that the state would shut off the supply in November.
A steady stream of users pull off the side of the highway daily to fill small and large containers for water to use at their homes and for their animals.
Fountain resident David Kirschbaum regularly treks more than 50 miles to fill jugs with the water, as he did Monday.
With aquifer contamination from Peterson Air Force Base firefighting foam, Kirschbaum said he prefers the fresh spring water for drinking and cooking.
An online petition opposing the state plan had 2,865 signatures as of Monday.
The natural spring has been available for free use for so long that its ownership among locals and governments has been unclear. A former Teller County commissioner had owned the adjacent land but sold it years ago. While the property is now under contract to be sold again, the well is not included as one of the assets, said real estate agent Mike Slaback.
Some believe the Everhart family, one of the owners of the Hatchet Cattle Co., used the land for grazing and drilled the well for livestock in the early 1900s.
In tracing the underground piping earlier this year, the water commissioner determined the well system now lies on Colorado Department of Transportation right-of-way, Tyner said, so the water needs to be returned to the aquifer that flows to the Arkansas River basin.
Its free public use violates state water laws, he said.
A sign posted at the site says the water tank will be removed and the supply disconnected in April, unless the water source “is included in a plan for augmentation approved by the Water Court.”
No water district or municipality has indicated it would work to make the water supply legal through the Water Court and augmenting the water spent at the well, Tyner said.
“This spring and water tank are located within the Arkansas River drainage basin where there is not enough water to fulfill senior water rights,” the sign at the well says. “The use of water from this spring is not decreed or permitted, and its use is causing injury to senior water rights.”
Five other water suppliers, from home delivery to coin-operated machines in the area, are listed on the sign.
Residents say removing the access is unfair, as some wells in Teller County have gone dry with recent drought conditions, and they can’t afford to have water hauled to their homes or to drill new wells.
Questions may be directed to the Division of Water Resources’ Pueblo office at 719-542-3368.
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.