An April 1 cutoff date set last year to cap a natural spring on the road to Cripple Creek has come and gone, and the free water is still flowing. For now.
The deadline has been extended to May 1, said Colorado Water Division 2 Engineer Bill Tyner, to give community volunteers time to submit a “substitute water supply plan” to the state’s Water Resources Division.
“A working group is attempting to preserve the spring,” Tyner said in an email.
The task before the grassroots effort to save the Gillette Flats spring is to come up with a plan “that would be able to be operated to prevent any injury to water rights downstream,” Tyner said.
The application containing historic information, current usage and an idea of how to measure water consumption is nearly finished, said Toni Moore, secretary of the Gillette Flats Spring Organization. The group also has the $300 filing fee, she said.
“We think it has historic and tourism potential,” Moore said. “We’re doing the best we can to get to the next step, but it’s surprising how many stumbling blocks there are.”
The state announced in September it would shut off access to the well in November because usage was violating state water rights laws. As protests grew from users, some of whom rely on the water for drinking, cooking and watering livestock, state water officials moved the date to April 1 so people could prepare for the change.
A movement to save the spring organized in January.
If the state accepts the group’s plan, the large stock tank that captures the water as it flows from a spigot at the site would be removed to make room for installing meters.
The meters would measure the amount of water from the origination point to what is returned to the ground, Moore said. The difference is what would need to be augmented through purchasing irrigation water, for example, and returning it to the Arkansas River system, to meet state senior water rights requirements.
That could cost $15,000 to $30,000, Moore said.
But, “It’s not as straightforward as one might think,” she said.
“If we can get the water augmented to make sure we’re not negatively impacting prior water-rights holders, we’d have to make sure we replace the water at the correct location.”
The work has garnered support from nearly 4,000 people who signed an online petition to keep the spring open, as well as from Teller County and Colorado Department of Transportation officials, Moore said.
But the group has yet to find a nonprofit partner. Some organizations, such as the Pikes Peak Historical Society, are concerned about potential liability, Moore said.
“Our goal is not so much providing water to people but keeping the spring open as a historic site,” she said.
The majority of motorists who stop at the spring, at mile marker 57 on South Colorado 67, fill a water bottle, small container or gallon jug, Moore said. About 18% of users take water on a larger scale, such as for cisterns.
The artesian well has been a free water source for as long as people can remember. It’s thought to have been drilled when the town of Gillett, as it was known, existed, from 1894 to 1913 or so, the group determined. The supply initially had been used for watering cattle and now lies in the Colorado Department of Transportation right-of-way, with unclear provenance and ownership.
If the group does not work with a nonprofit agency, members will form a new nonprofit, Moore said, and start fundraising, should the state approve its plan.
“It seems like everyone wants us to succeed,” Moore said. “It’s a matter of getting things through the bureaucracy. And it is going to take money.”
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