Columns » Outsider




Here's a familiar summer sight: In the middle of a torrential afternoon downpour, the sprinklers on the city medians/in somebody's yard/in front of a business are going full blast.

Here's another, from a couple of days ago: On a narrow landscaped strip in the 8th Street Wal-Mart parking lot, a sprinkler head has broken, and water gushes into the street for hours.

Such sights are simply part of the warm-season viewscape of Colorado Springs -- common, unremarkable, part of daily life. And they send this message: Water is cheap and abundant. We can afford to waste it. A few hundred gallons flowing down the drain is not a big deal. Serious, responsible people are making sure that we have plenty of the stuff.

And hey, this may seem like a dry climate, but we've got water up the ol' wazoo here in Colorado Springs. Why, we've got all the water that runs off Pikes Peak, and tons of water in the Arkansas River, not to mention Twin Lakes and Homestake on the Western Slope, and the Otero Pipeline from Pueblo ... Don't worry, just turn on the faucet and let her rip!

Well, as we intimated in last week's column, our happy little pool party that's been going strong for 120 years or so is about to end. And here's why. This summer, we're going to have wakeup call No. 1. Because of a temporary supply deficit, we'll be asked to voluntarily reduce our water consumption by 20 percent. If that doesn't work, conservation measures will become mandatory.

Thanks to a short-term measure (the Otero pipeline expansion on the Western Slope, due for completion next May), the city may be able to buy time until 2007, when new supplies from the Pueblo Reservoir expansion project should come online.But there's a quiet little war going on now, between the City, the County and various water providers in the unincorporated county, over the allocation of this new water. Because the Feds, whose assent is needed for the project to move forward, mandate regional cooperation, the City has been forced to bring other municipalities into the deal.

Cities such as Fountain, Security and Woodland Park are welcome to come aboard, but Colorado Springs doesn't want to include independent water providers whose well fields supply the nascent sprawlopolis in northern El Paso County. Why? Because the City doesn't want to be on the hook when/if those wells run dry. Meanwhile, the county commissioners, by throwing a subtle monkey wrench into the federal permitting process for the Pueblo pipeline (see last week's column at 2002-04-18/outsider.html), are putting pressure on the City to change its policy.

And here comes wakeup call No. 2. If construction of the pipeline is deferred much beyond a 2007 completion date, we'll be looking at permanent mandatory conservation ordinances, up to and including limits upon new housing starts.

And if you don't think that'll change things, let's go to wakeup call No. 3, i.e ... What about those well fields in northern El Paso County? Well, opinions on the aquifers differ, but a few facts are clear. The deep aquifer, which is tapped by literally thousands of wells from Pueblo to Fort Collins, is being rapidly depleted; its useful life, once projected to be centuries, may be only a few decades -- and since its depth is not uniform, its lifetime may be much less in some localities.

The shallow aquifer is even more problematical, since its reserves are wholly dependent upon year-to-year recharge, which brings us to ... wakeup call No. 4: We may be entering a period of severe and prolonged drought throughout the state. Right now, the mountain snowpack is less than 50 percent of normal.

Locally, just look around. Fountain Creek is a mere trickle, and the seasonal stream that runs through the Garden of the Gods is completely dry. The fires are already burning in the Pike National Forest, at least two months earlier than usual. So let's put all of these wakeup calls together, and what do we get?

A new world. A world of much slower growth and development, of xeriscaped gardens or just plain brown lawns, of sharply increased water rates that penalize inefficient users, of prosperous drilling contractors (if your well runs dry, you gotta drill deeper), of even richer lawyers (imagine the latticework of lawsuits!). A world very different from the one we know.

And this summer, if things get bad enough, we may have cause to remember the Bay Area mantra from a couple of decades ago: If it's yellow, let it mellow -- if it's brown, flush it down.


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