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The city's droughty little secret



The drought continues. And as the cheese hardens, we're treated to the not-particularly- edifying spectacle of water users quarreling with each other.

New restrictions on watering condemn most of us to dead gardens and brown lawns, except for folks with state-of-the art sprinkler systems and an oversized connection from the city main.

If you're one of the fortunate few, you just reset the system to the new hours and let her rip, giving lawn and garden massive doses of water twice a week. And if you're like most of us over on the West Side, you spend two nights a week dragging hoses around, trying to save what you can.

So a lot of us have become self-appointed water police, forever on the lookout for miscreants who are using more than their fair share. That must be what motivates those who want to shut off the water to The Broadmoor hotel's world-class golf courses, not to mention forbidding builders to sod the yards of their newly built homes.

Such actions might seem fair and egalitarian. We're all in this together, right? If my lawn has to dry up, why shouldn't luxury resorts and developers suffer too?

That's fine, but let's consider who would actually suffer. Take The Broadmoor, for example. One of its principal attractions for guests, and one of the reasons that it's a five-star resort hotel, is golf. Its courses are among the finest in the world. Let 'em dry up, and you can bet that occupancy will plummet. And what happens then? A lot of people will lose their jobs -- most of them relatively low-paid service employees, maids, waiters, gardeners.

And if newly constructed houses are surrounded by a dusty carpet of dirt, or a "yard" of crushed stone, won't that deter buyers? And just how many folks in our city -- again, many of them low-wage workers -- depend upon the housing and building industry for their employment? You know the answer: tens of thousands.

There's a qualitative difference between water used to sod new homes, or to water The Broadmoor's golf course -- or, for that matter, in Intel's chip-making facility (which uses 450 gallons per minute!) -- when compared with the water that goes on my lawn.

If my lawn dries up, it has no economic impact upon anyone, other than slightly diminishing the value of my property. But if The Broadmoor, or the developers, or Intel are targeted, the economic impact could be enormous.

So as we consider how to ration the use of a suddenly scarce commodity, we have to become unsentimental utilitarians. It may seem arbitrary and unfair that the rich folks at The Broadmoor get to frolic on lush greens, but so what?

Maybe, if the drought deepens and persists, we'll have to take truly draconian steps, like cutting off The Broadmoor and shutting down the building industry, but let's not do it without full public debate, and without a sober understanding of the real consequences of such actions.

Meanwhile, you've got to wonder just what steps city government is taking to mitigate the crisis, other than drying up Ruxton Creek in Manitou Springs and complaining about citizen failure to conserve. Are we aggressively addressing the supply side of the equation?

What if the drought lasts for nine more years? That's not so far-fetched. Colorado Springs had a 12-year drought between 1893 and 1905. Its impact was slight, since Colorado Springs had already tapped the Pikes Peak watershed to supply our then-growing city of 20,000 souls.

But these days, if the city has developed any contingency plans for dealing with a mega-drought, they're not sharing them with the public.

They are playing with the idea of drilling 30 or 40 additional wells, which would slightly increase existing supplies. And, of course, they're trying to cut a deal with the Pueblo City Council, enabling them to go forward with the Pueblo Reservoir expansion.

But none of these maneuvers are likely to bring immediate relief. If there's any possibility that we're in the first years of a historic drought, we ought to be moving boldly and decisively to deal with an uncertain future. And believe me, as of right now, we're not doing squat.

So while Council leisurely considers the fine print on Utility Director Phil Tollefson's lucrative new pay package, maybe they ought to ask him a simple question:

What's the plan, Stan?


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