Crestone Eagle, October 2002:
Wells in Crestone going dry; sporadic
rains give hope
by David Nicholas
snow and rains, which brought relief to the Sangres on September
18 and left 1–3 inches of snow on the peaks, was a welcome
“42 hundredths,” said Hal Reinhart, Crestone
weather recorder for the National Weather Service. “
Almost half an inch. Good for around here.”
No, it does not end the drought, but occasional rainfalls
like this throughout the fall may be a start.
The rains are not from a monsoon condition, but more from
tropical storms and depressions in the Caribbean, blown west
to the Texas coast around Brownsville, then absorbed and drawn
inland by low-pressure systems coming in from the Pacific.
The long-range weather forecast is still for a mild El Nino
in November, or sooner, and an average or below average winter
snowfall. It means that if the El Niño goes either
east or west of the San Luis Valley, we will not benefit.
Crestone residents’ wells go dry
Despite the recent rain and snow, Crestone mayor Kizzen Laki
is still very concerned. She has been conducting a survey
among town residents regarding the status of their wells.
The news is not good. All wells to a depth of 47 feet are
dry. This is currently affecting approximately 15 households.
‘The shallower wells, 12-20 feet,” said Laki,
“belong mainly to summer residents, and they pretty
much have left town. But it is a real hardship for year-round
residents with wells in the 25-50 foot depth to now be dry.
These are wells that usually never go dry, but Crestone Creek,
which usually recharges this water table, has not run since
early July.” For Crestone residents, a town municipal
well is available to fill up water containers.
“The water shortage will probably go through the winter,”
she said. “Snow in the mountains may not start melting
until spring and it will take time to recharge the aquifer.”
Permitting for re-drilling domestic wells is still ongoing
at the Division of Water Resources in Alamosa. Residents with
wells less than 100 feet should consider re-drilling to accommodate
the drought’s effects on the water supply, which will
last for the next several years or longer.
The drop in the unconfined aquifer is unprecedented and the
recharge along familiar watercourses is not a given.
Says Steve Vandiver, the State Division Engineer for the
San Luis Valley, who monitors stream flows, aquifer levels
and the weather, “The aquifer has been ‘de-watered’
to unprecedented levels. We are not sure what is going to
No one is quite sure how fast and how long it will take to
replenish the aquifer. Estimates for recharging the aquifer
range from four to seven years. This is what happened in 1977.
The aquifer did not show normal levels until 1984. But this
year levels are lower than 1977.
As has happened throughout the 110-year history of recording
water flows off the mountains, the water coming off the Sangres
recharges the aquifer first, before allowing streams and creeks
to remain moist and stable.
A reminder: well drillers are few and far between to offer
immediate relief. There are drillers who are available in
six to eight weeks, but you have to wait and take a number.
To find out who is available, it is best to call the Division
of Water Resources at 589-6683.
District Asks Voters To Approve $200K Bond
Scott Johnson, District Manager for the Baca Grande Water
and Sanitation District, said that the utility would ask voters
within the District to approve a Bond for $200,000.
The purpose of the bond is for the infrastructure to go with
Well 18, which includes two water storage tanks, two submersible
pumps, pipe and other materials. Well 18 is the new water
source for the District, which has not come on line yet.
In July, Johnson hoped that the District would be able to
apply for a state grant to cover the purchase of the equipment.
However, Johnson said that legal definitions in the grant
apparently did not cover the District, and so the utility
was not eligible.
The correct wording of the question to be put before the
voters can be found elsewhere in this edition of the Eagle.
Would this mean an increase in rates to customers? Johnson
said that repaying the bond probably would not start until
2004 or 2005.
“In 2005,” said Johnson, “the bond voters
approved in 1995 will be paid off, so repayment of this bond
would not noticeably increase rates.”
However, the district is facing a major overhaul of its infrastructure
within the next few years. In particular, water pipes in some
of the older parts of the District need replacing. Johnson
said that they would start to replace the water pipes next
More important is the installation of shut-off valves at
strategic points so that greater control can be exercised
when carrying out repairs in built-up areas or installing
hook-ups to the system. The original installation of water
and sewer lines was basic. The plan was to add infrastructure
as needed. More shut-off valves mean fewer residences needing
to be without water for long periods of time.
“Right now, we are beginning the budget process for
2003,” said Johnson. “There is just no extra money
to carry out repairs. Sharing the costs among 500 households
will be hard, so we are looking to see if there is some relief
to be had from the state. I don’t know if voters would
consider two separate bond issues this year.”
How is the Baca Bearing Up?
Scott Johnson reports that water in Cottonwood Creek is flowing
out past Dee Laird’s place for the first time since
June. The pump is drawing about 600 gallons per minute. This
is up from 200 gallons per minute last month. Water from the
Cottonwood Creek pump house is being used to supply almost
all of the Chalets. Well 17 is still operating, but minimally.
The drilling of Well 18 was to be ready just in case Cottonwood
Creek stopped running. Over the winter Cottonwood Creek could
dry up, but Johnson thinks it is unlikely. So Johnson wants
to wait until the rest of the infrastructure is in place before
Well 18 is turned on. However, Well 18 can be put into operation
in 24 hours in an emergency.
“No one would really notice it,” says Johnson,
“there is enough water in existing storage tanks in
the Chalets to cater to customers water needs for 24 hours
or more. It’s fall and water consumption levels off
right now. So there would be little or no inconvenience to
The Casita Park or “motel” well is still pumping
at full strength and is not a problem.
Water Treatment, Water Restrictions, and Manholes
From time to time the District does put chloride in the water
at 4/10ths of a part per million as required by the state.
The dose is added when the water pump is turned on to draw
water from the creek of the aquifer.
“It’s minimal and you don’t notice it,”
says Johnson. “I know this because when people think
they can taste it, we usually haven’t added it.”
On water restrictions, Johnson added, “We hope people
would use good sense. But the District only has three employees
to handle the plant operation and maintenance. Policing water
restrictions on top of everything else, it’s just too
The District is the size of the city of Alamosa. So while
Alamosa has all its infrastructure concentrated in and around
12 x 12 paved city blocks, the District has 500 homes spread
out over mainly gravel roads.
Now 2,000 or so manhole covers are being replaced. “Without
pointing fingers at anyone,” said Johnson, “when
blading or grading takes place, the manhole covers are generally
moved, exposing the 5’ deep concrete structure. Dirt
and rocks go down the opening to block the sewer pipes; sewerage
backs up; and you can get effluent flowing down the street.
The district proposes to place sunken manholes so that blading
will miss them. The manhole structure is created with portions
that can be removed, so the cover will always be just below
the road surface with a minimum of maintenance.
“It’s better than having to go down and clear
the blocked sewer lines,” said Johnson, “which
is what we have to do now. It stinks, and you’d be surprised
what people put down into the system.”
No doubt we would. No doubt we would.
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