The Crestone Eagle, October 2002:

Wells in Crestone going dry; sporadic rains give hope
by David Nicholas

The 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 sight.

“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.”

Deeper wells
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 happen.”

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 year.

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 folks.”

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 much.”

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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