Over the past decade, my wife and I have helped a great number of people learn how to fill out their own paperwork with the Colorado Division of Water Resources so that they were able to adjudicate their ground water. We are not lawyers nor are we water experts. We are retired school teachers who moved to Elbert County twenty years ago with the firm understanding that Elbert County is a great place to live as long as you are aware that there is very little surface water. There are only a handful of creeks and most of them can be jumped over by the average grade school kid looking for tadpoles. I have joked for years that the county motto is "Aqua ludis et sunt optionem," which loosely translates into English as "Water sports are not an option." A little over 98% of the residents in the county are on well and septic systems.
The Palmer Divide, located on the southern edge of the county and not including the panhandle, rises to over 7,300 feet above sea level and acts as a divider between the Arkansas River drainage and the Platte River drainage. The greatest amount of precipitation falls on this Palmer Divide area, and the water that accumulates there is the only reason that the average precipitation rate for the entire county rises out of the desert category. That is the story on the surface of Elbert County, but the hydrology beneath the surface of the county is quite different. Ironically, the lion's share of the water in the Denver Basin aquifers lies beneath our feet. The water there has been designated as a finite resource. The great Denver Basin no longer can recharge itself at a rate that remotely keeps up with the rate at which we pump it out for our homes and agricultural purposes.
In the Denver Basin we have the 100 year rule in place. Using geological science and computer modeling, experts have determined (scientifically guessed, really) the approximate amount of water that is in the ground. There are five distinct aquifers (Upper Dawson, Lower Dawson, Denver, Arapahoe, and Laramie-Foxhill) separated by layers of rock. There is much debate about just how much migration of water occurs between the layers of the Denver Basin. The 100 year rule simply states that, in order to insure water will be available for the next 100 years, no one should pump out more than 1% of the available water from the aquifer beneath their property.
In some counties, including Elbert County, there is an even more restrictive discharge rule. Our county leaders were once was so protective of our water that they decided to employ a 300 year rule. In our county we allow 1/3 the amount of the water that the state allows, the idea being that it would insure Elbert County would have water for its residents until 300 years into the future. This, of course, was in the days before water was expensive and there was no profit to be made from pumping the water out of the ground for watering lawns, washing cars, etc.
Our personal adjudication of water rights on our sixty acres entitles us to approximately 100 acre feet of water per year. If we had a pipeline and a customer in mind, we could make a fortune off of our water at today's prices even at the 300 year level. We choose to leave it in the ground and enjoy taking the occasional shower and watering the garden. However, not everybody agrees with this frugal and respectful approach to our water usage and conservation.
The operative words in the previous paragraph are as follows, "If we had a pipeline..." We don't. We are also okay with that reality. It is only when water districts form, gain the power to float bonds and consequently build pipelines, that people get wealthy off of ground water. Trucking water is never going to be a money maker. This is why the Independence housing development is such a huge problem for so many people. The project allows a number of small water districts to be formed. Of course, one water district would be sufficient for the entire development's plans as they exist, but each water district can issue bonds. It does not take a mathematician to understand that six water districts can get six times as much money through the issuance of bonds as one district can. Why would they need to have that kind of money? If you just said, "PIPELINES!" then you just won a chewing gum cigar.
The developers of Independence do not have to sell a SINGLE home if they can form water districts, build a pipeline, and pump water back into what would become a desperate metropolitan area. The value of water can be expected to exceed $30K per acre foot. If you think all of this projected development is about bringing the rooftops and all of the tax money that say will be generated, think again. It would be a pleasant extra for them, but houses are the last thing they need to make money.
Water is the new gold. The scarcity of it insures a continued rise in prices. These developers do not care if the water table drops or that it would cause those who are on well and septic systems to lose their wells. Think about it: if diamonds were as plentiful as Canadian thistle weeds, you could buy them in gumball machines. These guys will pump the aquifers until the water table drops and then sell you your OWN water back at an enormous profit. Greed has a mighty thirst.
And finally, you do not get protections from the courts for any of this. If they have adjudicated the water rights, it is theirs to sell. If they acquire water rights using the powers of their water districts, it will be theirs to sell. I can sell mine. You can sell yours. But never forget this one fact, the water in the Denver Basin is a finite resource. Once it is gone, it is gone. The state will not hear complaints about the dropping level of your well. The only remedy by the courts would come if you could prove that the quality of your water has been damaged by a neighbor's misuse. Well levels do not count as damaged water quality.
The only protection from this threat to the water tables can come from a require careful review of these projects. We must demand our BOCC stop any unnecessary formation of bonding schemes disguised as water districts. They have the power to okay or deny applications on unnecessary pipelines. The future of our water in Elbert County runs through the Kiowa Courthouse. The developers have been romancing Elbert County for years. From the perspective of this author, it looks as though, unless this whole Independence project is slowed down and reviewed for its potential benefits and anticipated negative impacts, the fuse will finally have been lit on the water rush in Elbert County. In the words of the most interesting man in the world, "Stay thirsty, my friends."