From 1993 until 1996 Gaye and I lived in a little development called Dove Hill off of Gun Club Road in Aurora, CO, next to what would soon become E470. We had a great view of the Front Range, about 3 acres and a beautiful home that was supposed to be our last one. I could fill a book with all of the things that went wrong in Dove Hill, but that really is not the focus of this screed. We all have our tales to tell. The only thing that makes ours a little different is that the battles we ended up fighting there in east Aurora are the same battles we are fighting out here in Elbert County some twenty-two years later.
Suffice it to say that before we left Dove Hill we were fighting a toll road with all of its planned overreach. It turns out our development sat on land that was once part of the Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range, and munitions kept surfacing on neighbors’ properties. Before it was all over, we sat on several Restoration Advisory Boards (RABs) set up by the Army Corp of Engineers regarding unexploded ordinance (UXO's, unexploded bombs, shells, etc.) and stored mustard seed gas canisters. We also neighbored a Superfund site that had (has) deadly toxins that were migrating through the ground which were problematic as all nearby properties were on well and septic. We were dragged into a quick study of groundwater, hydrology, water districts, developers and politics. It was all to protect our dream home. While we believe that we made a lasting impact, our dream home was left painfully tarnished. That was our first, but not the last encounter with public activism.
We finally gave up on Dove Hill and decided to move six miles southeast of the town of Elbert. Two school teachers working in Cherry Creek schools by day and driving to Elbert and building by night. We found Dream II on the Palmer Divide on sixty acres behind Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch. Our plan was to build a guest house to live in while we built our new dream home. In early 2005 we heard rumblings of a toll road that would be coming through our county and possibly through our development spanning the eastern plains from Fort Collins to Pueblo. We attended public meetings and offered our experience fighting a toll road. Shortly after beginning work with The Elbert County Toll Road Warriors to fight this Superslab, it became painfully obvious that this proposed swath of massive imminent domain (210 miles long, 12 miles wide) was not about transportation issues. The man behind it had never built a foot of highway or laid a single foot of rail. He was a notorious water developer named Ray Wells. It was clear that this unprecedented land grab was about the water in the Denver bedrock aquifers, and had it not been for the hard work of public activism he might have pulled it off.
Those underpinnings led to an understanding that if Elbert County citizens did not wish to be run over by developers and water brokers in the future, they needed to have a more responsive form of Elbert County government. The political landscape began to quickly change. The non-partisan efforts of the Toll Road Warriors had its membership revealing their political affiliations to one another. There was an almost equal blend of Democrats and Republicans successfully working in concert, but in a staunchly Republican county it soon became apparent that any activism to follow the Superslab, that was led by Democrats, was dangerous to the Republican Party and the well-being of Elbert County. If you wear a “D,” your motives should be questioned. Cracks formed and unfortunately the result of party bickering means that, when a crisis like the Independence Water Grab raises its ugly head, politics taint our collective response time. And make no mistake about it, this is a crisis with no room for partisan bickering.
This is not my first rodeo with the Herculean effort it takes to make a difference while attempting to preserve or at least help control the impact of rampant development that benefits the few while dashing the dreams of the many. If you cannot see or even listen to the fact that at least two of our commissioners are on board with the Watermagedon that will arise as the result of unfettered water plans in the Independence Project, then you are reading the wrong post. This has been in the planning stages for a long time. Enough has been approved already that, even if we start immediately, we may not be able to rein in much of the damage. The developers have been systematically granted more and more power. At this point, it will take the largest turnout of resistance that we have ever seen in this county to get it across to the BOCC that 95% of the county who live on well and septic do not wish to be financially ruined by the greed of those who do not even live in our county.
If you do not know how an aquifer works...you better get off your duffs and learn about it or they will straight faced spoon feed you nonsense. If you do not know which politicians are working for your best interests...you need to take a crash course in Elbert County Politics 101. You need to know who and why development favors these people who are empowered to gamble with your future. If the rural life style is something you value...you had better be prepared to make cogent and practiced speeches at the hearings that are coming.
Gaye and I have been telling anybody who would listen over the past twelve years that if enough of the citizenry stands up for their water rights and presents a united front, then the less lucrative a Metropolitan Water District looks to a bunch of water speculators who stand to benefit from it. We have assisted hundreds of people adjudicate their water rights. Many of the people want to do things with their rights that Gaye and I do not agree with on almost any level. But that is the beauty of adjudication: it becomes your choice of how the water beneath you is used, not someone else’s. That said, the more of the public that has taken charge of the water beneath their feet, the harder it is to take it away from them. It is not easily done, and more importantly, not profitable.
Water. This is about the one natural resource none of us can live without. It has unimaginable value. If you lived in the Bahamas today, recycled drinking water is going for $7.00 per gallon. Gaye and I have the adjudicated water rights to 100 acre feet of water per year, but there are no pipelines so it currently has little value in comparison. But ask yourself the following questions:
• Who can build a pipeline?
• Who grants permission to build a pipeline?
• Where does the water in a pipeline go?
• What is a Metropolitan District and what powers
do they have?
• How does this affect my property, its value?
• What happens if my well goes dry?
If you do not know the answer to any of those questions, you will soon enough. The water wars are just beginning and if you live near the Independence project, you are on the front lines. There are surely more coming down the pipeline...excuse the pun. Growth is on its way.
There is a movement afoot to bring this ill-fated plan that will impact so many in adverse ways. If you wish to have a say in your future here in Elbert County, and water is KEY to your future in Elbert County, watch for notices of organizational meetings about these matters. Our only hope in stopping this is becoming involved.
- Robert Thomasson