Colorado's flawed water law leaves basements flooded

Jun 11, 2012

Glen Fritzler, who runs the popular and nationally known Fritzler Corn Maze in Colorado, held a meeting last Thursday to discuss concerns of rising groundwater and government restrictions on pumping the water.

Despite record drought conditions in the Weld County area in Colorado, officials are holding to restrictions placed on them under the Colorado water doctrine.

In Colorado, water is distributed under the principle of first in use, first in right, where prior users have senior rights to junior users.

After severe drought in the 2000s, the Colorado Supreme court ordered 440 wells shut down and limited the pumping of another 1,000 in 2006.

The decision came after senior right holders of Boulder, Centennial, Highlands Ranch and Sterling, which saw huge growth in the 1990s, became concerned their water supply in the river basin was being depleted by junior water right well owners who were pumping water from the Alluvium Aquifer which flows into the South Platte River Basin.

While farmers in the area are watching their crops dry up from lack of rain, they are also watching their basements fill with water that they can’t tap into. Fritzler said 2012 is the third year his basement has flooded.

“The ground water is right there and we can’t use it to save our crops,” Fritzler said.

Fritzler and other farmers in the area believe the solution is simple. But despite the simplicity, the bureaucratic system takes time, probably more time than the area farmers have, at least for this year.

Last week, the governor signed a “watered-down” bill, as Fetzler put it, that could someday provide some relief. But that relief is not expected to be even considered until after a study, which is slated to be finished sometime in 2013. The bill provides no provision for getting the wells turned on this season.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation originally had such a provision but that it was written out of the final bill.

While the politics continue, farmers in the area are spending thousands of dollars on damages from the rising groundwater, including flooded basements and septic systems overflowing. There is also a growing concern of damage to fields because of the high salt content in the water.

Fritzler, who raises onions, corn and wheat on his farm, says it doesn’t make sense that his allotment of surface irrigation water is about to run out because of the drought while his basement continues to flood because of the rising water table.

Farmers in the area are hoping Gov. John Hickenlooper will issue an emergency declaration allowing farmers to use their wells.

When 7-News asked about Fritzler’s claims that well restrictions have led to flooding and possible ground water contamination, Todd Hartman of the Department of Natural Resources responded with this statement:

“We continue to develop factual information on the situation in LaSalle, as well as other areas in the basin with high groundwater. The hydrological issues are complex, and we have allocated—and continue to allocate—significant dollars and significant staff time and resources to conduct the study and analysis necessary to understand the various issues at play, including the impacts of aquifer recharge, well pumping and precipitation. Regulations on pumping and augmentation are in place to protect the water rights and uses of all the farmers and other water users in the basin.”

Area farmers are looking for a happy medium. “I do not think anyone is asking to go back to pumping at will 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the pendulum was on our side a portion, it is now swung all the way to the other side. With a little common sense, we need to bring it to the middle,” Fritzler said. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor