Residents willing to dip into wells for Palmer Lake

By Jane Reuter
The Gazette
Published: Date Unknown ? est beginning of Feb 2005

Palmer Lake’s residents are ready to go to the bottom of the well to fill their drought-starved namesake.

More than 80 percent of those who answered a survey about the proposal gave the town the go-ahead to pump well water into their nearly empty lake.

It could be full before early June.

The town board will vote on the plan during its meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, but it’s not likely to fight the community’s wishes.

“The people decided,” Mayor Nikki McDonald said.

More people voted on the lake question than in the town’s last election, a response Awake the Lake committee Chairman Jeff Hulsmann called “unbelievable.”

Lake levels have dropped steadily for four years, most dramatically last summer. The Division of Wildlife refused to stock the once-popular fishing spot the past two years, deciding that lake levels were too low for fish to survive.

Filling the lake isn’t as simple as turning on a faucet. Volunteers and town workers estimate they’ll need a month to lay pipe, build a state-required dechlorination system and obtain a discharge permit.

It will take about a month to pour in the 9.7 million gallons needed to top it off.

The cost for the one-time fill is estimated at about $25,000, a substantial drop from the $50,000 to $75,000 figure the town threw out in February. That figure was based on Palmer Lake’s $4.60-per-thousand-gallon commercial water fee, a rate town employees thought was fair but agreed to negotiate.

“We really got it down to raw costs,” Palmer Lake Trustee Chuck Cornell said. “It’s just a one-time bulk purchase, so it’s not like billing once a month. A lot of what’s built in are office costs.”

Palmer Lake’s well water has been used to supplement its supplies, and McDonald said a return of the drought this summer would mean tightening watering restrictions if the well is used to fill the lake.

Members of Awake the Lake, the volunteer group driving the effort, hope for donations from lake lovers and the board of El Paso County Commissioners, which has approved money to help Colorado Springs fix Prospect Park in Memorial Park.

The county owns the Santa Fe Trail trailhead and park on the lake’s shore, and Commissioner Wayne Williams said the board probably would direct some parks department or grant money toward the restoration fund.

But first, Williams said, the board needs reassurance the water won’t drain away.

A consultant hired by the town to diagnose the lake’s problems said last week that most of the water should stay, but some could seep through a sand-and-gravel layer near the top of the lake’s bowl.

That layer allows water to flow in and out, but when the water table is low—as it is during a drought—water drains. When the table is high, some water still flows out, but springs around the lake give black water—typically in greater volume than it loses. Consultant Bill Hoffman recommended sealing the porous layer, but residents aren’t sold on the idea.

“If we’re talking about sealing the lake, we’re talking about building a swimming pool,” Hulsmann said. We know if we seal it, we’re going to have to augment it 100 percent.

“Four to five years ago, when we did have water here, water didn’t seep out. It just came in.”

Residents loosely agreed during last week’s town board workshop to fill the lake to the gravel layer, then see if water levels drop.

Using well water is temporary solution, Hulsmann said. The group aims to gain storage rights in Palmer Lake, allowing it to augment the lake with water from reservoirs above the town. The legal process of gaining those rights could take three years he said.

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