Seepage not the cause for loss of Palmer Lake water
Trustees officially remove surcharge
By Bryan Grossman
Published January 19, 2005
Two items dominated discussions at the Palmer Lake Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 13. One was the preliminary findings of a lake bottom soils test, conducted by CTL Thompson Inc. The other was the lifting of a $2 water bill surcharge that would have been used to fund restoration projects for the all-but-dry lake.
According to CTL Thompson representative Bill Hoffman, drought, and not seepage. Appears to be the biggest reason behind the lake’s disappearance.
Hoffman said, however, that a sand-gravel mixture found in parts of the lake bottom—up to 5 feet deep—has allowed some seepage.
“Water flows through that sand-gravel mixture at a rate of anywhere from 100-1,000 feet per year,” Hoffman said. He then explained why some areas of the lake appear to be retaining pockets of water.
The black areas at the bottom of the lake that are holding water are what we call a clay-silt mixture,” he said. “That loses around 1-1o feet of water per year.”
Hoffman added that in the dry Colorado climate, 1 foot of surface water could be lost to evaporation in a year, and added that during a drought, losses increase.
“All lakes lose water,” Hoffman said. “It’s just a matter of whether it goes up or down.”
Hoffman said the sand-gravel layer could be sealed, but that may result in the plugging of natural springs that supply the lake with water.
Hoffman said he would have a completed report to the board within two weeks.
CTL Thompson Inc. was hired by the board in October to perform the soils test. The board authorized up to $7,000 to research the cause for the missing water. The financing for the test came from a fund set up several years ago when the lake was facing a similar, but not a severe crisis.
The Palmer Lake Board of Trustees voted to remove the $2 surcharge, which unanimously passed less than two months ago.
The $2 was to be charged to all Palmer Lake residents using town water. The surcharge would have added approximately $20,000 a year to a fund set up by the Awake the Lake citizen’s committee. The money was to be used to purchase water rights and to pay legal fees in order to fill the lake within town.
County Commissioner Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) contended that the surcharge was a tax not voted on by the citizens, and was, therefore, illegal.
Trustee Trish Flake asked what the board had done wrong, and Town Attorney Larry Gaddis contended that the $2 surcharge was a legal step taken by the town.
Trustee Max Parker said he completely disagreed with Bruce’s assertion that the town was not in the business of funding “aesthetic lakes.”
“That was his opinion,” Parker said. “We weren’t in the wrong in what we did. Now we can’t put into play (the $2 surcharge) and find out later if it would have worked. We don’t have the time or the money to fight any lawsuits this might bring up.
“I think this is a pretty liberal interpretation of what we meant.”
Bruce fought a similar legal battle with the City of Colorado Springs and a surcharge that was added to electric bills to offset the costs of streetlights.
Bruce lost that case in court, but maintained that electricity is a commodity and its usage could be regulated. Bruce sad there was no way to regulate the usage of a lake and called it an esthetic improvement.
“Look at the lake and its relation to the town, “ Parker said. “Our spirit of community and out businesses thrive on the condition of that lake. It’s not just aesthetic when business revolved around it. Income loss is not aesthetic.”
Mayor Nikki McDonald agreed.
“What’s Palmer Lake with no lake?” she said.
Trustee Chuck Cornell proclaimed Bruce a “bully” and Gaddis concluded the discussion by backing the board before the surcharge was unanimously dismantled.
“They are 100 percent wrong,” Gaddis said. “But we can’t afford to fight this.”
Awake the Lake.
Jeff Hulsmann, chairperson of the Awake the Lake citizen committee, suggested t0 the trustees that instead of placing a mandatory $2 surcharge on every town water bill, a better solution to raising funds for the lake would be to ask for donations.
Hulsmann and other committee members arrived at the same conclusion after discussions with other residents.
The surcharge, which was approved by trustees in December, was officially removed after Hulsmann spoke.
Hulsmann said citizens argued for a donations drive where mailers are sent to local zip codes, thus ensuring contributions are given freely.
Committee member Jeannine Engel, owner of the Rockhouse Ice Cream Shop in Palmer Lake, presented several fundraising ideas to the board, including businesses selling paper fish for $1. The contributor will write their name on the fish and it will be displayed at the business it was purchased.
Engel said she will be supplying local businesses with fish bowls as well, which would be used to collect donations.
Engle said the fundraising ideas are still in the planning stage, but Hulsmann said he hoped to have marketing active and money spent by March.
According to Hulsmann, the committee was working out the legalities of working non-profit status, and he concluded his presentation by asking the town for $1,000 in “seed money” from the original lake fund. Hulsmann said the money would be used to pay for postage and related fundraising costs.
Gaddis advised Hulsmann that all expenditures must be accounted for and related to the lake. Hulsmann agreed, explaining that a treasurer for the committee was already in place.
The request passed unanimously.