October 2013
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Protecting water quality helps our community

By Galen Larson

This is an open letter to everyone living in this area who gets their drinking water from the Dolores River – and who doesn’t? Not many.

There is a small group that seems not to care if our water source remains pristine. They are more concerned with development rights than your health.

As we have seen by the horrific floods along Colorado’s Front Range, nature can be unpredictable. The recent rainstorms have polluted the water with everything from oil and fracking fluids to sewage and e. coli. They washed away roads and homes.

This is the big buzzard in the mine. We here in Cortez, Dolores, Towaoc and most of Montezuma County should be extremely concerned. Water is our life’s blood, without which there is no life. When it becomes polluted it is the fastest means of spreading disease – faster even than airborne particles. We have excellent water-filtering plants here and dedicated employees who do their best to give us clean water, but as was shown by the recent floods, even modern treatment methods can be overcome in disasters.

Our local library in Cortez has two books everyone should read: “Blue Death” and “The Ripple Effect.” With the Dolores River virtually our only source of water, we as a community must be vigilant as to its status and health. I know many would like to see this community grow, and I am not one of those who says, “I’m the last to arrive and now I want to close the door after me.” Still, common sense tells one that only so many can get in the boat before it capsizes.

A couple of events have alerted me to the wrath of floods. I live on the edge of a canyon 100-plus feet deep with a small stream in the bottom. The banks are 12 to 16 feet deep. One morning I awoke and looked to the stream. We had not a hard rain locally but up in the mountains. The stream had risen over these banks and spread 50 to 100 feet on either side, changing the configuration of the waterway. In all my years here I had never seen that before.

Long ago in Arizona, which is mostly a desert state, I was employed by a contractor. His task was to elevate a small river by Florence in preparation for the building of a dam. He was aware of what a flood could do, so did research as to excess water flow in past years. His research gave him comfort as it showed only a trace of a small excess. Thus, we built a camp near the river with trailers for the employees with all the necessary amenities – electricity, water, sewage.

As luck would have it, there was a cloudburst miles from the site. Within a few hours a wall of water struck our camp and machinery. It rolled pickups and 40-yard scrapers for moving dirt and one D8 caterpillar five – yes, five – miles downstream. He was forced into bankruptcy.

As it says on the artificial-spread container, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. When she gets a pat hand you can’t bluff her.

I for one would take the advice of the working group appointed by past county commissioners over a decade ago, which put untold long hours into studying floodplains and river facts, and err on the side of caution. If we are to remain a healthy and cohesive community, potable water should be our utmost concern. A mistake through ignorance can be forgiven, but a mistake committed with knowledge is criminal.

Could we have a huge flood on the Dolores? There was a small one several years back that prompted the research of the planning group and they and the people most affected in the Dolores valley came up with the existing setback of 100 feet.

For those not familiar with this group of volunteers, they worked for close to two years to come up with a plan that pleased most and protected the water in the river. Now a few selfish persons want to destroy their work and dedication. What an insult to their diligence.

To jeopardize our potable water supply just to please a few would be ludicrous. It will cost all of us more, as the facilities providing us with water will have to upgrade at a cost to everyone. So the question is whether to leave the setback in place, with heavier penalties for those that ignore the rules, or take a chance on polluting our water.

I too believe in private property rights, but if I cannot respect others’ rights I have no right to expect anyone to respect mine.

This is not about property rights but rather who is allowed to jeopardize our water supply.

Galen Larson writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.


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