BIDLACK | A water crisis looms — and too many of us are oblivious

Author: Hal Bidlack - November 20, 2018 - Updated: November 20, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

As I’ve passed through the one-year anniversary of writing columns here at Colorado Politics, it’s possible you may have noticed my brain thinks about things a bit differently than most people (Ed: oh, we’ve noticed). As a proud polymath, I find just about everything interesting and I want to write about lots and lots of different things (Ed: again, we’ve noticed).

Like gold mines.

Many years ago, when I was still in high school, I went on a backpacking trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On that trip, we stopped at an abandoned mine, which was filled with cold water. Our guide told us that the water that had filled the mine was some of the purest water on the planet. I filed that bit of trivia away until this morning. But with reading a Colorado Politics story, memories of mine water came flooding back (flooding, get it? Water joke!).

It seems the good folks in Aurora have signed a deal to extract (mine?) fresh water from a flooded and abandoned gold mine, the London Mine, outside Alma. That’s about 100 miles away from Aurora, so the water will be well travelled. Mine water is a good source of clean water, assuming it wasn’t a uranium mine I’m thinking, so the city leaders in Aurora are doing a good job thinking about water sources for the future.

Water awareness is becoming increasingly important, not just for desert cities like Las Vegas, but more and more for, well, everyone in Colorado. And while finding water in mines and other unusual places is helpful, there is a very significant problem facing Colorado and the American West that we, as citizens of the region, must demand our leaders address. To complicate matters, the policies and laws required to properly address the coming water crisis will directly impact what many westerners feel are their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Not long ago, I wrote about a water issue — a free well — and the impact of closing a decades-old source of free water to ranchers and others. Today, we should urge our newly elected lawmakers, both in Denver and in D.C., to directly address the much larger water issue we face — the decline in the Ogallala Aquifer.

If you haven’t googled the OA, I suggest you do so. The OA is a massive and ancient water source, underlying eight states in the West, that supplies water to roughly $35B worth of crops annually. A 2017 study by the U.S. Geological Survey contains very worrisome – if not dire – information about our future. The problem is that we have been extracting water from the aquifer at a rate much higher than nature can replace it. Thus, the level of the OA has dropped twice as fast in the six years preceding the study as it did in the sixty years prior. Old family wells on farms and ranches are going dry, and the threat to agriculture is increasingly real for many, many people dependent on water for their incomes, to say nothing of their lives.

Way back when I was on active duty, I often submitted suggestion forms on environmental topics. The DOD’s suggestion program is a good one, and people who submit approved suggestions can sometimes share in the cost savings that result. Therefore, I was moderately excited about submitting a form on reducing water use on the Air Force Academy, where I worked and lived. I calculated the water costs of irrigating the roughly 1,200 service-member homes on base, as well as the medians of the roads, parks, and more. I estimated that the Air Force could save up to $180,000 per year by switching to indigenous grasses and plants that required little or no watering. I was thinking about how to spend my near-certain booty when I got my suggestion form back, stamped “disapproved.” The single sentence explaining the denial, read simply “of all our utility bills, water is the lowest.” Sigh…

I thought of that rejection this morning when I read about the gold mine water headed for Aurora. While I admire the cleverness of Aurora’s city planners, I can’t help but think that gold mine water (which would be a good name for a band) is at best a temporary stop gap measure. We don’t think about water enough, and that’s dangerous. As our new state leadership takes office, I hope they will remember the importance of water, but more importantly, the urgent need to address our looming water crisis directly and aggressively.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.