Gilcrest dewatering well shut off after first day
Operators have shut down a dewatering well located near U.S. 85 and Gilcrest that had been heralded as a small, first step in reducing the area’s high water table.
The well, operated by Weld County farmer Harry Strohauer, had been expected to run around the clock, pumping 1,300 gallons of groundwater a minute, in an effort to prevent further flooding of homes and farmland.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s water adviser, John Stulp, said the decision to shut off the well, which operated for just one day, stems from administrative issues on how to account for the water entering the Union Ditch.
Stulp attributed the hiccup to a misunderstanding, without specifying the exact nature of the fault in communication.
Strohauer described the situation as a can of worms, with complications frustrating efforts toward progress.
“I’ve totally backed away from it,” he said.
While a bill aimed at providing emergency groundwater relief passed through the Colorado Legislature on May 6, HB 15-1178 will not provide funding for Gilcrest’s dewatering needs until July.
At that time, $290,000 in grant money will be made available for dewatering in Gilcrest and downstream in the Sterling area, where high groundwater levels have also appeared.
Stulp said the Department of Local Affairs has made $30,000 available to address the problem in the meantime.
With no dewatering wells currently in operation, however, frustrations continue to rise.
LaSalle-based farmer Glen Fritzler said the issue of high groundwater has only gotten worse since area wells were shut down in 2006. He feared past mitigation efforts would no longer be sufficient.
“We always worry. When is it going to get to the point that the work we’ve done is no longer sufficient?” Fritzler said.
He also expressed concern that in times of drought, farmers in the area will still be denied access to utilizing their wells. Debate over how well pumping impacts holders of senior water rights has prevented such a possibility.
With May’s wet weather, however, farmers have been more concerned this week with getting their fields dry enough to finish spring planting. Poor drainage has made the task difficult, farmer Dave Petrocco said.
“The soil is saturated. The aquifer is above normal. We are seeing more soft, seeping spots in those particular areas. The vegetable plants do not normally survive,” Petrocco said.
Fritzler said while high groundwater had contributed to standing water in his fields, the contribution had been small compared to the impact of heavy rains.
Eric Wilkinson, general manager of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said a complicating issue for Gilcrest has been the limitations of the Colorado water rights system. Any solution will have to comply with the state’s complex water law, he said.
“A personal opinion, and one shared by many, is they need more wells pumping. One well will not address that. It’s a wide, expansive area,” Wilkinson said at a Greeley Chamber of Commerce water symposium Wednesday,
Stulp said work is being done to get the Strohauer well operating as soon as possible, although no timeline could be provided.
Prior to the well temporarily operating earlier this month, affected parties had been in negotiations over possible solutions for several years. ❖
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