City digs well, strikes nerve
A local family is wondering why their water supply might be jeopardized in the name of development, and in spite of assurances from the developer – Aspen City Hall, in this case – they feel like they’re getting the short shrift.
In particular, Julian and Molly Gregory are wondering why the housing department drilled a well just 240 feet from their own well, in apparent violation of a state guideline that says wells should be spaced 600 feet apart and a city policy that no new wells should be dug in West Buttermilk.
“The city has drilled a well at a location where they didn’t apply for permit,” said attorney Kevin Patrick, a water law specialist who is representing the family. He added that the city’s well is much too close to both the Gregorys’ well and that of another neighboring home, at least according to state guidelines.
“Our issue is that they are drilling this illegal well, and the city has rubber-stamped it,” said Julian Gregory. “If any other developer came to them with this plan, they would say `no way.’ “
Housing office project manager Lee Novak denied that the well is illegal. Besides, he pointed out, he and consultant Jim Curtis have worked closely with the Gregory family in order to minimize the impacts of the proposed development – including extensive testing to determine if the new well would adversely affect the Gregorys’ water supply.
“It’s a valid concern, to be worried that this issue could be a problem, but I think we’ve shown that in this case it won’t be a problem,” Novak said.
Julian and Molly Gregory and their four children, ages 1 to 6, live in the West Buttermilk home immediately adjacent to a 37-acre parcel of the city-owned Burlingame Ranch that voters approved last month for sale on the open market.
In all, the Burlingame Ranch encompasses than 200 acres of undeveloped property that straddles Highway 82 near the airport. It was purchased as a site for affordable housing, but the city always planned to sell the parcel in question on the open market and recoup some of the costs.
The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority is shepherding the parcel through the land-use approval process. In a deal with West Buttermilk homeowners, the housing office, acting for the city, agreed to protect most of the land with a conservation easement. It also agreed to limit the size of the house to 5,000 square feet and its height to 24 feet, primarily to appease the Gregorys.
Julian Gregory said that even though his family isn’t excited about the idea of a new house on the vacant land next door, it is something they are willing to live with. But they are worried that the new well is drawing from the same aquifer, which could have dramatic impacts on their water supply.
Novak said the housing office hired an expert to examine the site and conduct tests designed to measure impacts on neighboring wells; analysis of those test results predict only marginal effects. Patrick, the water attorney, countered that a separate analysis of the situation reveals a different picture. And if the new well cuts into the Gregorys’ supply, Patrick said they would exercise their senior water rights and cut off its supply.
“Mr. Gregory’s well is decreed, and we will shut off the supply if necessary,” Patrick said.
Even so, bad news keeps flowing out the Gregorys’ tap.
Recent tests conducted by Culligan Water Conditioning in Carbondale revealed high concentrations of nitrates in their well water, Julian Gregory said. Nitrates are a common ingredient of fertilizers, but they can be a threat to humans if they become too concentrated in a water supply, especially infants and young children, according to the Web site from Ohio State University’s school of agriculture.
Julian Gregory was told the cost of fixing the problem could run as high as $15,000 – or even higher if the well is contaminated beyond repair. And while he’s not willing to point fingers, yet, he is worried the housing office’s activities are the cause of the contamination.
“We’re in this place by the skin of our teeth. We can afford to live here as long as the well is working. If we need to find an alternative water source, it means we have to move,” Gregory said.
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