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Solutions sought for River Ridge area

by Larry Patrick

WALSENBURG- A meeting of federal, state, county and city officials took place in Walsenburg on Tuesday afternoon to seek solutions to the ongoing concerns of water contamination in and around the River Ridge Ranch subdivision west of Walsenburg.  Since the Petroglyph Operating Company began drilling for gas a few years ago, residents of the River Ridge Ranch and surrounding area have had methane gas problems in their water well supplies.  Petroglyph has ceased drilling operations but is wanting to renew their efforts.  Water quality problems have not been solved yet.

    The purpose of the meeting was not to keep pointing fingers at each other but to see if possible solutions could be found to move forward for homeowners and Petroglyph. Mayor Edi Sheldon of Walsenburg said residents of River Ridge have water haul capabilities from the city right now and suggested that annexation to get piped water to the area could be a possibility though many obstacles are present.

    City administrator, Alan Hein, told the group that the city has raw water lines that serve 27 residents with the easement rights granted to the city years ago.  However, Walsenburg must find ways to eliminate those lines because of state mandates.  Hein is suggesting the city build a parallel water line along those easements providing treated water.  Then River Ridge residents could possibly connect to that line. However, the cost of the project would be over 5 million dollars including pump stations needed to get water there.  It might cost that much more to have River Ridge residents to get lines from their properties to tie into that line.

    Brett Corsentino, who has had his land seriously affected by chemicals he says has been caused by Petroglyph’s drilling operations, says building a water treatment plant closer to La Veta would cut the costs of providing pump stations because the water would flow downhill toward River Ridge.

    Doug Brgoch said there are problems with any such plans because they would have to go through a water change case.  He said the way Walsenburg’s water rights are structured right now it couldn’t serve River Ridge.  Plus wanting to provide only domestic water to River Ridge residents, if they were annexed, provides monitoring problems. 

    Officials representing U.S. Senators Bennett and Udall and Congressman John Salazar were present to offer support and try to find ways to help programs along but couldn’t guarantee money.  State officials and those from the EPA also said that they are limited in funding but that grants might be available to do an engineering study, thought to cost around $100,000.

    While several options were presented, the first phase would have to be an engineering study.

    At the public input session later in the afternoon, Bob Martin, President of the River Ridge Home Owners Association thanked the group for their earlier input and their willingness to want to help.  However, he bluntly told officials that, “River Ridge landowners aren’t interested in being annexed into Walsenburg.  They don’t want to pay for city services, that’s why they live in a rural setting.”  Martin said, “We just want our water.  We feel like we have been hit by a bus and are being told it is our fault.” Martin went on to say, “We don’t want to spend any more money, we’re already lying on our death bed.”

    Bill Boeck of Navajo Estates asked where is the concern by officials of Walsenburg, La Veta and Gardner to protecting their water sources from the drilling for gas in the area? He feels they should all pool their resources to study the problems that gas drilling is bringing to the area.  Don Pino, also of Navajo Estates said, “Without our water we have no life.”

    While everyone came together to find solutions and take a first step, they all agreed that the final step, whatever it may be, is further off than anyone would like to see.

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