Will Elbert's Citizens Wake Up To
Predatory Water Districts?

I have called Elbert County my home for fourteen years. It has been my desire to live out the remainder of my life here on the Palmer Divide sans controversy. Unfortunately, our local government has been unwilling and/or unable to stand up for its citizenry against schemers who would exploit the resources underneath our feet and jeopardize the quality of life of the average Elbert citizen. When that situation arises, those who able to articulate the nature of the threat should exercise their obligation as citizens and speak out.
To coin a phrase spoken by the author of the Super Slab debacle, Ray Wells, “ The fuse on big money has been lit .” Big Oil wants the natural gas beneath Elbert County. To do that, the oil and gas industry started early and quietly meeting with local government officials. They began hammering out deals to acquire the information necessary to bring a full-scale assault on the land owners of Elbert County.
To get the natural gas from the ground, a process known as hydraulic fracturing will be employed. It takes millions of gallons of water to frack a single well. It is beyond the scope of this article to outline that process, but suffice it to say, any notion that Big Oil will be willing to truck in water with the current price of diesel is delusional. In case you were not aware, water along the Front Range is scarce and prohibitively expensive.
According to one pamphlet on a Colorado government web site, a million gallons of water will water a golf course for five days. That same pamphlet suggests that 4 million gallons is the minimum amount needed per well if it is fracked only once. Extrapolating that information suggests that a single well needs the equivalent to watering an eighteen-hole golf course with water trucked in on a tanker. The greens fees would be too steep for anybody to play. Do the math and multiply the amount of water that will be needed for this project throughout the county.
We are not talking about a single well, we are talking about hundreds of wells . The assault on groundwater begins when the first slated twenty-six wells begin drilling into the Denver Bedrock Aquifers. Big Oil will be going deep for the inexpensive, brackish waters of the bottom aquifers. The claim will be that there is no value to that water because of the salt content.
If you do not have your water rights adjudicated, Big Oil will find the path of least resistance to obtain those rights. Big Oil might find it handy if there were to be water districts in place that had been conveniently set up to usurp the rights of landowners who were unaware that adjudication of water rights was a necessary step to protect them (the landowners) from speculators. Most people are unaware that a Metropolitan Water District can be formed and, in the process, take away un-adjudicated water rights from landowners.
Where is all of this going? There are two men who want your water rights. They do not want to pay you for your rights and the money that they expect to make from them is in the hundreds of millions of dollars range. Robert Lembke and Ray Wells need your help.
In 2005, Robert Lembke got permission to form a water district from the Elbert County BOCC. It was one acre in size. It had no residents. It had no reason to exist except to allow Mr. Lembke membership into an exclusive club of powerful people; the people in charge of water and sanitation districts. Water districts can charge people who live in those districts for a myriad of reasons. They can expand. They can, if formed under nefarious circumstance, make people very wealthy. Water districts are necessary when a group of people need quasi-governmental protection to insure water and sanitation services to their homes and businesses.
Water districts are generally a good thing. But if a water district is formed with no community purpose then a red flag should be raised. The question of, who does this benefit? answers itself: the person or persons who are on the board of the water district. One also must question why this one acre-sized waterdistrict was given the green light by the Elbert County BOCC when our commissioners could surely see that with great power comes great responsibilities.
The these important issues are before the Elbert County BOCC. The Elbert and Highway 86 Metro and Commercial districts are proposing changes to their initial agreement with the county. There are documents on file dating back to 2004 that have notes indicating that Lembke, Wells, along with Karl Nyquest (of Elbert and Highway 86 Metro and Commercial Districts), have intentions of unprecedented expansion of the district, including, but not limited to, building a Major Regional [water] Pipeline .
No good can come of this back room approach to the management and development of water infrastructure. Parker’s Reuter-Hess reservoir and the Chambers Reservoir (of which Lemke and Wells are integral participants and currently under construction @ Chambers Rd. & E-470), will be looking for water resources . Big Oil needs water and this deal would make Elbert and Highway 86 Metro and Commercial Districts the only game in town. Landowners who are unaware of the assault on their water rights will be left out in the cold if the expansion of these small water districts is allowed to go forward.
I hope that all civic-minded Elbert citizens reading this article will feel the intellectual curiosity to attend this meeting. Questions of moral purpose will and should be asked. Commissioner Schlegal should be asked why he has not recused himself in all of these matters since he is a sitting board member on the Elk Horn Water and Sanitation District with Robert Lembke.
Ask the BOCC the question, what provisions will be put in place to allow people to notified that their potential water rights are being systematically placed in jeopardy? One can only hope that this is not another case of an uninformed public being allowed to participate after it is too late.
by Robert Thomasson
July 12, 2011