When the well is dry | SummitDaily.com

When the well is dry

Jane Stebbins

Editor’s Note: This is the third story in a five-part series on the challenges Summit County faces with this year’s drought conditions.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Todd Alcock got the opportunity to learn what it’s like to live without water – but he didn’t expect his well to go dry in March.

“It just started sputtering,” the Bill’s Ranch resident said. “Every once in a while we could get something out, but it wasn’t worth it. I thought I’d damage the pump.”

He didn’t have water for two weeks, during which time his landlord replaced his 60-foot well with an 88-foot well.

“I kept bringing home 5-gallon buckets of water,” Alcock said. “We’d do the dishes, use the dishwater for the toilet and hit up friends or go to the rec center for a shower.”

Kicki and Mike Stecher also had to dig a new well in the middle of winter.

“It sucked,” Kicki said. “We thought our pipes were frozen, then we thought it was the pump. We got a new one, and that didn’t help, so we lowered it, and that didn’t work. Finally, we realized what was wrong and drilled a new one (well). We could have done it sooner; we were just hoping it was something else.”

Like Alcock, she got drinking water from the neighbors, went to the rec center for showers, melted snow to fill toilets, used paper plates and made simple microwave meals.

A month and $5,000 later, the Stechers had water again.

They are only a few of almost a dozen people whose wells went dry last fall or this spring. Bill’s Ranch, Ptarmigan Mountain and Farmer’s Korner are among the neighborhoods most affected.

What’s to blame?

Some people think the drought – said by water experts to have started in 1999 and to be the worst in 25 years – is only one possible culprit for dry wells.

County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, who lives at Farmer’s Korner and has watched neighbors suffer with inadequate water supplies, said last year that new development tapping into the available water could partially be to blame. So could the fact that Bill’s Ranch residents are no longer on septic systems, and thus are not recharging the system below. Some think their water supply is affected by the water levels in the lake.

“There’s a finite amount of water,” Lindstrom said. “Once you impact that to the highest degree, it can’t be replaced. You have to get it from somewhere else.”

According to State Water Commissioner Scott Hummer, the Rocky Mountains are home to alluvials, cracks in the rocks where water collects. If a well is dug and doesn’t hit one of the cracks, efforts will be for naught.

Numerous neighborhoods throughout the county are served by wells, including homes in Blue River, Peak 7, Huron Heights, Farmer’s Korner, Ptarmigan Mountain, Gold Hill and Heeney – even Silverthorne’s municipal water is taken from one giant well.

“The more holes we put in the ground – everyone’s going after the same resource,” Hummer said. “It’s a combination of not having enough snowpack and the increasing number of homes that rely on well water.”

Numerous residents of Lakeview Meadows in Farmer’s Korner know that first-hand.

Last summer, some wells in that subdivision went dry, while other people had to use sump pumps to get water out of their basements. Homeowners found they could dig hundreds of feet and still not hit water. Well depths vary widely.

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