Home on the Range

Graphic source: The Colorado Springs Independent.

Graphic source: The Colorado Springs Independent.

Our little neck of the prairie faces a crisis.

In case you hadn’t heard, 2012 was the hottest year in the 117 that records have been kept in Colorado, a full 109% above average.

And it didn’t rain or snow, either. Not much, anyway. A scant 8.11 inches fell on Colorado Springs for the entire year, less than half our semi-arid average. We actually haven’t seen an average year in a long time. We have entered an extreme and persistent drought, and NOAA’s predictions for 2013 give no reason to hope for improvement.

Colorado Springs Utilities reports that 2012 water usage in the city was the highest since 2001, the year before our last worst year. And that, even though households all over town have turned off their outdoor spigots, rolled out weed barrier, and spread rocks to create moonscapes.

The water that flows from our taps is surface water, starting out as mountain snow. Seventy per cent of our water is from the Colorado River basin. Snow pack in that basin stands at 40% of average. It would take very large amounts of wet spring snow to pull us up to average. An unlikely eventuality.

Currently, Colorado Springs is on voluntary outdoor watering restrictions. Residents are asked to water only once a month this winter in order to preserve their landscapes and conserve our common resource.

Mandatory restrictions for the growing season are almost guaranteed. Although the final word hasn’t been spoken, in all likelihood, we’ll be restricted to watering two days a week and charged a fee for using more than 2000 cubic feet a month. To put this in perspective, the flat corner lot — about 4500 sq ft of lawn and gardens — received from 2025 to 3584 cubic feet a month from June through September last year. I divided the garden into 3 sections, and watered each section twice a week. While nothing perished, it was far from a banner year. For most of the summer, the lawn crunched under foot.

With a few careful strategies and some changes in design, the garden will come through. There isn’t a gardener alive who hasn’t experienced set backs, bad years, and disappointments. Years like these help us become better gardeners, if we’ll learn to adapt and keep our spirits up.

What’s disturbing, is this: Ultra, a Texas-based oil and gas company has purchased 18,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land within the city limits. They have been granted two state permits for drilling exploratory wells on that land. Our city council believes that our land use regulations could be adapted to allow oil and gas drilling within the city.

We’re talking hydraulic fracturing, folks, right here in no-river city. And while Colorado Springs Utilities hasn’t yet been approached as a source for the water required to frack the earth, their number crunchers have determined they could, if they were asked.

Seriously? Our urban forest can die for lack of water, our gardens shrivel, and our lawns turn to dust, but there’s enough water to frack? Seriously? In a state where rainbarrels are illegal because every drop that falls on the land belongs to farmers and other enterprises downstream, you can even consider taking 5 to 50 million gallons of water per well and rendering it unfit for any other use?

Fracking isn’t new and it certainly isn’t isolated to Colorado Springs. However, the local issue is representative of the larger one. In a world where demands on water for life’s basic necessities are outstripping supplies, destroying water for profit sounds more like a war crime than a smart idea. And the local issue is where I feel empowered to take a stand.

The odds of standing down the oil and gas companies are stacked. They’re attempting to lull us with a spate of radio and television ads telling us fracking is as good for us as loaf of sliced bread. However, if enough good people tell our city council to just say NO, maybe we could defend our home on the range and be the seed of something bigger.

The Chinese character for crisis is formed from the characters for danger and opportunity. Gardeners face adversity and turn it into a chance to improve our skills. I’m counting on the gardener in every person to face the danger of fracking and turn it into an opportunity to move our country into a wiser relationship with water and earth.


42 thoughts on “Home on the Range

  1. Well done, well said. Marti and I have been signing petitions like crazy against fracking. Talk about the insanity of it all – this is a prime example! Thank you for writing about this. I could feel your powerful energy of warrior/healer speak clearly with determination and wisdom.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Thanks, Deb, for the kind words and for the signatures. Thank Marti, too. Letters and phone calls to city council and beyond are also strong ways to give voice and energize a healthy outcome.

  2. I, too, have been signing petitions, posting, etc. Colorado Springs City Council members are also the Utility Board–they KNOW this stuff. If it goes through, it will be criminal.

    I am so sick of greed–it is a cancer that is threatening the life of our country and our earth. The last I heard, the oil companies were doing so well with fracking the U. S. that they are trying to sell our (excuse me, THEIR) resources to China. Now, how f**ked up is that?

    Thank you Cheryl, for your eloquent and rational essay. I wish I could respond in like.

    • Thanks, Sandy, for all the ways you’ve been getting the real story out. Time, perhaps, to encourage local TV and radio to do the same.

      Indeed, there is now a glut of natural gas, and China is the likely market. There are many economic consequences to the export of natural gas. On the up side, it at least burns more cleanly than coal.

  3. Sounds like you have politicians running the show. Once elected, politicians seem to think they can do what’s best for their pocket book, not what the people want or what’s best for the people.
    When brother Jim lived in the Phoenix area, he said you heard almost every day to cut back on water. Don’t wash you car, don’t sprinkle your lawn, don’t do this and don’t do that so, he wondered why every time there was a major highway job, there was a sprinkler system set up in the median and grass planted there???????????? I guess the politicians had relatives with grass seed to get rid of and lawn mowers to put to work.

    • Isn’t that the truth, Charlie. As long as pockets are getting lined, the will of the regular peopled be damned. So many twisted ideas out there about what’s good for the economy, and when there’s no water left to drink, grow food, or bathe in, does he who dies with the most toys still win?

  4. Beautiful essay, Cheryl. I hate to say this, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. I haven’t given up and I do think the fracking might not go through, but we may be screwed as far as “drought forever.” (Or at least in the “forever” we’ll know as the rest of our lives.) I have been thinking a lot about how I don’t want to live in a desert for the rest of my life. I want to grow food, I want to see more of the beauty and abundance of Nature. I do love Colorado, it is beautiful in its starkness, but after both girls are off on their own, I just hope I can choose if I want to stay here or not (that meaning, I hope the writing can one day be supportive of both me and Andy and I can work where I choose.) Thanks for adding your eloquent voice to this mess. I’ve posted a link to your essay on all my Facebook pages. 🙂 Sandy

    Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2013 08:49:16 +0000 To: maefayne@msn.com

    • Thanks, Sandy. I’ve had parallel thoughts. Drought is a passing condition, but we may actually be moving toward desertification.

      Again, thanks for spreading the word.

  5. Good post. The problem is not the politicians themselves, it is the influence of the fossil fuel industries. But destroying our fresh water supply in order to generate more fossil fuels. Good luck!

  6. Wonderful essay Cheryl. We vacillate so much between getting serious about coming to CO to be live-nearby-grandparents or staying in MN with our 10,000 lakes and the Mississippi…up here where it’s still sort of clean. Water is a huge part of this…..as we’ve said before, there’s no guarantee that theoilbarrons when buy out the politicians here to siphon Lakr Superior’s water to off for unsavory purposes, but at least at the moment we have a lot of water. Maybe I could use my co-grandma’s name to complain in CS. Maybe I’ll just ask her to do it.

    We bought a tiny camper trailer. Unfortunately, it won’t be ready for a trip to Arvada in May, but we will be there in May, probably for a week……yeaaaaa! See you then!


    • You may meet a long trail of people leaving here for greener pastures, Nancy.

      And if you get a chance, see the film Last Call at the Oasis. The great lakes are already imperiled and dangerously low. Of course, all things are relative. Compared to here, Denver is wet. Compared to Denver, Minnesota is a rain forest.

      Do give your co-grandma a call and encourage her to contact city hall.

      Thanks, dear, and see you in May!

  7. Cheryl — THANK YOU for addressing this in terms that anyone can understand. What I do not understand is why the national media isn’t discussing this issue. Completely outrageous — the fleecing of America. If I wish you snow and rain, does that help — or does it just give more power to the frackers?

    • Thank you, Kevin. Even if it gives more power to the frackers — and it’s hard to imagine they’re lacking any — more snow and rain would soothe a suffering ecosystem.

      Good question about the media. We’re hearing very little locally, as well. The impact of fracking on North Dakota should be daily headlines, but one only hears about the boom. Cattle ranchers are losing animals to dust pneumonia from all that is kicked up by ceaseless heavy equipment. Some cattle are developing strange and alarming symptoms, such as having their tails fall off. It’s a pity when ordinary folks have to do their own investigative reporting and still we don’t have access to the airwaves.

  8. Excellent as always, Cheryl!

    Even though it takes a lot to roil me sufficiently to be public, I reiterate that we need 5,000 people to demonstrate in downtown Colorado Springs whenever City Council is discussing this issue. It seems likely that only when citizens stand up to be counted will we make a dent in corporate power and control.

  9. A whole new wrinkle to fracking I hadn’t thought about. While we have plenty of fracking-related water problems here in PA, lack of water is not one of them. Your comparison to a war crime is so true. Putting your city’s precious water toward *that* is just heinous.

    • If we can get the word to enough folks, we can hold them here. Sadly, fracking is so very widespread and so profitable, that there’s much to do beyond the city limits.

  10. I share your hope for our planet and your community. It is sad that we have come to this. The weather changes and the water rises. I hear the voices on the internet, I know we have a chance, but it is slipping away quickly.

    • Does he who dies with the most toys still win?

      Sadly, just north of you in NoDak, fracking is making a huge mess (think: cattle dying of dust pneumonia as in the dust bowl days), while all we hear about is the BOOM and everyone making money…

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