May 23, 2013 11:51 AM by Maddie Garrett

Water Battles in El Paso County

Water, or the lack of it, has been a problem for years for residents living in the Cherokee Metropolitan District. It's a small enclave of homes and businesses on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs.

Cherokee Metro has a new water source, but it's going to impact neighbors in the Black Forest neighborhood in northern El Paso County. A battle is growing between homeowners there, and the water company.

Black Forest resident Charles Vairin likes the view from his front porch, but he won't enjoy it as much with two 40 foot high water tanks across the street.

"We will observe the tank everyday, it would be right off this way," he said pointing to a wooded area across the street.

It's not just the view he's worried about.

"If I were to try to sell my house people would look at the inside and people would say "oh this is acceptable," walk out on my deck here and take a look at the tower and say never mind," said Vairin.

Vairin isn't alone, 100 people have signed letters to the Cherokee Metropolitan District, saying they do not want the utility company drilling for water and storing it in their neighborhood. Only six people wrote they approved of the project.

"We don't get any water out of this," said Vairin's wife, Joan Vairin. "It's just going to ruin our property values."

But Cherokee Metro said they need to get more water down to its district in Cimarron Hills on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs. Right now, Cherokee said it leases water from Colorado Springs at a fairly high rate. They've tried tapping into other aquifers but faced drawn out court battles.

Instead of continuing to fight over water rights in court, Cherokee found a viable solution in an aquifer under Black Forest.

"We're in a position where we needed to get a reliable supply of water that we could serve to our customers at an affordable rate. So we looked for a project that would be close to our core service area," said Cherokee Metro General Manager Sean Chambers.

Cherokee knew that neighbors in the area did not want the water tanks near their homes, because of concerns they would be an eyesore and hurt property values.

Cherokee said it did add $212,000 onto the project to lower the tanks into the ground, build a berm up around them and paint it green. The area that would be cleared for the tanks is 2-acres of trees.

El Paso County's Planning Commission approved the well sight, near the intersection of Hogden Road and Black Forest Road. The Commission said it approved the well field, where 4 to 5 ground water wells will be built, because the State had already given the permits and water rights to Cherokee.

The Planning Commission even approved a five mile pipe line to move the water from the well field to two, 2-million gallon storage tanks. But when it came to the tank site itself, that was shot down in a 5 to 3 vote.

"The planning commission felt that indeed that was not the right place for the water storage," said Planning Commission Chair Steve Hicks.

That conclusion came after a dozen or so people from Black Forest spoke publicly at the meeting, explaining why they opposed the tanks. But just because the Planning Commission voted down the tank location, doesn't mean the company won't be able to still build there.

The way State law works, managers at Cherokee Metro can go to their board of directors and appeal the decision. The Board can choose to overturn the Planning Commission's ruling and build on the site anyway.

After the vote, Chambers said the company isn't sure what it's next steps will be, they'll have to meet with the Board of Directors first.

However, Chambers said they did try to purchase other properties in the area to put the storage tanks, but the owners weren't willing to sell.



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