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The fast-growing Colorado town asks, “Where does the water come from?”

Greeley, Colorado. – “Go west, young man” Horace Greeley urged famously.

The Problem of A Town in Northern Colorado Named After a 19th Century Newspaper Editor: Too Many People Have Listened to His Advice.

According to the US Census Bureau, the city and its surrounding Weld County grew by more than 30% between 2010 and 2020, with tens of thousands of new entrants flowing into Greeley.

And it’s not just Greeley.

The figures released this month show that population growth continues unabated in the South and West, even as temperatures rise and droughts become more common. It has in turn caused intensifying scrambling to find water for the current population in places like Greeley, not to mention those who are expected to arrive in the coming years.

“Everything we can do to protect a safe water supply is very important,” said Greeley, who has lived in Greeley for nearly 60 years and has a population of nearly four as new arrivals flock to relatively low home prices. Dick Maxfield, who was watching double to nearly 110,000 people, said. For a variety of energy, health care and agricultural jobs, including cities 55 miles (85 km) north of Denver and major meat packaging factories.

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Lisa Dilling, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado and head of the Western Water Assessment Research Program, said climate change exacerbates the dual challenges of population growth and water scarcity.

“Everyone sees population growth and says,’Where does water come from?’” Dilling said. “We can still grow, but we need to make sure we are looking ahead. We need to manage water efficiently and carefully.”

As climate-fueled megadroughts swallow the western United States, some communities are making extreme strides to protect their water supplies.

In Oakley, Utah, about 45 miles (72 km) east of Salt Lake City, authorities have imposed a construction moratorium on new homes that connect to the town’s overloaded water system.

Meanwhile, Thornton, Colorado is fighting legal issues as it builds a 72-mile pipeline to bring water from a river near Fort Collins to the northern suburbs of Denver. The crew has begun work in northern Colorado, but there is no guarantee that it will be completed.

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“If there’s anything that stops fast-growing growth, it’s a lack of water. It’s a limited resource,” said Dick Jefferies, leader of the Northern Colorado branch of conservation group Trout Unlimited.

Water has long been a source of Greeley’s pride. Greeley was founded in 1870 at the confluence of two rivers, Cash La Poodle and South Pratt. The Horace Greeley newspaper, the New-York Tribune, played an important role in shaping what was intended as a utopian and agricultural colony.

The city established water rights in 1904 and completed the first water treatment facility near the Poodle River three years later.

Like other densely populated front-range cities in Colorado, Greeley gets some water from the Colorado River and other rivers that have dried up during long-term droughts. This week, federal officials declared Colorado’s first water shortage, triggering forced cuts from rivers that serve 40 million people in the west.

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In Greeley, the cost of new faucets or connections to city water supplies is rising exponentially. “It’s like Bitcoin,” an official joke — the city believes it has secured water supplies for decades to come.

This spring, the city council unanimously approved a contract to acquire an aquifer 40 miles (64 km) northwest and supply 1.2 million acre-foot of water. It is sufficient to meet the needs of the city for generations while providing storage opportunities for dry years. Water from the Terry Ranch aquifer near the Wyoming border is not a major source of drinking water, but a backup source in dry years.

In exchange for an aquifer, and instead of paying the city $ 125 million for infrastructure, Greeley connects the site’s former owner, Wingfoot Water Resources, with a new home to the city’s water supply. We will issue raw water credits that can be sold to developers.

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“In essence, Greeley is exchanging future income for water supply today,” Adam Jokerst, deputy director of the city’s water and sewage department, said in an interview.

Opponents call the deal a free gift to a local investment company and accuse the naturally occurring uranium in the aquifer of causing safety problems. Save Greeley’s Water, a civic group that opposes the purchase, said uranium levels in the aquifer were well above federal safety standards.

City counters tested show that uranium and other pollutants can be removed to levels well below federal drinking water standards. He understands the concerns, but uranium is commonly found and removed in water throughout the west, Jokerst said.

“It’s a word that has a lot of context and can be scary,” he said. “But Greeley never delivered unsafe drinking water to the population, including water in which uranium was detected.”

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John Gautierre, a former city water engineer who leads a group of citizens who oppose the aquifer, is skeptical of the city’s guarantee that water is safe. “Maybe they’re as wrong as Flint, Michigan,” he said.

Gautierre also predicted that higher costs would be passed on to the inhabitants. “Never sell water rights that belong to people,” he said.

Vice President Wingfoot, Kevin Ross, called the deal “a great answer for the city of Greeley” to combat the drought and secure a long-term water supply.

Amy Hatson, owner of Aunt Helens’ coffee house in downtown Greeley, supports the deal.

“Why does someone on the water board do something dangerous to the citizens of Greeley?” She asked. “They also live here. They also raise their families here.”

However, Greeley-based Sandy Cummings said city officials haven’t done enough testing. “This is so upset that we are considering this,” she said.

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After the expansion of the existing reservoir’s long-term plan was abandoned a few years ago, the city had little choice but to pursue aquifer transactions, according to Jokerst and other officials. The expansion required up to $ 500 million in new dams, making it difficult to obtain federal permits. One of the reasons is that it damages the habitat of Preble’s meadow jump mice, which live in this area and are described as endangered. Endangered Species Act.

After spending $ 19 million over a decade, “basically, I was told I couldn’t allow a reservoir (expansion),” said Roy Otto, long-time mayor of Greeley, until he retired this month. rice field.

“I believe that providing a safe and secure source of drinking water is key not only to Greeley, but to the future of northern Colorado,” Otto said.

“We know people are coming to Greeley,” said Jokerst. “We are supplying land. Now we have water. There are all the elements for developers to build here.”

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Jeff Lucas, a water and climate analyst in nearby Boulder County, said municipalities rarely use groundwater sources far from city boundaries. Authorities are convinced that they have “finished their homework,” but Lucas said the project remains at risk due to the distance from Greeley and the potential for aquifer pollutants extending 1,200 feet underground. rice field.

“Aquifer estimates are an inaccurate science,” says Lukas.

River hydrologist Jeff Crane is skeptical about whether aquifers will be the long-term solution that Greeley expects. Having worked on water projects across Colorado, which has doubled in population since 1980 and tripled since 1960, he believes the likelihood of meeting new water demand is declining rapidly.

“They are trying to find a way to keep growing in the front range without adding water,” he said. “I have to give something”

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Editor’s Note — This is the first in an occasional series that looks at the impact of population growth on climate change.

Copyright 2021 AP communication. all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

The fast-growing Colorado town asks, “Where does the water come from?”

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