Proposed DPU Wells Draw Citizens’ Ire

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By Arin McKenna

The Board of Public Utilities meeting Wednesday was punctuated with catcalls, angry diatribes and four-letter words as more than 20 White Rock residents lodged a potent protest in opposition to a plan to drill one to three water wells in their neighborhoods.


DPU proposes digging the wells to utilize the county’s 1,200 acre-feet San Juan-Chama water allotment and secure the county’s water rights. 

Well Site 3,   located in county open space south of Pajarito Acres — provides the greatest potential to yield the 1,200 acre-feet allotment and will be the first site tested. 

Well Site 2 is at the end of Kimberly Lane across the Canyon from and just north of the Red Dot Trailhead. Well Site 1 is located within Overlook Park adjacent to the existing BMX track. These will be drilled only if it is necessary to achieve maximum capacity. 

Drilling the test wells — a 24/7 operation in order to prevent cave-ins and delays — will have the greatest impact on nearby residents. DPU will request a noise ordinance waiver during that period. Residents will also have to contend with lights, dust, diesel fumes and increased traffic.

If the wells are determined to be viable, final construction will comply with the county’s noise ordinance without any variance. Little to no intrusion on residents is anticipated once the wells are operational. 

At Wednesday night’s meeting, Deputy Utilities Manager of Engineering James Alarid presented a staff response to many of the issues raised by residents to date and responded to questions from the board. The discussion was interrupted by angry outbursts from the public. 

When board Chair David Powell opened the floor to public comment, residents vented their anger. Instead of engaging in direct dialogue with the public, board and staff listened quietly to the comments. This approach appeared to increase the level of frustration as questions hung in the air unanswered.

Richard Joseph said his property is within 100 feet of well 2. Joseph asked why he was not notified of the project and accused DPU of trying to ram the project through.

Milt Gillespie raised the issue of noise levels during construction, both from the diesel engine powering the operation and the casing hammer, based on a set of assumptions he made about what equipment would be used. Staff did not confirm or deny the assumptions.

“I think it’s a disaster and a showstopper,” Gillespie said. 

Another resident raised the concerns that “The noise and pollutants created during the four to five months to drill the well will be very detrimental to the health of many residents living close to the well site.” 

Other residents were concerned about noise levels once the site is completed. One said, “I don’t think you realize how blessedly quiet it is. So you might say it is 50 decibels at 200 yards. We’re going to notice that.”

“I moved down there just over a year ago for the peace and quiet, and if I had any inkling that this was going on I would never have spent the money I spent to buy the peace and quiet I was buying,” Patricia Combs said. 

Many residents responded to Laura Ellen Walton’s question about “What is the compensation for the residents directly affected?”

Ruth Stillman followed Walton’s comment with, “Try to sell your house with this thing coming in your backyard this summer. We’ve been working for a year to get the house in beautiful shape. Who wants to buy it? Nobody’s going to want to buy it. With the noise, we’re stuck.”

Robert Wells, a professional engineer, voiced the opinion that the wells will only be effective in capturing the county’s San Juan/Chama water allotment for a short period of time. Another resident claimed that the Final Preliminary Engineering Report by CDM Smith was “deeply flawed.”

Diane Spengler predicted huge cost overrides and then questioned whether the county planned to frack for natural gas if the well project failed. 

Residents may learn more about the issue and post comments on the county’s open forum website. DPU is frequently updating the information on the Open Forum to respond to issues raised by citizens. 

In an effort to address residents’ concerns, the board voted 4–0 to hold a special meeting May 23.

The meeting will begin with a tour of well sites 2 and 3 and two wells currently in operation. DPU staff is working to arrange buses for the tour. Residents interested in the tour should gather at White Rock Fire Station No. 3 at 5 p.m.  

A meeting will convene following the tour (approximately 7:30 p.m.) at the White Rock Town Hall. CDM Smith will make a presentation followed by a public question and answer period.