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Colorado Springs Utilities tackles drilling in a drought 

So far, the impact of fracking on the local water supply is theoretical. Only two wells have been permitted inside city limits, and according to spokesman Steve Berry, Colorado Springs Utilities has not been contacted by a drilling company to purchase water.

But the fear that fracking will affect the local water supply is already very real, at least in political terms.

At the Jan. 15 meeting of Colorado Springs City Council, President Scott Hente noted that "it's a perception issue ... We'll have brown grass, brown yards all over the place, but we'll be pumping oil and gas like crazy. That's the perception we're fighting here."

That fight is going to continue. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint venture of federal agencies and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, anticipates that Colorado Springs will see drought conditions continuing through the first months of this year. Utilities has requested that Council pass a twice-per-week maximum for lawn watering as well as adopt a water shortage tariff, in order to "restrict water use as deemed appropriate."

The tariff, which will be the subject of a March 26 public hearing, would double water rates for those who use more than 2,000 cubic feet, or 14,960 gallons, a month. A typical residential customer will use 1,100 CF in an average month, according to Utilities; in July, the peak of lawn-watering season, the average use is 1,800 to 1,900 CF.

Meanwhile, Council is moving closer to installing its second lightning rod, so to speak: regulations on oil and gas drilling, which it aims to enact by the end of March. Relying on industry numbers, Utilities estimates that a well uses anywhere between 3 million to 5 million gallons of water per frack.

"This type of use would have a very small impact on our overall water supply — approximately 0.1 to 0.3% of Colorado Springs' average annual water supply," Berry writes in an e-mail.

According to its Jan. 15 presentation, Utilities gets to that figure by projecting onetime water usage of 12 to 24 wells. Assuming that 12 wells will use the low-end estimate of 3 million gallons per frack, this is equivalent to the annual usage of 335 homes, or .1 percent of overall usage.

However, some estimates have put the water usage as high as 9 million gallons per frack, and a single well can be fracked up to 10 times in its life.

As for what oil and gas companies would be charged, "We would develop a tariff if requested by City Council, and providing we were asked by an oil and gas company to provide water (we have not been asked)," Berry writes. "The tariff process would require public discussion as part of City Council deliberation on the matter."

— Chet Hardin

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