Water Returns To Palmer Lake

Credit: Jeff Hulsmann
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For three years, a once-popular Southern Colorado lake was bone dry.

Dirt and the occasional tuft of grass sat in the bowl once brimming with water. Where a boat might have been used to cross, could now be crossed on foot.

"Drought devastated Palmer Lake," Jeff Hulsmann with the Awake Palmer Lake committee told 11 News.

The same parched conditions that led to a historically destructive wildfire season three years ago also took their toll on Palmer Lake. The last of the water in the lake evaporated around the time the Waldo Canyon Fire was ravaging land to the southwest. But as Hulsmann explained, the empty lake was actually the end result of a decision made by the state a decade earlier, when it ended water rights on a 100-year-old pipeline that was used for the old railroad that runs by the lake. When the state closed the water right in 2002, there was nothing left to help refill the lake if the water evaporated.

Awake Palmer Lake, a community-based group that Hulsmann chairs, has been trying to get the water rights back. Recently, they won a huge victory when the state gave that water right back to the town of Palmer Lake.

Now the town's namesake actually looks like a lake again. Mother Nature has assisted, Hulsmann acknowledged--the wettest May on record and a damp summer have helped put water back in the lake. But thanks to the renewed water rights, supporters say it likely will never dry up again.

"We were out here four months ago, looking at a dry hole; now there's water in the lake," Hulsmann said.

The victory changed the water rights from industrial to municipal.

"The municipal rights gives us the right to utilize the water in any way we want, which includes water in our faucets and drinking water and different things like that; but when there's excess water ... and we don't need the water for drinking purposes, now any of that water can be diverted to the lake," Hulsmann explained.

Now, 8 acre feet of excess municipal water a month can be moved into the lake. Hulsmann said it will be used to offset evaporation on the lake when necessary.

"Water can now flow through a pipeline that was created 100 years ago to get water into the lake, and that essentially offsets evaporation, so Palmer Lake should never be put in the position that it's been in, even in drought years."

Right now the lake is 8 feet deep in the deepest portion. Most of that is from rainfall and underground springs but supporters say with the help of the new water rights, the lake should be full by winter.

Hulsmann said he's hopeful the Division of Wildlife will have the lake stocked with fish by fall.