The cost of irrigation

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Like when you have 45 minutes to get to a meeting so you decide to take a quick look at your email, and find yourself 15 minutes late.

Land development is like that. Twenty years ago, there was one traffic light on York Road – at the Walmart – on the York Road commercial district east of Gettysburg Borough. A few years later, there were six. The Giant had moved from in-town, where it was walking distance from many residents, to out-of-town, where it wasn’t.

In the opening years of the 21st Century, water was not a problem, though we were in the peripheral throes of a drought. In spite of ground water levels falling, we continued to have sufficient flow when we turned on the kitchen faucet.

Across Fairfield Road from the Gettysburg Times building, construction had begun for a residential development on what still appeared to be a potential hillside pasture. One existing house down by the road was being rehabilitated, with a paved driveway – which made sense because it appeared the people living there owned the paving company advertised on the sides of the dump trucks often parked there at night.

Now the entire hillside is covered in homes and paved roads, driveways and lawns. Above them, where most residents who were not the buyers of those first new homes cannot easily see, service connections poke from the ground, outlining the locations of a few hundred new homes that will line streets with names such as Partridge, Nuthatch, Nighthawk, Swift, and Covey (presumedly for the quail that no longer live here).

Cannon Ridge, so-called, one presumes, because long-forgotten cannon once roared from the vicinity, has been a source of water shortage complaints since sales of the new homes began. Now, in a social atmosphere regularly beset by cries for “affordable housing,” a sign proclaims forthcoming “New Luxury Rentals.”

Below that sign, where the hill steepens into a gully, fill and brick walls form terraces to prevent the new “townhomes” sliding into a pile during a heavy rain. Penstock Lane labels a strip of pavement elevating the ambient temperature, the name a memorial to an earlier penstock that controlled the water power to the namesake of the intersecting Old Mill Road.

Now water is needed to serve residences that should never have been built in the first place. A planned 160-foot water tower will soon poke above the trees at Red Oak Lane, bathing the entire area in the warm glow of its blinking red anti-airplane collision light, some 60 feet above the existing tree canopy.

The tower is needed for “fire protection,” according to the Gettysburg Municipal Authority, which will own the facility. Regardless the officially stated purpose, the truth is there is insufficient water for all the new homes.

We have a cultural belief that any open piece of ground must be built upon. Developers tell municipal and county government – and through them, the residents – that development and the resulting new homebuyers will bring untold wealth to the local government coffers.

It has been said there will never be a water shortage as long as there is pipe and customers to pay for its installation. Ask people in California and several other southwestern states how that’s working out for them.

It’s illegal for a government to show a profit, but fortunately for those who abet the wild developments, they will not have to face that minor obstacle the time the money starts rolling in, government will have come up with a ton of new expenses – schools, fire and police – and water towers. The land has been fruitful. Now comes the cost of irrigation.

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