From The Colorado Sun (Kevin Simpson):
Faced with an inadequate filtration system and a $1.2 million estimate to fix it, the community of 55 people got creative. And it paid off.
For a while, it looked like tiny Branson, home to 55 souls in the southernmost part of the state, might almost literally dry up and blow away, becoming a footnote to history.
Not surprisingly in the arid West, water loomed as the culprit. Not that the town ever lacked abundance. Springs in the nearby hills quenched the locals’ thirst for generations. But when the state health department tightened groundwater safety regulations, then found Branson’s purification system out of compliance, the news threatened its very existence.
One engineering report put the cost of fixing the problem, which stemmed from E. coli detection and the determination that the spring water was subject to contamination by surface water, at $1.2 million. Even with loans to cover a new water system that would serve the existing 29 customers, the debt burden promised to crush Branson into the dust, even though locals note that no one has ever reported a water-borne illness.
So, just about a year later, how can the town be planning a celebration?
Last week, Branson learned that that it will receive a state grant that pushes its own unconventional efforts — including a crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds — over the finish line. Only a few bureaucratic hurdles remain before the town begins construction of a new filtration system it discovered through a company just a couple hours away in Rocky Ford. The new system will both satisfy health department standards for purity and cost a tiny fraction of the original estimate.
By embracing the narrative of the rural underdog and adopting an unrelenting bootstrap mentality, Branson found a way, starting last April when it created a web site and began its appeal for contributions from current and former area residents, as well as anyone sympathetic to the plight of diminishing rural towns.
And, as Mayor Rachel Snyder readily admits, a strong element of serendipity also figured into the equation.
The Colorado Department of Public Affairs grant used a point system to determine who would receive money, and Branson’s individual efforts and circumstances aligned to check off a lot of the boxes. Then there was the discovery of Jack Barker’s Innovative Water Technologies, the small company right up the highway that specializes in inexpensive but effective water purification systems, primarily for third-world countries.
Timing also played a significant role: If Branson had applied for the round of grant funding prior to Gov. Jared Polis taking office, it would have missed out on some significant additional savings.
It all added up to a stunning victory for the once-bustling railroad stop that has receded to a quiet outpost whose only bustling activity occurs in the four-day school that serves families in the wide-open rangeland tucked between picturesque mesas and the distant Spanish Peaks.