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At a meeting that grew heated at times, the results of a water study by Forsgren Associates was presented Aug. 29 to a gathering of 50 Elbert County citizens.
The purpose of the study was to determine what water sources would be available to the county through 2050.
Forsgren found that Elbert County has 54 million acre-feet of water available right now.
Forsgren Division Manager Will Koger explained that an acre-foot of water contains the volume of one football field covered with one foot of water.
“One acre-foot supplies two or three homes with water for a year,” Koger said.
The study found that the rate of use is affecting water availability at a rate of less than 1 percent a year.
In 2018 the demand volume is anticipated at 8,100 acre-feet per year (AFY). By the year 2050 the expected demand is 9,005 AFY.
“Based on population projections by DOLA, the county has enough water for in excess of 300 years,” said County Commissioner Grant Thayer, a retired engineer with experience in reservoir engineering.
When Forsgren assembled information for the case scenarios of how the county might source water in the future, it took into account four variables: agricultural transfers (if a shift in agriculture occurs and how that would impact water supply), non-renewable groundwater, reusable water and imported water.
Koger reiterated that importing water is not the goal at this point.
“It is not easy; it requires an expensive infrastructure,” he said. “It’s much cheaper to drill for water.”
Thayer took the floor several times throughout the evening to provide information and answer questions from the attendees.
“What these numbers tell me as an engineer,” Thayer said, “is we have time.”
For many the meeting provided reassurance, while for others it produced frustration.
The impact of Douglas County and surrounding areas was brought up several times throughout the evening.
“How can it (the water level) be measured if Douglas County goes crazy and pumps a lot, what does it do to us?” Paul Hunter of Elizabeth asked.
Koger, who lives in Elbert County, agreed that water usage in surrounding areas will impact the water levels beneath Elbert County.
“We are dependent on how quickly people around us use water,” he said.
“Everyone is using the same aquifers,” Koger said, indicating that the study was specifically done to find out how much water the county has available and “project out what the options would be for Elbert County.”
“It’s a planning study — we are finding what looks like a likely future,” Koger explained. “There are so many variables ahead of us — it’s more of a matter of monitoring what’s going on and planning for what we think will happen.”
Moments in the meeting grew tense when the topic of population growth and development came up. Concerns were stated over rising costs of pumping water to cover the growing population of consumers.
“The people who are going to be damaged are the ones that came here 20 years ago,” said Robert Thomasson of Elizabeth.
Preparing for future
Development is likely, Koger said, as Colorado grows and the areas between Colorado Springs and Denver branch out. “I’m not saying it’s a good thing, no one likes being stuck in more traffic jams, but it’s inevitable and we have to do our best to plan for it,” he said.
Belinda Seville of Elizabeth raised the question about a pipeline that had been included on a previous rendition of the draft by Forsgren. To some, this raised concerns that Elbert County’s water would be sold and piped out of the county.
Thayer explained that the version presented to the commissioners the previous week was strictly a draft done by Forsgren representing future options, not plans, and that it was excluded from the current draft in order to provide a clearer representation of the present situation.
“The commissioners you have now have made a commitment, `thou shalt not build a pipeline,’ and we control that,” Thayer said. “Even if you cut the numbers (of available water) in half, there’s no real need to build a pipeline for 50 years.”
“The pipeline doesn’t exist,” added water advisory commission member Bob Ware in a post-meeting interview. “It is part of the infrastructure that Will (Koger) said would be good for Elbert County down the road.”
Thayer said the county intends to continue to monitor its well-water supply and was in the process of including the funding for it in the 2018 budget.
“We should continue to monitor the groundwater levels, and the plan for where the pipeline corridors and water treatment sites would be if and when we need them,” said Koger, “and we should be part of regional discussions on water supply. It’s good to be cautiously optimistic.”
Slides presented during the meeting were marked “Draft Information.” The final information of the study will be processed and presented to the county commissioners and then made available to the public.
The Forsgren presentation of the preliminary draft information is available to download from the Elbert County website at www.elbertcounty-co.gov.
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