A representative from the U.S. Geological Survey was in Elbert County to update the Board of County Commissioners on an ongoing well monitoring project currently underway in the county. At the Feb. 9 work session, Rhett R. Everett, a groundwater research expert for the USGS, provided a study update as well as a summary of the current water situation.
The four-phase groundwater-measuring network is the first of two projects initiated by the BOCC and brought to fruition by the county's all-volunteer Water Advisory Board. Both water-research projects are primarily funded by grants from the USGS, Colorado Water Conservation Board and area water roundtables.
Phase one of the monitoring project establishes target areas and began last July. In October, Everett began phase two, work on field visits and site surveys. The surveys will be ongoing as wells are added to the study. Phase three, the actual water level measuring, will begin this month and continue through June 2017. The project will conclude with phase four, Everett's report in the spring of 2018.
The majority of Elbert County overlies several Front Range aquifers that are part of the formation collectively known as the Denver Basin, which extend from Colorado Springs to Greeley. The well monitoring network will track water levels in at least 30 wells drawing from the five aquifers throughout the county at two-month intervals. Six wells will be fitted with pressure transducers and data loggers that will record hourly levels.
“All of the data from the study is published to the web. Anyone can access it at any time. The nice thing about it is that you can search several wells simultaneously,” said Everett, who expects the data from the study to be available in August along with interactive maps, which will be accessible through the USGS webpage.
According to Everett, the author of multiple studies for the USGS, only 5,000 of the 9,311 known wells drawing water in Elbert County are suitable for the survey. The program is strictly voluntary, and Everett, who hopes to recruit as many as 47 residents to participate, is still looking for volunteers in some target areas.
The second project is an assessment of the data collected from the well monitoring network to assess changing water levels and their effect on available water supplies. Once Everett's report is completed, the BOCC hopes to engage an engineering firm to assess the data and incorporate it into a longer-term water-supply strategy to handle development throughout the county. The final funding for the engineering study has not been secured, but the county hopes to have an answer by mid-March.
Everett's update to the BOCC also included a summary of a 2010 water report prepared by Ivahneko, Tamara & Flynn JL in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. According to the report, Elbert County wells draw 29.5 million gallons of groundwater each day, which constitutes 4 percent of total water demand on the Denver Basin.
The majority of Elbert County's groundwater, 71 percent, is pumped by municipalities in support of public infrastructure. The remaining 29 percent of groundwater is drawn for agriculture, livestock, domestic and household use.
Based on data collected in 2005, the report estimates an average two-foot annual drop in regional aquifer levels over 50 years in northwestern Elbert County. Though the area includes the highest concentrations of development, those users may not be the largest contributors to declining water levels in underlying aquifers.
Since county lines were drawn without regard to aquifers, competition for groundwater also comes from other counties along the Front Range, specifically Douglas County, identified in the report as the largest user of Denver Basin water, at 24 percent in 2005.
The BOCC hopes that by assessing available water resources and their rate of use, the county can better plan for the long-term growth expected during the coming years.