Elbert County residents recently packed the Elizabeth Town Hall to learn about water, water law, water rights and how the county’s decision to adopt what’s known as the 300-year rule will help ensure an adequate water supply, even as the area sees increasing development and demand on aquifers.
Elizabeth Town Administrator Patrick Davidson said the idea of the “Water 101” class is not a new one. In fact, he says it’s been on the town’s radar for quite some time.
“Members of the Planning Commission were interested in how water is presented under Colorado law and how the process worked,” Davidson said. “Due to this interest, and the interest of the Board of Trustees on the same topic, it evolved into having a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees. Because many of the people moving into the area have either lived where water is plentiful, or have misconceptions about water in the West, it was determined to have a larger public meeting as part of the process.”
Water experts, including the town’s water attorney David Kueter with Holsinger Law LLC, Robert Anderson of JVA Consulting Engineers, and Matt Seitz with HRS Water Consultants walked close to 40 residents through the basics of Colorado water law, the town’s own water holdings, as well as current and future water demands which stem from population growth and the resulting surge in residential development activities.
But while some residents at the March 7 event expressed concerns that growth will deplete aquifers, town experts seemed to think otherwise.
“Water is a finite commodity — and the town has the legal right to use the water on a 100-year basis, but they are only giving credit for the development on the 300-year basis,” Kueter explained. “So, development approvals are only a third of what they would be (under the 100-year rule).”
In short, the rule reduces the demand on water, he said. Not on supply.
“It is my professional opinion that the town, now and going forward, has sufficient water to support currently planned development,” Kueter said.
“One of the concerns in dealing with geology and hydrology is that people sometimes get lost in the actual volumes being discussed,” Davidson said. “Issues were raised in the meeting with regard to how other communities and even other counties are making use of water. Without a solid point of reference, it is difficult to really understand the amounts of water being discussed.”
To help illustrate this, Davidson likes using golf courses in terms of measurement because they are open, visible and, if irrigated appropriately, green and lush.
“Golf courses vary in size — and depending on location — vary on their water needs.” he said. “A very basic rule of thumb is that a golf course is about 100 to 190 acres. Water needs vary, but an easy rule of thumb is that a golf course needs at least 500,000 gallons of water per day, and in some areas 10 or more times that amount of water — daily.”
He notes that in Colorado, there are 163 golf courses.
For comparison, in winter, Davidson points out that the Town of Elizabeth produces approximately 170,000 to 190,000 gallons of water per day to meet its residential, commercial and municipal needs.
“In the summer months, with irrigation and a dry summer, it can approach as much as 430,000 gallons per day,” Davidson said. “The Town of Elizabeth makes use of less water than a golf course on any single day of the year.”
“So, I think the takeaway from this whole thing is that the town here has a very valuable resource in its groundwater supply, and we need to be conservative in how we use it,” said hydrogeologist Matt Seitz.
Conservation steps such as limiting water use through the voluntary 300-year rule, restricting the import of water, and reuse irrigation will be key to preservation, experts advised.
“As the town seeks out means of water conservation, we can only do so much in light of the other ways water is used in the state,” Davidson concluded. “Every municipality should consider ways to limit the water of this valuable resource, and thankfully many are doing so. As such, Elizabeth is not alone in this regard.”