Elbert County commissioners and the Elbert County Water Advisory Committee are regrouping following the Arkansas Basin's refusal to provide matching funds for a two-part plan to monitor and study water levels in aquifers underlying Elbert County. The denied request leaves the financially struggling county $46,000 short of the $377,000 required to fund the two projects.
According to County Commissioner Robert Rowland, the Arkansas Roundtable's Needs Committee acknowledged the merit of the plan but was unwilling to fund it because the project did not represent a vested interest to the Arkansas Basin.
The Water Advisory Committee was seeking $46,000 from each of the three water roundtables located within the borders of the Elbert County: $6,000 for the three-year well monitoring network and $40,000 to fund the water supply study.
The $18,000 of funding for well monitoring is a required match stipulated by a $96,500 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and must be secured before well monitoring can begin. Matching funds totaling $132,500 for the well monitoring have been secured from the U.S. Geological Survey and the federal government.
The South Platte Basin Roundtable has already approved its share of the funding for both well monitoring and the follow-up study, and the Water Advisory Committee hopes to make up for at least the well monitoring shortfall when it meets with the Metro Basin Roundtable on July 9.
The Water Advisory Committee WAC is a body appointed by the Elbert County commissioners in 2013 to assist the commissioners in researching and making water-related policies.
In 2005 the Colorado General Assembly passed the 21st Century Act, establishing nine water basin roundtables throughout the state. The roundtables are designed to encourage locally driven solutions for water use and to represent each of the state's eight major river basins as well the Denver metropolitan area. The basins are responsible for assessing various water needs and projects.
Because counties' boundaries were created without regard for river basins, three of the nine basin roundtables established by the act fall within Elbert County — the Arkansas Basin in the southeast corner, the South Platte Basin comprising two-thirds of the county, and the Metro Basin in the county's northwest corner.
Elbert County has budgeted $10,000 for the water supply study.
The major goals of the two projects are to identify current water levels and the effect of water use on local water supplies, as well as to develop a long-term water-supply strategy.
The real threat to aquifer levels may come from outside the county. The majority of Elbert County overlies the larger Denver Basin, a network of aquifers extending north from Colorado Springs to Greeley. The well monitoring network calls for measuring devices to be placed on 30 volunteer wells throughout the county, to take hourly measurements of water levels in the sample wells.
“The individual aquifers in the basin communicate with each other,” says Water Advisory Council member Bob Ware. “As water is pumped out of one area, the potentiometric pressure (a theoretical water level that equalizes water throughout the basin) empties aquifers at the higher end.”
A simplified representation equates the Denver Basin with a large underground swimming pool, with Elbert County at the shallow end. If water is pumped out of the pool faster than it is replaced, water drains out aquifers in the shallow end, filling aquifers in the deep end.
With 98 percent of the Elbert County's population and businesses relying on wells for water, residents could find themselves at the mercy of districts at the deep end of the pool and have to buy back the water drained from the shallow end.