South Platte Basin: ‘It [oil and gas operations] was something we should have thought of, but didn’t’ — Reagan Waskom

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The expanding oil and gas industry has been good for Weld County’s economy, but it’s doing little to help with what’s already a “very complex” groundwater study in the South Platte River Basin.

That point was made by an attendee at a public meeting Thursday in Gilcrest regarding the ongoing groundwater study in the region. Reagan Waskom, a CSU engineering professor and director of the Colorado Water Institute, agreed that the growth of the region’s oil and gas industry will require more underground pipeline, and that continually increasing amount of pipe will create “barriers and drains” in the soil that could affect how groundwater moves and how quickly it returns to surface streams.

The groundwater study was approved when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1278 into law this spring, and is now in progress — under the direction of CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

Waskom said Thursday’s meeting was the first time he had been told the increase in pipelines should be factored into the study. “It was something we should have thought of, but didn’t,” Waskom said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re having these meetings with the public.”

The meeting in Gilcrest was the last of three public meetings this month regarding the study. The other two were in Longmont and Sterling. Much of the push for the groundwater study came from area farmers who own curtailed or shutdown groundwater wells, along with residents who’ve had flooded basements in recent years because of high groundwater levels. Some of them believe the state’s well augmentation requirements are too stringent. That has prevented farmers from being able to pump some of their wells, and that has caused the aquifer to overflow in recent years, they say.

Others, though, believe different factors, such as historically wet years in 2010 and 2011, have contributed to the rising groundwater levels, and they say the stringent augmentation requirements are needed.

Waskom has the task of studying the South Platte basin’s groundwater to better find out what’s going on, and then giving a full report to state legislators before they convene for their 2014 session. In addition to groundwater pumping and underground pipe, Waskom’s study also has to factor in cities that are conserving more water, which affects return flows to the river; farmers shifting to more efficient irrigation systems and the growth of non­native vegetation along the streams and rivers.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

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