Study finds High Plains Aquifer [Ogallala] peak use by state, overall usage decline

The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation's irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Here’s the release from Kansas State University (Greg Tammen):

A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge rate peaked in 2006. Its use is projected to decrease by roughly 50 percent in the next 100 years.

David Steward, professor of civil engineering, and Andrew Allen, civil engineering doctoral student, Manhattan, published those findings in the recent Agricultural Water Management study “Peak groundwater depletion in the High Plains Aquifer, projects from 1930 to 2110.” It is the first paper to look at and quantify peak aquifer depletion.

Researchers looked at the historic and projected future groundwater use rates of the eight states comprising the High Plains Aquifer. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas — eight agriculturally important states. It provides 30 percent of the irrigated water for the nation’s agriculture and is pivotal in food production.

This latest study builds on the 2013 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study in which Steward and colleagues forecasted the future of the Ogallala Aquifer in Kansas. Researchers expanded their projections to include wells in Kansas that were both depleted and steady in their historic groundwater levels as well as the eight states that rely on the High Plains Aquifer. A total of 3,200 Kansas wells and 11,000 wells from the other seven states were studied to understand their water depletion processes.

Allen wrote the computer code necessary to analyze massive amounts of geographic information systems data about the more than 14,000 wells using the aquifer. A logistic equation was developed to apply more than 300,000 well measurements to create a historical record of its water level and also its projected water level through 2110.

“When we did the Kansas study, it really focused on those wells in Kansas that were depleting,” Steward said. “We came up with a set of projections that looked at how long the water would last and how the depletion process would play out over time. With this study, we wanted to learn how the depletion in various locations plays into a larger picture of the aquifer.”

Steward and Allen found that the High Plains Aquifer’s depletion followed a south to north progression, with its depletion peaking in 2006 for the entire High Plains Aquifer. Overall, researchers saw that some portions of the aquifer are depleting while others are not. Texas peaked in 1999, New Mexico in 2002, Kansas in 2010, Oklahoma in 2012 and Colorado is projected to peak in 2023. Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming are not projected to reach peaks before 2110.

“We are on a declining trend right now for water use in irrigated agriculture,” Steward said. “As we project what happens in the future following the existing water use patterns, the amount of depletion and the amount of water that comes out of the aquifer will decrease by about half over the next 100 years.”

Additionally, researchers saw that the water depletion rates for each state in the High Plains Aquifer follow a similar bell-shaped curve pattern as the one for oil depletion in the U.S. modeled by the Hubbert peak theory.

Pump photo via Kansas State University
Pump photo via Kansas State University

While water is a finite resource, Steward said the intent behind the study is not raise alarm, but rather encourage proactivity to manage and preserve this resource.

“This study helps add to the dialogue of how is it that we manage water and the effects of the choices that we make today,” Steward said. “It has the same kind of message of our previous paper, which is that our future is not set; it’s not cast. The projections we show are projections based on the data we have available that show the trends based on how we used water. People have the opportunities to make choices about the way that things are done, and the findings from this study help add to the dialogue.”

The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the study. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Kansas Geological Survey contributed decades of information about the High Plains Aquifer and the Ogallala Aquifer for analysis.

Seminar: Sorting through the problems and promises of aquifers in Colorado — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

With temperatures rising, will aquifers replace above-ground reservoirs for water storage?

This idea isn’t particularly new. Florida, New Jersey, Oregon and other states have used aquifer for storage for years, says Andrew Stone, of the American Ground Water Trust. Stone’s organization will conduct a one-day seminar on Friday, Dec. 4, at the Holiday Inn in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood.

Arizona has also famously banked water for decades. In Colorado and other states, there has been more limited aquifer recharge. Centennial Water, which serves Highlands Ranch, in south-metropolitan Denver, has been using an aquifer for storage. Now, other communities in the south-metro area are starting to move in that direction, too, as a result of the WISE project.

Stone makes the case that aquifers can be collaboratively managed in line with the general direction of the new State Water Plan. “Managing recharge operations and determining the right to recovered water will require collaboration among farmers, land owners, ditch companies, state agencies and their legal representatives,” he says.

Doug Kemper will be among those speaking at the seminar. He was with Aurora Water from 1986 to 2005, when he took the reins of the Colorado Water Congress. That’s long enough to have seen the management of water become much more high-tech.

Data collections is phenomenally different, he says. “We used to have a guy just go around for two days to read 20 stream gauges,” he says. “Now remote sensing can handle it all.”

Too, technical specialization has increased. “That creates interdependence, because you end all these different skill sets that need to interact.”

Kemper will also touch on system security, as both cyber-security and terrorist threats have become more significant issues. They will, he says, likely “play out in ways that we are not even able to understand right now.”

And specifically regarding groundwater, he thinks we are just starting to get our arms around conjunctive use, making groundwater storage a larger part of our water systems.

“If you look back 35 or even 15 years, the tools for modeling groundwater are so much different than they were,” he observes.

One of the issues at this year’s seminar will be the lined gravel pits long the South Platte River, which have restricted the return of groundwater not the river and which impede recharge to the aquifers.

Other speakers include:

  • John Stulp, special policy advisor for water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who will address “basins where groundwater if of particular importance.”
  • Rick Marsicek, director of engineering for the South Metro Water Supply Authority, who will talk about changing uses of the Denver Basin Aquifer.
  • Joseph Ryan, professor, of the AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network, at the University of Colorado, who will speak to impacts to Colorado’s groundwater from hydraulic fracturing processes.
  • CFWE Webinar: Agriculture and Water Scarcity—Managing Groundwater Declines

    From the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:

    Register now to join us December 10 from 9-10 AM for a webinar on managing groundwater for agriculture.

    Water is an essential ingredient for productive agriculture, but not always easy to come by in semi-arid Colorado. Some of the state’s most significant agricultural producing regions rely on groundwater levels that are in decline. As water tables drop, the threat of limited water availability puts the state’s agricultural producers and rural communities at risk. Join us to explore solutions to sustain groundwater aquifers that can support agriculture for the long term. Click here to register.

    Topics will include state administration, as well as locally guided efforts to address the legal threats of well shut-downs and physical limits of shrinking aquifers. We’ll take a statewide look at the issue, then focus on management approaches, local perspectives, and on-farm adaptations farmers are making to remain viable in the Rio Grande Basin and Republican River Basin.

    We’ll hear from and have the opportunity to ask questions of speakers:

    Kevin Rein, Deputy State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources
    Sheldon Rockey, Rockey Farm and Board Member with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District
    Deb Daniel, General Manager, Republican River Conservation District

    This webinar is brought to you through a partnership between the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and CoBank.

    Groundwater movement via the USGS
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Rio Grande Basin: Water rules receive no opposition — yet — The Valley Courier

    From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    So far, the only “statement of objection” filed in connection to the proposed Rio Grande Basin groundwater rules is one in favor of them.

    Because of the way the response process is set up, all reactions to the rules must be submitted as “statements of objection.” However, “statements of objections” may be submitted in support of the rules.

    Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said on Monday the only response filed so far in regard to the basin groundwater rules was a “statement of objection in support” by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

    He said no objections against the rules have yet been filed.

    During a recent water meeting Pat McDermott from the Division 3 office explained that if there are no objections to the rules as written, they will move forward through that meticulously worked its way through the rules over the course of about six years to try to iron out any problematic “wrinkles” in the rules before they were promulgated.

    The public has also been involved during that process, with all of the advisory group meetings open.

    Wolfe officially filed the groundwater rules on September 23 at the Alamosa County courthouse. The rules apply to hundreds of irrigation and municipal wells in the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley. They set up the means to halt the drawdown of the Valley’s underground aquifers and restore the aquifers to more robust levels. They also are designed to protect senior surface water rights and Rio Grande Compact compliance. the water court for approval and implementation.

    Objectors have a specific amount of time to file responses after the rules have been published. The rules have been published in newspapers as well as in the water court resume.

    If there is opposition to the rules, the water division will try to work out issues with objectors short of a water court trial.

    State Engineer Dick Wolfe is hoping to eliminate or at least minimize the number of objections to the rules and has gone to great lengths to accomplish that goal. He developed a large advisory group, for example, The rules are clear “that nothing in the rules is designed to allow an expanded or unauthorized use of water .”

    The rules are also clear that they “are designed to allow withdrawals of groundwater while providing for the identification and replacement of injurious stream depletions and the achievement and maintenance of a Sustainable Water Supply in each aquifer system, while not unreasonably interfering with the state’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact. The rules apply to all withdrawals of groundwater within Water Division No. 3, unless the withdrawal is specifically exempted by the rules, and the rules pertaining to the Irrigation Season apply to all irrigation water rights.”

    McDermott reminded folks attending a recent Rio Grande Roundtable meeting that once the rules go into effect which could be sooner than later if there are no objections well irrigators will have a limited time to either join a water management sub-district or submit their own augmentation plans. Those measures will have to be taken in the next year or two.

    By 2018, he added, the water division will have the ability to shut down wells that have not come into compliance under the rules.

    “This is an exciting time,” he said. “It’s time for us to do the right thing. We have done it in Division 1 and 2, South Platte and the Arkansas, and it’s very important to get it down here.”

    Part of the groundwater rules define the irrigation season for this basin, which ended in most parts of the Valley at midnight on November 1. Unless Cotten has good reason to decide otherwise, the irrigation season will run from April 1 to November 1 for all irrigators, including those using wells as their irrigation water sources.

    See the full groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin at

    On another note, McDermott said Colorado is in good shape with Rio Grande Compact compliance this year and may in fact over deliver the amount of water it is required to send downstream to New Mexico and Texas. This winter should bring a fair amount of moisture, McDermott added. He said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting above normal precipitation and slightly below normal temperatures for the next several months in this region.

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    Providers utilizing the Denver Basin Aquifer are moving towards supply security

    Denver Basin aquifer map
    Denver Basin aquifer map

    From the Centennial Citizen (Paul Donahue and Eric Hecox):

    Is our water future secure?

    It’s a question on the minds of many in Castle Rock and the entire south metro Denver region — and for good reason. After all, water is what makes our outstanding quality of life possible. If we want future generations to enjoy our communities as we do, we must ensure they have access to a secure and sustainable water supply that meets their future needs.

    From conversations throughout the region, we know Castle Rock residents and those in the entire south metro area understand the critical role water plays in delivering the quality of life we desire for our children, in addition to supporting property values, job creation and economic growth.

    We know residents are aware the region historically has relied too heavily on declining groundwater supplies and must diversify its supply for long-term sustainability. We know they view water as a top priority for the region and support an all-of-the-above approach that includes conservation and reuse, storage and new renewable supplies.

    We also know Castle Rock residents as well as residents across the south metro area value partnership among leaders throughout the region to get the job done in the most economically responsible manner. Working together to secure water rights, build infrastructure and efficiently use storage space helps spread the costs and the benefits to customers throughout the region.

    The answer to the question on people’s minds is not clear-cut. While our region is on the path to delivering a secure water future for generations to come, this effort is ongoing and will require continued support from our communities to see it through to the end.

    The good news is that we have a plan, and we are executing that plan.

    Thanks to innovative conservation approaches, the region has seen a 30 percent decrease in per capita water use since 2000. That means the typical south metro household or business, including those in Castle Rock, is using 30 percent less water than just 15 years ago. Declines in the region’s underground aquifers — historically the main water source for the region — have slowed considerably in that same time period, a testament to efforts across the region to diversify water supplies and maximize efficiency through reuse.

    At the same time, major new water infrastructure projects are coming online throughout the region that bring new renewable supplies, storage capacity and reuse capabilities. These include the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership with Denver Water, Aurora and several other regional organizations including Castle Rock Water, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Northern Project and Castle Rock’s Plum Creek Purification Facility, to name a few.

    The 13 members that make up the South Metro Water Supply Authority provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. Together, they are partnering among each other as well as with local government leadership and water entities across the region and state to execute their plan to secure a sustainable water future for the region.

    Since becoming a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Castle Rock Water has helped lead implementation of the WISE project, new water storage reservoir projects and other regional renewable water supply efforts. WISE water will be available to Castle Rock residents by 2017 and even earlier for some of the other South Metro residents. A project like WISE represents as much as 10 percent of the renewable water needed for both current and future residents in Castle Rock.

    The members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Castle Rock, each have long-term water plans. Through partnerships, these projects are made possible by sharing in the needed investments and other resources when completing the time-consuming task of acquiring additional renewable water and building the required infrastructure.

    This collaboration is supported by the state and is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. This regional support has been critical in providing feasible strategies to ensure water for future generations.

    Is our water future secure? No, not yet. But we’re well on our way to getting there.

    Paul Donahue is the mayor of Castle Rock and has served on the town council for eight years. Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority made up of 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines.

    #coleg: Logan County to act as fiscal agent for HB15-1178 grants — Sterling Journal Advocate

    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

    During the work session, the commissioners voted 2-0 for Logan County to be the fiscal agent to handle dewatering grant funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to the recipients, which include Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions. Rocky Samber recused himself from the vote, as he lives in the Pawnee Ridge subdivision.

    The state approved a grant program providing financial aid for emergency dewatering when House Bill 15-1778 was signed into law by the governor on June 5. The bill authorizes the CWCB, in collaboration with the State Engineer, to administer a grant program for emergency dewatering of areas in and around Gilcrest and Sterling. The grants are intended for areas that, through the application and review process, the CWCB and the State Engineer determine are experiencing damaging high groundwater levels in recent years.

    A group from Country Club Hills approached the commissioners at their work session last week, to request that the county act as financial agent for the grant. Commissioner Gene Meisner was not at the meeting; the other commissioners told the group they would talk with him and get back to them with their decision.

    “I don’t think it would be that much work on the finance department,” Donaldson said Tuesday.

    Samber agreed, noting the groups representing the subdivisions will do the writing and the paperwork.

    They asked Meisner if he had any questions after reading the narrative he was given; he did not. With the grant application do next week, they decided to take action on the request during their work session.

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    “This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies” — Jeff Parsons

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    A company’s application to conduct exploratory borehole drilling for uranium in the Tallahassee neighborhood west of Canon City has been denied.

    The Mined Land Reclamation Board on Oct. 28 denied the application from Black Range Minerals that would have allowed development of an underground borehole extraction experiment in the Tallahassee Creek area. As presented, the application would have proceeded under the minimal requirements of a prospecting permit.

    Objections to the proposal were filed by opponents including Tallahassee Area Community, Inc., Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction and the Information Network for Responsible Mining.

    “Under Colorado law, the difference between prospecting activities versus mining activities equates to a big difference in how carefully regulators review the permit and how well water quality will be monitored and protected,” said attorney Jeff Parsons, who represented the opponents and Tallahassee resident Kay Hawklee in the proceedings. “This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies that haven’t yet proven they can be utilized without polluting the watershed.”

    Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County Commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acres of property known as the Hansen Deposit, which is believed to be the largest uranium deposit in the district.

    Black Range proposed to the state to use underground borehole mining, dubbed uranium fracking. The process involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a highpressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.

    Black Range’s proposal submitted to the state anticipated the development of the underground borehole passing through an unconfined drinking water aquifer in the Tallahassee Creek basin, but omitted a complete water-quality monitoring plan, Parsons said.

    “The proposal that Black Range Minerals submitted was so minimalist that the company didn’t even identify the location of the main borehole or the detailed water-monitoring regime normally required for mining activities,” he said.

    “This was an attempt by Black Range Minerals to get its mining operation going on the quick,” said Cathe Meyrick, president of Tallahassee Area Community group. “If we’re going to have an uranium mine next door, we expect the state to require a thorough review, including a comprehensive water monitoring plan and have enough protections in place to ensure that our drinking water isn’t contaminated.”