Using aquifers for water storage

Sorting through the problems and promises of aquifers in Colorado

by Allen Best

DENVER, Colo. – 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.
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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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