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Climate and Drought

Groundwater Supplies

Click the Fluent Water Facts below to learn more about Colorado’s groundwater and the challenges it poses.

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Hundred Year Honeymoon

Groundwater can take thousands of years to accumulate in aquifers, and some of these aquifers have little connection to replenishing precipitation on the surface – they are essentially considered non-renewable. If humans pump water from these non-renewable aquifers, how long will the water last?

The answer varies from aquifer to aquifer. It is difficult to estimate the amount of water available in any given aquifer. Each year, groundwater measurements throughout Colorado are posted by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. These measurements do not come from dedicated monitoring wells, so the measurement wells vary significantly in age and how they are pumped. The statistics illustrate the variability of aquifers, whose water levels may decline, rise, or stay the same.

Declines in the Denver Basin

Since aquifers are so variable, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the fate of Colorado’s groundwater. Statistics from the Denver Basin illustrate groundwater’s uncertain future.

Between 1990 and 2000, development in the south Denver metro area of northern Douglas County and southern Arapahoe County resulted in aquifer declines from 100 to almost 300 feet. In some parts of the Denver Basin, the most heavily developed aquifers see water level decreases of 30 feet per year. Water levels in the dominant municipal water supply aquifers, the Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills, are not favorable. South Metro businesses and homes may have serious water supply challenges to address in the near future.

Managing a Limited Resource

The potential of exhausting groundwater supplies affects how this resource is managed. Well permits only grant the right to drill for water and pump at the specified rate – they do not guarantee how long the groundwater supply will last. Some groundwater permits require augmentation plans. Although there is significant debate regarding how much water is available in different parts of the Denver Basin, aquifer drawdown and a 100-year aquifer life are central parts of how the state decided to allocate this complex resource.

These groundwater challenges are unlikely to go away. Colorado’s population continues to increase – the population of Douglas County grew 191% between 1990 and 2000, and the state’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050.

Groundwater has traditionally been an attractive source because it has been plentiful, is of good quality, and is inexpensive to produce. As the water becomes less plentiful, and water table levels drop, groundwater will likely become more expensive to tap. It is possible that economic considerations will make groundwater an unattractive alternative before supplies are exhausted. Clearly, managing groundwater supplies will continue to require creative and collaborative solutions.


WEco Climate Resources

Guide to Colorado Climate Change presents a range of contemporary climate change information written by experts. Take a look.

Water 101 Sheets are one-page references available for download and distribution. Explore the basics of drought, and wildfire or read various water conservation tips through a series of fact sheets. Interested in additional resources? Find them herefact_sheetsClimate Workshop
Participants tour the National Ice Core Lab, hear how researchers study climate and what that means locally. Learn more.

Connecting the Drops Radio

Listen to a radio feature on climate change's effects on Colorado farmers, spring runoff, and irrigation.

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