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Water Leadership

Creative and Cooperative Groundwater Strategies

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

An All-of-the-Above Strategy
Many communities and water utilities that have relied heavily on non-renewable groundwater supplies have turned to a number of options to reduce this use. Some of their strategies include:

Converting to renewable water supplies – Some communities hope to use surface water, in rivers or reservoirs, to augment their groundwater supplies. This is often difficult, as many surface water supplies already have more claims on the water than water available. Some of the new rights might also be too junior – too low in the prior appropriation system – to supply enough water, especially in dry years.

Transbasin diversions – Water can be moved from basins with more water to basins with less water. This usually involves transferring water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, but not always. These diversions, however, require construction of storage, conveyance systems, treatment plants, and distribution facilities, which is expensive. The diversion might also be unpopular in the basin of origin. Learn more about transbasin diversions in the Citizen's Guide to Colorado's Transbasin Diversions.

New storage facilities – Even if the water rights can be obtained, building reservoirs is an expensive and lengthy process. Many are also unpopular.

Working with other entities to share storage – Water utilities can share space in existing or future reservoirs, rather than building their own.

Preserving the aquifers – Elbert, Adams, Weld and El Paso counties have enacted a 300 Year Rule, rather than a 100 year rule. If developers are interested in using groundwater, they can only use 0.33% of the calculated water in storage, rather than 1%. Pumping the water at a slower rate should reduce drawdown and ensure longer aquifer life. The amount of water in the aquifer, however, is hard to estimate, so there is no guarantee that it will last three times as long as pumping at the 1% rate.

Transferring agricultural water rights to municipalities – Some farmers are willing to sell their water rights to municipalities, leaving their fields dry. These transfers are often controversial. New laws allow these transfers to be interruptible, rather than permanent sales. Crop rotation is also encouraged. You can read more about these transfers in the Fall 2012 Headwaters.

Water conservation – Many utilities use a variety of incentives to improve water use efficiency, change customer behavior, and reduce demand. Some utilities have introduced tiered rates, where using more water costs more, while others have raised rates. You can read more about these strategies in the Winter 2013 Headwaters.

Using surface and groundwater – Using both sources jointly ensures more reliable supplies than using either on its own. This strategy helps manage short-term shortages and minimizes the need for above-ground storage.

Potable and non-potable water reuse – Non-potable water, which is not suitable for human consumption, may be used on golf courses, parks, and open spaces.

Recharging aquifers – During wet years, surface water is stored for later use by injecting it into groundwater aquifers, rather than storing it in a surface reservoir. Centennial Water District uses this strategy.  The water is not lost to evaporation, as it would be in surface storage, but it must be pumped back up to the surface for use, which takes time and uses energy.

Additional Resource: The South Metro Water Supply Authority adopted a Regional Master Plan in 2007, which guides participating water providers as they reduce their reliance on deep groundwater and expand the role of renewable groundwater in meeting current and future water needs. You can learn more on their website.

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