Elbert County is Water Smart

In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about “…water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink…” There aren’t any ancient mariners in Elbert County, and there’s no naturally occurring, year-round surface water, either. In fact, the conventional wisdom among Elbert County citizens is that the County is “running out of water.” But is it really true?

Although they’re not based on facts, these feelings may be used to justify limiting new development and growth in the County, to mitigate the impact on existing water wells, or in order to “keep Elbert County rural.”

To understand Elbert County’s relationship with water, it’s important to understand the geology of the Denver Basin and its aquifers. In 2017, Elbert County Commissioners decided they did not have enough data to understand how much water is available in the County, what the County’s water consumption might be in the future, or the specifics about its aquifers. The County asked Forsgren Associates, Inc. to complete a water supply study, which was completed in June 2018. While the study provided a countywide analysis, there was a greater focus on areas where the most growth is anticipated.

Forsgren’s study identified possible future sources of water in northwest Elbert County. Importing water is possible but unlikely – it’s scarce and expensive, and Elbert County would compete with El Paso and Douglas counties for these supplies. Most agriculture in Elbert County is not irrigated, so there isn’t much water to be gleaned from limiting farming. The two most likely sources of water to supply growth in the County includes aquifer water and reuse of treated water.

The study concluded that there are approximately 54 million acre feet of aquifer water located in the studied area. It also projected that water consumption will average less than 9,500 acre feet per year between now and 2050. This means that Elbert County citizens are only projected to consume about 1% of the available aquifer water over the next 31 years!

This is not to say, of course, that conservation isn’t important. During the past few years, the County has taken a number of steps to promote conservation and ensure availability. We’ve budgeted money to pay the United States Geological Survey to monitor water well pressures/ground water levels at 42 wells across the County. We’ve adopted regulations that require new development to demonstrate water dedications to supply the full development for 300 years. All new subdivisions must install their high capacity water wells in a deeper aquifer (the Denver Aquifer) than the existing water wells in the area (most of which are in the shallow Dawson Aquifer). The new subdivision regulations encourage large open space areas, cluster development and efficient aquifer use by rewarding reuse of water and better conservation practices.

What’s next? In September 2018, County elected officials, staff and citizen volunteers attended a seminar sponsored by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs called “Growing Water Smart.” They learned about effective water management practices and developed an action plan to move Elbert County in the right direction. After the seminar, the County received a $10,000 grant from The Sonoran Institute, a private foundation focused on natural resources in the West, to help them work with local stakeholders to get started on developing a comprehensive water plan for the County – to “grow water smart.” Look for more information on this project in the coming months.

Your County Commissioners believe that the best way to ensure a successful future for Elbert County is to plan for it. That way, there will always be “water, water every where, ever a drop to drink!”