El Paso County is preparing for the second phase of an ongoing study of groundwater quality in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek basin.
The second phase will require testing at least 50 wells, said Elaine Kleckner, planning manager for the county. “The U.S. Geological Survey will go through the process and will evaluate contacted people for suitability of the study. We’ll probably be looking at in excess of 100,000 wells,” Kleckner said.
“We’re doing a randomized statistically based system (for selection) so we get a good special distribution, said David Mau, office chief of the USGS in Pueblo. “They all have to be alluvial wells, though.” Participation in the study is voluntary and well testing will be done at no cost to the owner, he said.
The first phase began in 2009, Mau said. “There was concern over groundwater resources in the Upper Black Squirrel Basin,” he said. “Residential development had been increasing in that area. El Paso County and the community were concerned about what that development might do to the groundwater resources. That is their principal source for drinking and agricultural water. If the quality was affected, that would be a concern.”
“People voluntarily came forward to participate in phase one,” Kleckner said. “The Colorado Geological Study performed that phase. They did the literature review and gathered all the existing data into one data set.” The report was completed in March 2011, and the findings showed that the water quality in the basin was good overall.
“The main conclusion was that there are still many data gaps,” Kleckner said. The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners directed the groundwater quality study committee to come up with a phase two scope to fill in those data gaps, she said.
“The committee worked until January 2012 to pull that scope together, and phase two will occur with shared funding,” Kleckner said. The Colorado Geological Study will contribute 40 percent of the funding, while several other entities will add to the budget requirement, she said.
“There are a tremendous number of entities who are standing behind this thing with technical support or monetary support or both,” said Sean Chambers, general manager for the Cherokee Metropolitan District. Phase two will cost about $350,000, once it’s completed, Chambers said.
Mau said the USGS has submitted a proposal and anticipates starting the work on phase two this fall. “It will continue for approximately five years,” Mau said. “We will be collecting a lot of different water quality constituents, primarily nitrate because it’s a good indicator of human-induced chemicals in the groundwater systems. We’ll also age-date the chemicals to see how fast the water from the surface gets down to the groundwater. We’ll only be looking at the alluvial or shallow water system.”
The ultimate product from the phase two study will be a series of vulnerability maps for the community to view. Interested residents will be able to see areas susceptible to groundwater inflow and the areas that have a higher flow into the ground, Mau said. “This work will also help set a baseline for a lot of the different chemicals we’re looking at so we can see if it’s increasing or decreasing,” he said.
All the information gathered from the study will be public information, Mau said. For people who had their wells tested, the USGS will send a letter describing the findings of their particular well.
Chambers, also chairman of the county’s groundwater quality study committee, said, “Another benefit to the individual well owner is that we’ve included a whole set of indicators or contaminators that are normally associated with the oil and gas development industry. It’s an industry that we are going to have to co-exist with. If we’re going to do that, I think it’s comforting to have a set of defendable third-party data that is looking for those contaminates.
“If you feel like your water quality has changed after drilling, you have something to go back and talk about with the county who permitted the well or the operator who drilled the well. If you don’t have a pre-drilling sample, you have nothing to compare it with.”
For more information, contact Chris Brown of the USGS at 719-544-7155, ext. 111 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org (per county news release 7/31).