South Platte Roundtable meeting recap

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

With dozens of people and thousands of acres of farmland affected by high groundwater in Weld County, the South Platte Roundtable on Tuesday accepted recommendations from its Groundwater Technical Committee to solve the problem.

The Tribune previously reported many of the solutions, including pumping water out of the ground and directly to the river, something Gilcrest is doing with a dewatering well officials recently turned on, resulting in groundwater receding by 7 inches in the past two weeks.

For some, though, the recommendations are either too expensive or simply don’t address the root problem…

In a survey of Farm Bureau members, Kammerzel found 40 of 94 people reported groundwater problems. The problems covered 2,154 acres, and conservative estimates put damages among Farm Bureau members at $4 million.

The high water table has inundated and destroyed basements, but it also has increased salinity levels in soils, making it impossible for farmers to grow some crops. Some crops like potatoes have been found rotting in the fields, sitting in high groundwater.

Even those presenting the recommendations say there’s no magic solution to a problem that has caused millions of dollars in damage around the county.

“I don’t know that our work will ever be done,” said John Stulp, a member of the technical committee and an adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper on water issues.

Here’s where they’re at for now:

Increase groundwater use in high groundwater areas — This is easier said than done, as farmers have a certain well pumping quota, and it’s often wise to save that well pumping allotment until the end of the year in case rainfall doesn’t cover crop needs.

Multi-purpose storage — Basically, this involves buying or developing more storage, something officials at Central Colorado Water Conservancy District constantly are working to do. Increased storage can help provide replacement water for pumping, meaning farmers could be allowed to pump more.

Multi-use pipelines — Gilcrest pumps water out from under its wastewater treatment plant, puts that water in a 4- to 6-inch pipeline and takes that water to the river. The pipeline also is used for sewage effluent and stormwater, though, meaning its capacity is quite limited. There’s talk of a partnership between Gilcrest and Central Water on a new pipeline both could use, with Central using it for augmentation (replacement) water.

Conveyance improvements — Lining irrigation ditches, at $1 million per mile, is not only expensive, but it also takes away a key augmentation strategy. Ditch owners fill ditches, allow the water to seep into the ground and get to claim credit for recharging the aquifer and use that water at a later date.

Improving drains — The Big Bend Drain, located in and around Gilcrest, has fallen into disrepair, and the committee recommends fixing it, re-digging it and allowing it to serve its initial purpose: draining high water around Gilcrest.

There were recommendations, too, for individual farmers or landowners. But there also was this: A minority report from retired water consultant and engineer Bob Longenbaugh, who also made a presentation.

Longenbaugh’s key recommendations include gathering more data, as well as curtailing big artificial recharge projects — where organizations such as Central Water dump water into shallow ponds to recharge the aquifer and claim water credits. Longenbaugh contends artificial recharge around Gilcrest is exacerbating the high groundwater problem.

Randy Ray, executive director for Central Water, won’t go for that, as artificial recharge is a key tool for allowing more well pumping for Central customers.

As for the committee report, Ray said he’d like to see more research.

“We strongly feel that if an acre foot of water is pumped it needs to be replaced, but we need to work on timing, location and volume of depletions,” Ray said.

Farmers around Weld County have long said the formula used to replace depletions doesn’t match Mother Nature, a point Longenbaugh hit on Tuesday, as well.

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