Water-Budget Analysis of the Upper Big Sandy Designated Groundwater Basin Alluvial Aquifer, Elbert, El Paso, and Lincoln Counties, Colorado, 2016

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5049
Prepared in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Upper Big Sandy Groundwater Management District
By: , and 

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Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Upper Big Sandy Groundwater Management District carried out a study in 2016 to evaluate potential groundwater storage changes within the Upper Big Sandy Designated Groundwater Basin (UBSDGB) alluvial aquifer, including groundwater flow between the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer and the Denver Basin bedrock aquifers. The UBSDGB alluvial aquifer is located along the ephemeral Big Sandy Creek on the east-central edge of the Denver Basin aquifer system and covers an area of about 66,560 acres within the UBSDGB. The UBSDGB alluvial aquifer consists of unconsolidated Quaternary sand and gravel deposits that contain an unconfined (water table) groundwater system. The western three-fourths of the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer overlies the Tertiary and Cretaceous bedrock formations that compose the Denver Basin aquifer system. The updated water budget for the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer, including annual change in groundwater storage in 2016, was determined by combining water-budget information from an existing Denver Basin model for about three-fourths of the study area with best estimates for the major water-budget components for the area outside the Denver Basin aquifer system. The western part of the UBSDGB was included in the Denver Basin model (modeled area), whereas the eastern part of the UBSDGB was not included in the Denver Basin model (unmodeled area). The water-budget components were first estimated for the modeled area using outputs from the Denver Basin model, which uses the modular finite-difference groundwater flow computer model MODFLOW-2000 with 1-mile grid cells. For this study, the Denver Basin model was updated with additional data from 2004 through 2016 to generate current (2016) estimates of water consumption in the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. A basin-specific water budget for the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer from the Denver Basin model was computed using a modeling tool called ZONEBUDGET. The modeled area groundwater budget, along with previous studies, was used to estimate a groundwater budget for the unmodeled area, and results for the modeled and unmodeled areas were combined for an overall water-budget estimate for the entire UBSDGB alluvial aquifer.

The net groundwater flow into the basin from adjacent alluvial aquifers was positive with flow entering the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. Combining the total inflow from adjacent alluvial and the total outflow to adjacent alluvial aquifers resulted in a net flow from adjacent alluvial aquifers to UBSDGB alluvial aquifer of 5,125 acre-feet (ac-ft) in 2016. The net flow between the underlying bedrock aquifers and the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer was positive with flow entering the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer from the bedrock aquifers. The net flow from the bedrock aquifers to the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer was 347 ac-ft in 2016. Net recharge (precipitation and irrigation return flows minus evaporation) into the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer was negative with groundwater being removed from the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer over the total area of the basin. Combining the total inflow from recharge to the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer of 11,153 ac-ft in 2016 and the total evapo-transpiration of −11,656 ac-ft from the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer in 2016 resulted in a net recharge from UBSDGB alluvial aquifer of −503 ac-ft in 2016. Combining the modeled and unmodeled well pumping resulted in a total well pumping volume of −3,735 ac-ft in 2016 from the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. The net groundwater flow to the stream network in the basin was negative with flow discharging from the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer into streams. Combining the total inflow from streams and the total outflow to streams for the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer resulted in −1,032 ac-ft in 2016 that was lost to the stream network in the UBSDGB. The net groundwater flow out of the UBSDGB was negative with flow leaving the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. Combining the total area inflow to the basin from upgradient areas and the total area outflow from the basin for the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer resulted in a net flow out of the basin of −2,300 ac-ft. In the annual groundwater budget for 2016, groundwater storage in the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer system was removed because annual groundwater outflows from storage exceeded groundwater inflows to storage; in other words, water was removed from storage to balance the annual water budget. Combining the net flow from storage for the modeled area of 73 ac-ft and the inflow from storage for the unmodeled area of 2,025 ac-ft resulted in a net positive flow from storage of the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer of 2,098 ac-ft.

Increased pumping since 1958 in the Denver and upper Arapahoe aquifers, not necessarily in the UBSDGB, has caused a change in flow from bedrock units, which were minor or non-contributors of inflow to the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer, to receiving outflow from the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. Since 2000, aquifer storage has been an inflow component of the water budget, which means that outflow from the modeled area exceeded inflow for the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. Increased recharge from wetter than average years could replenish the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. From 2003 through 2016, 13 of the 25 observation wells completed in the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer had a decline in the groundwater-level elevation with an average decline of −2.21 feet, and 12 of the 25 observation wells had an increase in the groundwater-level elevation with an average increase of 1.54 feet. In general, wells at the eastern and western edges of the UBSDGB showed an increase in groundwater-level elevation that appears related to areas of groundwater discharge from the lower Dawson and Laramie-Fox Hills bedrock aquifers to the UBSDGB alluvial aquifer. The remaining wells exhibited water-level declines. Future work could include the development of a basin-specific model to serve as a basin management tool for modeling changes in groundwater levels and storage under various future groundwater recharge and withdrawal scenarios.

Suggested Citation

Kohn, M.S., Oden, J.H., and Arnold, L.R., 2019, Water-budget analysis of the Upper Big Sandy Designated Ground-water Basin alluvial aquifer, Elbert, El Paso, and Lincoln Counties, Colorado, 2016: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5049, 25 p., https://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20195049.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Water-Budget Analysis
  • Possible Future Work
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Water-budget analysis of the Upper Big Sandy Designated Ground-water Basin alluvial aquifer, Elbert, El Paso, and Lincoln Counties, Colorado, 2016
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5049
DOI 10.3133/sir20195049
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston VA
Contributing office(s) Colorado Water Science Center
Description Report: vi, 25 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Colorado
County Elbert County, El Paso County, Lincoln County
Online Only (Y/N) Y