A free, downloadable guide for individuals who want to collect baseline data on their well water quality and monitor their groundwater quantity over time was released this week by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC).

The “how to” guide, “Monitoring Water Quality in Areas of Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Guide for Water Well Users,” is available in PDF format at http://cwerc.colorado.edu. It seeks to provide well owners with helpful, independent, scientifically sound and politically neutral information about how energy extraction or other activities might affect their groundwater.

The guide spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater conditions, including how best to monitor that baseline and develop a long-term record.

“Baseline data is important because, in its purest form, it documents groundwater quality and quantity before energy extraction begins,” said CWERC Co-founder and Director Mark Williams, who is also a fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder professor of geography.

“Once a baseline has been established, groundwater chemistry can be monitored for changes over time,” Williams said. “The most accurate baselines are collected before energy extraction begins, but if drilling has already begun, well owners can still test their water to establish a belated baseline and monitor it for changes. That might not be scientifically ideal, but it’s a lot better than doing no monitoring at all.”

CWERC’s guidance builds on the state’s public health recommendations that well owners annually test water for nitrates and bacteria. The guide encourages well water users to collect more than one pre-drilling baseline sample, if possible.

CWERC recommends collecting both spring and fall samples within a single year because water chemistry can vary during wet and dry seasons. Well owners should measure the depth from the ground surface to the water in their wells in the fall, during the dry season, so that they can keep track of any changes.

“Colorado’s oil and gas regulators have established some of the most comprehensive groundwater monitoring regulations in the country, but those regulations do not require oil and gas operators to sample every water well in an oil or gas field,” Williams said. “So we wanted to develop a meaningful tool for people who want to test their water themselves or those who need information to help negotiate water testing arrangements as part of surface use agreements with drillers in their area.

“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the well owner to know their own well and understand their water. This guide will help Coloradans do just that.”

The guide specifically outlines what well water users may want to test for and provides a list of properly certified laboratories that offer water-testing services. In addition, the guide assists individuals in interpreting the scientific data, chemical references and compound levels that are outlined in the laboratory results they will receive and any industry tests or reports related to drilling in their area.

CWERC studies the connections between water and energy resources and the trade-offs that may be involved in their use. It seeks to engage the general public and policymakers, serving as a neutral broker of scientifically based information on even the most contentious “energy-water nexus” debates.

CWERC was co-founded in 2011 by Williams and Joseph Ryan, a CU-Boulder professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, with funding from the CU-Boulder Office for University Outreach.

To download a free copy of the guide, visit http://cwerc.colorado.edu. For questions about obtaining the guide or to order a printed version, visit the website or call 303-492-4561.

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