SAGUACHE — Twice on July 26, aquifer expert Ray Newmyer presented data and suggestions to the Saguache County Board of Commissioners and — later in the evening — the Moffat Town Board. According to estimates, Newmyer has drilled more than 4,000 wells over the years.
Using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the Saguache County Commissioners commissioned the Quantum Water and Environment engineering firm to identify boundaries of the “blue clay” layer associated with the confined aquifer in the middle of the San Luis Valley.
Reporting to Subdistrict 5 board members and county commissioners at the Road and Bridge Building in Saguache, Newmyer and his daughter, Cammie Newmyer, revealed variations in the thickness and reach of the blue clay. Their findings challenge the larger boundaries defined within the state model used for tracking flow in the overlapping confined and unconfined aquifers.
“The county hired Quantum to provide an overview of the water system,” said Theresa Jehn-Dellaport from Quantum Water and Environment. “As a number of you have noticed, wells turn on and the creek declines. It seems like there’s a lot more augmentation required for the Rio Grande than seems necessary. The clay map doesn’t seem to be exactly correct. We took a very serious look at more than 400 wells.”
As Newmyer explained, “We got the logs of every well in this study area. In my experience, I’ve seen differences in the blue clay.”
The primary goal of the study was to gather more data beneath the surface in the northern end of the Valley. While more than 20 years of drought is an obvious culprit in the declining aquifers, groundwater pumping has created confusion with augmentation and recharge. Surface water users report declining flows, particularly during irrigation season.
With a master’s in Mathematics, Cammie Newmyer built the database based on Ray’s review of 400-plus wells. She also examined more than 1,000 well permits. The data shows variations in the blue clay thickness not considered in the state’s model, and the range of the confined aquifer is significantly smaller than the state’s calculation.
Later in the evening at the Moffat Town Board meeting, Newmyer appeared in person to brief the mayor and trustees. Working in consultation with the Colorado Division of Water Resources and Subdistrict 4, Newmyer hopes to reach a compromise for the town’s wells.
The cost estimates for installing meters is high and increasing, Newmyer said, so he hopes to agree upon a flat rate per year instead of metering at this stage. It’s difficult to monitor flowing artesian wells. The cost of drilling new wells, according to Newmyer, is also rising. Drilling roughly 430 feet runs as much as $35,000 today.