Water-budget analysis of the Upper Big Sandy Designated Groundwater Basin alluvial aquifer, Elbert, El Paso, and Lincoln counties, Colorado, 2016.
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.