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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5002

Prepared in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board

Estimated Withdrawals and Use of Water in Colorado, 2005

By Tamara Ivahnenko and Jennifer L. Flynn


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The future health and economic welfare of the people and environment of Colorado depend on a continuous supply of fresh water. Detailed, comprehensive information on the use of water from Colorado’s diverse surface-water and groundwater resources is important to water managers and planners by providing information they need to quantify current stresses and estimate and plan for future water needs. As part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Water Use Information Program (NWUIP), Statewide water withdrawal and water-use data have been collected or estimated and summarized in this report by county and by four-digit hydrologic unit code for the following seven water-use categories: irrigation (crop and golf course), public supply, self-supplied domestic, self-supplied industrial, livestock, mining, and thermoelectric power generation. A summary for instream water use for hydroelectric power generation also is included. This report is published in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

In 2005, an estimated 13,581.22 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) was withdrawn from groundwater and surface-water sources in Colorado for the seven water-use categories. Withdrawals from surface water represented about 11,035 Mgal/d, or 81.3 percent of the total, whereas withdrawals from groundwater sources represented an estimated 2,546 Mgal/d or 18.7 percent of the total. Irrigation (combined crop and golf course) totaled 12,362.49 Mgal/d or 91 percent of the total water withdrawals in the State of Colorado. Crop irrigation accounted for 99.7 percent (12,321.85 Mgal/d) of the irrigation, whereas the 243 turf golf courses in Colorado accounted for 0.3 percent (40.64 Mgal/d) of the total irrigation water withdrawals. Total withdrawals for the other water-use categories were public supply, 864.17 Mgal/d; self-supplied domestic, 34.43 Mgal/d; self-supplied industrial, 142.44 Mgal/d; livestock, 33.06 Mgal/d; mining, 21.42 Mgal/d (includes both fresh and saline water); and thermoelectric, 123.21 Mgal/d. The counties with the largest total withdrawals (greater than 500 Mgal/d) were Mesa, Weld, Rio Grande, Montrose, Gunnison, and Saguache. Counties with the smallest total withdrawals (less than 5 Mgal/d) were Clear Creek, Gilpin, and San Juan. Four-digit hydrologic unit codes with the greatest withdrawals were 1019 (South Platte River Basin), 1301 (Rio Grande Basin), and 1102 (Arkansas River Basin); the high withdrawal rates were driven by crop irrigation withdrawals. Total instream water use for hydroelectric power generation was 5,253.60 Mgal/d.

Groundwater withdrawals were estimated for 2004 for the bedrock and overlying alluvial aquifers in the Denver Basin for irrigation, public supply, commercial/industrial, household use only, and domestic/livestock water-use categories. Withdrawals were estimated for input into the USGS Denver Basin model by using the equations in the Senate Bill 96-074 groundwater model. The greatest withdrawals were for public supply. The smallest withdrawals were for household-use-only wells. Douglas County had the greatest groundwater withdrawals (183.98 Mgal/d), whereas Broomfield County had the smallest (3.09 Mgal/d). Of the seven Denver Basin aquifers, the Lower Arapahoe aquifer had the greatest total estimated withdrawals (287.11 Mgal/d), with Douglas County having the greatest public-supply withdrawal of any county (95.29 Mgal/d) from this aquifer. The Upper Dawson aquifer was the least used of the Denver Basin aquifers, based on estimated withdrawals of 17.64 Mgal/d.

As part of the Colorado Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI), forecasts of future water demand were made based on information such as population, climate, and then-current (2000) water-use information and did not include the effects of future water conservation. Categories compared between estimates in the SWSI baseline forecasted water demand and the USGS water-use compilation were limited to county population and water use for municipal (public supply)/industrial purposes and self-supplied thermoelectric power generation. Municipal and industrial water uses are separate categories in the USGS compilation; however, these estimates were combined to compare to the SWSI municipal/industrial baseline forecasted values. Comparison of 2005 population estimates between the SWSI forecast and the 2005 USGS compilation showed that 40 of the 64 counties had a difference of less than 5 percent, and 59 of the counties (92 percent) had a difference of less than 10 percent. For the combined municipal and industrial categories, differences for all the counties ranged from 0.1 to 299.28 percent with a median of 37.96 percent. Of the 64 Colorado counties, 48 (75 percent) had a municipal/industrial USGS estimate lower than the SWSI baseline forecasted water demand. Differences between the SWSI forecasted water demand and USGS compilation estimates may be due to increased conservation efforts, which were not included in the water-demand forecasts, and the differing methodology in deriving the forecasted and estimated values.

A generalized comparison of the published 1985 estimates to water withdrawal estimates 20 years later in 2005 can provide some indication of State water-use trends. Estimates of total water withdrawals were compared for the categories of total irrigation (crop and golf course) public supply (including population), self-supplied domestic (including population), self-supplied industrial, livestock, mining, and thermoelectric. Commercial water use was estimated in 1985 but was not compiled in 2005. Total withdrawals for the seven categories compiled in 1985 and 2005 did not differ greatly and indicated an increase of less than 1 percent. A number of water-use categories indicated an increase in water withdrawals in the 20 years from 1985 to 2005, which included public supply, self-supplied domestic, self-supplied industrial, and thermoelectric uses. These water-use categories can be directly linked to population increases and reflect the overall State population growth from 3.2 million in 1985 to 4.7 million in 2005. As a consequence of increased population and the need for more electricity and manufactured and processed goods, water withdrawals for thermoelectric generation increased 12.2 percent and self-supplied industrial increased 18.4 percent between 1985 and 2005. A number of water-use categories decreased between 1985 and 2005, including irrigation, livestock, and mining. Irrigation estimates decreased the least during these 20 years, less than 1 percent; however, irrigated acres decreased by approximately 10 percent. Livestock withdrawals decreased 45.6 percent and mining decreased 76.5 percent. The decrease in mining withdrawals reflects the decrease in the number of active coal and hard-rock mines in Colorado from 150 in 1985, to 20 in 2005.

First posted April 7, 2010

For additional information contact:

Director, USGS Colorado Water Science Center
Box 25046, Mail Stop 415
Denver, CO 80225

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Suggested citation:

Ivahnenko, Tamara, and Flynn, J.L., 2010, Estimated withdrawals and use of water in Colorado, 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5002, 61 p.




Estimated Withdrawals and Uses of Water in 2005



References Cited



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