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FAQs – Colorado Water Watch

What is Colorado Water Watch?

A real time groundwater monitoring system that looks for CHANGES in baseline groundwater quality from the COGCC’s required baseline testing. Designed as a complement to COGCC testing, Colorado Water Watch will provide additional information regarding temporal trends that is not currently being collected. Where real-time monitoring detects an anomaly, the data will be further analyzed, the well may be further sampled and the results will be reported on the website in near-real time.

Why is the project relevant?

The COGCC currently requires water quality monitoring in drinking water aquifers before and after drilling oil and gas wells in Colorado. Current tests measure several water quality parameters and provide a good baseline. This project complements the state’s efforts by monitoring other sections of the aquifer that have many drinking water wells and nearby activity, including oil and gas operations, and monitors for changes from the established baseline.

What is being measured “real-time”?

It is not feasible (technically or economically) to measure the multitude of possible contaminants both continuously and in real time or near-real time and therefore this project will rely on surrogate measurements. Electrical conductivity, strongly correlated with Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), will be one of the surrogate measurements and oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) will be another. TDS is believed to be a sensitive indicator of produced fluid contamination of aquifers and ORP has shown to be sensitive to methane concentrations.

What is the goal of the project?

A goal of this project is to increase public understanding about public health impacts associated with oil and natural gas development. A further goal is to help people learn about how gathering reliable data, analyzing it and making it available online for all to see can be an effective tool for enhancing understanding about activities that may or may not influence water quality. Finally, to monitor changes in ground water quality through real time surrogate measurement parameters and provide a web interface to communicate information to stakeholders, including the public.

Who is doing the project?

Colorado State University will coordinate the installation of the groundwater monitoring network and develop the web-based public interface. CSU will also be responsible for data collection, quality assurance, and security and reporting. The project Steering Committee, which consists of state government, Colorado State University, industry and environmental leaders, will oversee content, timing and communications involving the information.

Is this just another university research project collecting data?

The key difference in this project is in the goal: to provide critical and timely information to a broad audience to alleviate concerns related to the impact of fracking on drinking water quality.

The oil and gas industrial activity is not the only risk to groundwater in the study area. How will this be accounted for?

This project will illustrate that water quality monitoring is not specific to one industry. The oil and natural gas industry is taking the initiative and supporting this testing proactively, but this does not mean that any deviations from baseline are necessarily due to oil and gas activity. If deviations from the baseline are detected, additional sampling will be completed and extensive water quality analysis conducted to determine the source of the deviation and what it means for groundwater quality.

Who is providing the funding for the project?

The primary sponsor of the project is the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Additional financial partners in the project are Colorado State University and Noble Energy.

How are environmental interests being represented with the project?

The project Steering Committee includes the President of from Western Resource Advocates (WRA). WRA will also be represented on the Technical Committee along with possibly other environmental representatives as the monitoring network is designed and implemented.