Web site planned to update public on water quality near drilling rigs

Come this summer, the public may be able to tap a wealth of Piceance Basin water-quality information that’s being combined from dozens of sources by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The agency is putting together a common data repository regarding water quality for the energy-rich basin, where extensive natural gas development has focused attention on water.

The data is being collected for an area bounded roughly by Rangely, Delta, Glenwood Springs and the Utah state line.

Hydrologist Jude Thomas of the USGS Colorado Water Science Center in Grand Junction is managing the $1.3 million project, which has involved collaboration between several area communities and counties, energy companies, and agencies including the West Divide Water Conservancy District and Colorado River Water Conservation District.

A task force made up of many of these same entities met in 2006-07 in response to concerns related to drilling, and it identified the need for the repository.

Task force member Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), said there’s no lack of water quality sampling by energy companies and others.

“What’s missing is there’s no real one source for the public to access that information,” he said.

The goal is to aggregate data that’s already been gathered by industry, local, state, federal and other sources, put it into a single, uniform format and make it available via a Web site.

That site is expected to become active this summer.

The U.S. Geological Survey then hopes to complete an assessment of the existing data by early next year. Besides looking at where water quality stands, the assessment will help identify data gaps, as well as redundancies in monitoring.

Thomas provided an update on the project at a recent meeting of the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board. Joan Savage, a citizen representative of the board, praised the effort and said it should help respond to one of the bigger public concerns.

“We’re very pleased about it and pleased the companies are helping,” she said.

The agency is contributing some funding, but the project also has been supported by a $300,000 state Department of Local Affairs grant, and 26 collaborators are providing financial support or in-kind assistance, as well as data in some cases. Altogether, almost 60 potential data sources have been identified so far.


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