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Front Page » May 29, 2003 » Local News » Ground water supplements stream, river surface supply
Published 3,977 days ago

Ground water supplements stream, river surface supply


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter


Underground wells and springs in Spring Canyon supplement Price city's water supply.

Utah contains numerous precious natural resources. In addition to coal and gas in Carbon County, the ground yields significant quantities of the second most precious resource that Utah produces; food.

While the agriculture business in Utah may not come close to rivaling that of Kansas or Nebraska, overall it is still the largest single business category in the state.

But there is one resource which all these industries, including agriculture, rely on and sometimes cuss as well, and that is water.

Water experts rank Utah as the second driest state in the nation, averaging 13 inches of precipitation a year.

There are places in the state that only get five inches of precipitation a year while others, such as in some of the high mountains, large amounts of snow falls yearly and averages 60 inches.

Those high mountains have been the saving grace during the modern era in the state. They are the storage facility that hold water until the runoff starts in the spring.

The first white settlers of the area realized that irrigation from the streams fed by those mountain snows was the only way that crops could be raised in any consistent way. And when the population grew or the drought bug struck, the streams could only be consistent if dams were built and reservoirs filled.

In total, the watersheds of Utah consistantly yield about 8.5 million acre feet of water a year.

During the years from 1981 to 1984, studies show that this amount increased greatly.

These studies also indicate that in the last four years it has dropped dramatically.

Water in Utah, and in other places is used largely for agriculture. At present, approximately 80 percent of the states water is used for irrigation. However, changes in the states population is affecting this use every year.

Municipal and industrial use are becoming more important in this state as the population continually shifts to cities with much of the growth taking place along the Wasatch Front.

While a lot of the fresh water in Utah lies on the surface, there is also water that lies below, that residents cannot see without technology, and according to water officials, is by far the most abundant source of all.

Ground water is found throughout Utah, but in many places it is not in the amount or of the type that can be extracted in a reasonable or cost effective way.

Thus, there are geological areas where large amounts of water exist, but this water is in such an unconsolidated state that it cannot readily be tapped for normal use.

Water experts indicate that the areas where ground water exists is called aquifers.

Aquifers exist in what is called consolidated formations (those in solid rock such as granite or sandstone) or unconsolidated formations (made of sand, clay, silt, etc.)

The vast majority of ground water extracted in Utah comes from the unconsolidated aquifers.

Water use in the state has taken the path of least resistance. First, the runoff surface water was developed, then dams were built to store the surface water so it wouldn't just run past the areas that needed the liquid.

Finally, once all that water was tied up, the exploration and development of ground water began.

In general, spring water was the first source of ground water to be developed indicated experts.

This is because a spring comes from an aquifer that basically has a hole in the top of it and is running over as more water is added to it's base.

There are literally thousands of springs in Utah, with the major ones usually occurring near mountain ranges.

As with surface flow streams, springs are measured by the cubic feet per second. A few springs in Utah have been measured at one time or another at over 200 CFS, but most run much less than that.

In addition, most springs slow down after the snow melt decreases and some dry up completely.

Next came wells. Some of these started shallow, but as the years have progressed and more and more water was drawn from wells, they began to dry up.

Wells then had to be deepened in certain areas. In many areas wells do not run freely and it must be pumped to the surface. At this point in time, these types of wells are one of the major water sources in the state according to water experts.

Water from wells must be monitored for a number of reasons which include everything from pollution to remaining supply.

The State of Utah along with the United States Geological Survey has set up a series of observation wells to test for use and water quality.

Each year, more than 800,000 acre feet of ground water is used in Utah indicated the survey. Of that, over half is for agriculture.

Percentage wise, it mostly supplements surface supplies along the Wasatch Front and in some other areas in the state.

Eastern Utah underground aquifers have generally been undeveloped because first, the cost verses the need has not been relative and the possible supplies have been less concentrated.

In recent years, it appears a major aquifer has been found in the Flat Canyon area and it may underlie an area that spreads under a large area of Carbon, Sanpete and Emery counties.

This was discovered by miners working in the Skyline Mine.

However, several studies are underway to find the source of the water, for some residents feel it is being recharged by the loss of water from the existing Electric Lake in Emery County.

At present, a good deal of water supplied to Carbon County comes from springs and wells.

Helper has wells near Colton that supplies it's water, while Price city has wells in Spring Canyon that are along Highway 96 on the way to Scofield.

Since all water in the state belongs to the state (based on state code) wells are highly regulated.

In many Utah places, because of the high use, there are a number of groundwater areas that are closed to new wells being drilled.

In areas where water remains available, most applications for wells are restricted to domestic applications only by the state engineer.


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