Utah County is joining forces with the state to study deposits of local groundwater - a resource some county residents fear is being threatened by mismanagement and overuse.
Earlier this year, residents in the parched Vineyard area, where some wells dried up this summer, requested funding from Orem City to conduct an independent study. Orem Mayor Blaine Willes, however, approached the Utah County Council of Government and the Utah County Water Advisory Board to broaden participation in the study.During a recent Water Advisory Board meeting, Bob Morgan, state engineer of the Division of Water Rights, pursuaded board members to join state efforts to study ground-water.
County Commissioner Brent Morris said the committee will comprise representatives from the county, Provo, Orem and other municipalities and entities concerned about the future of the county's water resources. Once the committee is organized, he said, members will meet with Morgan, who will coordinate study efforts.
Morgan said a 1985 northern Utah Valley groundwater resource study could be used as a model for the new study. The study, by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Utah Department of Natural Resources, described the groundwater system and documented changes in ground-water conditions since 1963. A similar study is scheduled to begin this month on the southern part of the valley.
Morgan said the committee must decide whether to replicate the approach of the 1985 study. He said the committee could use the previously developed model, in which the groundwater network was simulated with help from a computer, or develop a new model to make projections and determinations regarding groundwater.
"That is a decision they will have to make," Morgan said. "We want to look at the whole groundwater network."
Though officials don't know for sure whether groundwater really is threatened, Morgan said, "Physically, there is a limit to our ground-water networks. We want to prevent reaching that limit."
Morris said committee members, once chosen, will decide what needs to be studied. He said local officials are concerned about recharge of groundwater reservoirs, Provo River flow, the impact the Jordanelle Dam could have on local water rights and resources, and the decreasing level of wells in the county, especially in Orem's Vineyard area.
Morris and Morgan predicted the study would take six months to a year to complete. The southern valley study will take three years.
J. Rulon Gammon, who lives in the Vineyard area near the Geneva Steel plant, said he hopes the study can be completed more rapidly because decreasing well levels need to be addressed now. Gammon, who has lived in Vineyard for 48 years, said wells in his area have never been as dry as they were this summer.
"This is the first time I can remember the wells going dry," he said. "It's the first time the wells have ever quit flowing."
Gammon said well levels in Vineyard and other areas have decreased markedly during the past 15 years. Recent dry years have contributed to the problem, but they're not the sole cause, he said. Groundwater discharge is simply exceeding ground-water recharge.
For example, Orem and other growing cities in Utah Valley have replaced acres of orchards with asphalt and buildings, and have increased well pumping to meet increased domestic demand.
"The orchards used to provide a lot of recharge to the aquifer. That was where we got a lot of water previously," he said. "When the city commenced to pump this summer, they dried us up."
Decreased Provo River water flow likely is a factor as well, Gammon said.
"I think that's one of the questions that needs to be answered by the study. I think that we're being impacted negatively by the fact that they're taking a lot of recharge water from Provo Canyon, putting it in aqueducts and shipping it to Salt Lake."
The 1985 study of groundwater resources in northern Utah Valley showed that demand for ground-water increased by 400 percent from the mid-1960s to 1980. The study estimated that recharge of and discharge from the principal ground-water reservoir was then about equal - approximately 200,000 acre feet annually.