In the past, some proponents of the idea believed that it could be cost prohibitive to develop an in-depth report on local aquifers.
But a Utah Division of Water Resources (DWR) engineer told city and county officials on March 28 that the study could be completed for as little as $430,700.
Better still, the federal government could come forward with a 40 percent match, leaving any other potential study partners with a bill of about $258,000, according to DWR engineer Jim Reese.
Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said he was “really encouraged” by Reese’s estimates.
“I was afraid you guys were going to come in with a $2 million budget,” Jackson said.
County and city officials alike voiced a strong interest in moving forward with the groundwater resources study, and Reese suggested that preliminary work on the document could begin sooner rather than later.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research hydrologist Vic Heilweil added that his agency has enough manpower to begin some project work right away. However, the bulk of any federal project funding would not be available until the start of October, he said.
According to an overview of the proposal, the three-year study would enhance current estimates of selected groundwater recharge and discharge rates. It would also improve the understanding of the valley’s aquifer system, including the hydraulic connection between the Glen Canyon and valley-fill aquifers, the overview says.
“We need a better estimate of what’s coming in and what’s going out,” DWR regional engineer Marc Stilson said March 28.
Although there’s widespread interest in the project, the overview notes that there haven’t been any regional efforts to refine the valley’s major groundwater budget components since the 1980s.
Additional information would help local and state water managers figure out how much more development the aquifer system can sustain, the study says.
Moving forward, Reese said that study proponents will have to identify financial partners who can contribute to the total project costs.
Four names immediately popped into Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison’s mind: the city of Moab, Grand County, San Juan County and the Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District.
Sakrison envisions that the four entities would enter into a memorandum of understanding or an interlocal agreement with each other. At that point, they would be ready to sign a contractual agreement with the USGS, he said.
If other funding sources become available, Heilweil suggested that researchers could expand the scope of the study.
However, in order to reach the $430,700 figure, proponents of the study scaled back their original plans, which included models of groundwater flows, among other things.
“We kind of asked them to strip it down a little more to some of these more important things,” Reese said.