USGS announces plans to conduct a three-year groundwater study in Moab
by Jeff Richards
Contributing Writer
Jul 31, 2014 | 1307 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) intends to sponsor and conduct a new comprehensive groundwater study of the Moab area, officials said this week.

David Susong, supervisory hydrologist at the USGS Utah Water Science Center, talked about the proposed three-year study during a 90-minute public presentation and discussion held Tuesday, July 29 at the Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency (GWSSA) offices in Spanish Valley. Susong was joined by colleague Victor Heilweil, a research hydrologist at the Utah Water Science Center.

The presentation was originally scheduled to be held during a special meeting of the GWSSA operating committee, but due to a lack of a quorum Tuesday night, the board members who were in attendance merely listened to the presentation and asked questions, but took no formal action.

Susong went over some of the main data obtained from a handful of hydrological studies done in the Moab area in the past, including two from the 1970s and three from the 2000s —the latest being in 2007.

An estimated 14,000 to 17,000 acre-feet of water cycles through the Moab valley area’s water table each year, according to the previous studies.

Susong said the new USGS study would re-evaluate the findings of the earlier studies, using better tools and more advanced technology. The new study would also focus on developing new groundwater estimates and improving understanding of the aquifer system of the Moab area, he said.

The new study will focus on both the recharge (inflow) and discharge (outflow) of water in the area’s groundwater table, Susong added, noting that having more up-to-date and definitive data will help government officials and water users better manage, conserve and allocate water resources.

According to Susong, the proposed study is designed to take a comprehensive look at the area’s “groundwater budget,” tracking gains and losses as water migrates from the snow-capped La Sal Mountains until it eventually discharges into the Colorado River at the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve. Various factors will be examined, including precipitation, well withdrawals, evaporation, sandstone infiltration, aquifer geology, groundwater flow paths, and seepage from Ken’s Lake, he said.

The USGS, which has done similar projects in other areas, including in other parts of Utah, hopes to start working on the Moab study as early as this fall. The total cost of the three-year project is estimated at $531,000, Susong said, adding that the USGS itself will fund 40 percent of that amount, provided that matching funds are received.

Jim Reese of the Utah Division of Water Rights, who also attended the meeting, said that the state of Utah is willing to contribute $40,000 per year, or another 22.6 percent of the total cost of the project.

The remaining 37.4 percent of the funding (about $66,000 per year for the next three years) is expected to come from other stakeholders, including the Grand and San Juan county governments, the city of Moab, and the GWSSA itself.

USGS officials said they hope the funding commitments will be in place soon so the project can move forward.

“It’s better to get as many interested parties to the table as you can,” said Heilweil.

Exactly how much each local entity will be asked to contribute is still unknown.

“How do we figure out everyone’s fair share?” asked board member Rex Tanner.

“That is the tricky part, getting the different budgets together and seeing what everyone can come up with,” said GWSSA manager Mark Sovine, who added that officials from the various governmental entities are already aware of the USGS proposal, which was first brought to light in April.

“We don’t have a definite timeline yet, but this is something that we are going to have to work together on,” Sovine added.

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