Study sought on record Utah snowpack, groundwater

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Scientists have proposed a study looking at how Utah’s record-setting mountain snowpack are affecting underground water levels.Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the state Division of Water Resources and state Division of Water Rights want to determine how this year’s record-setting snowpack boosted basin-fill aquifers and possibly Utah’s overall water supply, the Deseret News of Salt Lake City reported.The information could also be applied in surrounding states such as Montana, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming, which also had high snowpacks this season.”For long-term water use, this is quite important,” said David Susong, a hydrologist with the survey’s Utah Water Science Center.The study would compare data gathered from hundreds of wells with data from 1982 to 1984, when precipitation was also very high.In the early 1980s, the above-average snowpack helped reverse 30 years of decline in a central Utah aquifer, increasing water levels between 20 and 40 feet, Susong said.A new study would help scientist better understand aquifers, how they are recharged and the extent to which big snowpack years have on boosting water levels.”We may be much more dependent than we believe on these big recharge events for overall groundwater supplies,” Susong said. “As the frequency of these big recharge events changes over time, that may change the amount of water that is available in the future.”That kind of understanding is critical because so many cities depend on aquifer-fed springs and wells for their culinary water supplies, said Dennis Strong, the state’s director of Water Resources.State water managers are increasingly looking for ways to hang onto the gains seen in high precipitation years. A man-made aquifer built near the mouth of Weber Canyon allows Weber River water to seep through gravel into the ground. The artificial recharge project is designed to augment the groundwater supply, Strong said.Such projects are becoming more important because water is a finite resource. Some basin aquifers are already tapped out, so understanding the interval between aquifer recharges will better help officials decide who much water can be withdrawn at a rate that can be sustained.Utah’s Division of Water Rights works to balance the demand against long-term water needs, said Boyd Clayton, the state’s deputy water engineer.”It’s an exact science with inexact information,” Clayton said. “The aquifers are all recharging all the time, but the trick is to know exactly how much they are recharging and long-term, what are those rates.”Funding for the study is being sought through USGS programs and the state, Susong said.

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