OGDEN, Utah – A Weber State University professor and his students are working to find ways to make Utah's water management more efficient.
Working in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation and several state agencies, associate geoscience professor Marek Matyjasik is conducting a pilot study to artificially recharge the aquifer below Weber Canyon.
"Evaporation makes Utah's surface reservoirs a very inefficient way to store water," Matyjasik said. "Storing water underground in natural aquifers means there is more water for use along the Wasatch Front."
Matyjasik has been working on the project for more than a year. This spring he and four WSU geoscience students will monitor the effects of diverting some water from the Weber River into a drainage basin. The diverted water is expected to seep into the aquifer, actually increasing the supply of water to the Weber Basin Water Conservation District—the primary source of water for most residents of Weber and Davis Counties.
The theory is that by diverting the water, more will be retained underground in the aquifer. Left untouched, the water would travel downstream, emptying into the Great Salt Lake. The project uses the same process nature would to fill the aquifer, it just increases the amount of water being absorbed into the earth upstream.
The concept isn't new. "Artificially recharging aquifers was a hot topic in geology in the 1970s," Matyjasik said. Back then the engineers found the technical issues too difficult. He said the chances for success now are "pretty high."
The Weber River's spring runoff in March and April presents an ideal time to conduct the research. The Bureau of Reclamation drilled an observation well at the mouth of the canyon. Matyjasik and his students will collect data on how the diverted water affects water levels in the observation well and how fast the water moves through the aquifer.
In addition to field work, the students will be developing a computer model of how the project works and performing lab analysis on different amounts of water collected.
Matyjasik says the recent drought only exacerbates Utah's need to harness more ground water. "Over the past 50 years, the water level in the aquifer has dropped at least 50 feet due to increased demand," Matyjasik said. "Even without a drought we'd be doing this."