Rippling water

OGDEN — On Tuesday, Weber County Commissioners unanimously approved spending $30,000 over two years to participate in a comprehensive $240,000 study of groundwater in Ogden’s upper valley.

“During a routine public involvement process ... to discuss the Ogden Valley General plan, a re-occuring theme kept on coming out of discussions with the folks in the valley. They’re pretty worried about water,” said Charles Ewert, Weber County’s principal planner over special projects.

With development pending on several fronts, many longtime residents worry how far the precious resource can stretch.

The Utah Geological Survey, state Division of Water Rights, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, Ogden City and Weber County will partner and share costs on the project.

Mike Lowe, a Utah Geological Survey manager who oversees state groundwater and paleontology, said the proposed hydrogeologic study of the 37-square-mile Ogden Valley would focus on developing a water budget.

“What we’re talking about is a fairly large study area,” Lowe said of the expanse bounded by Morgan Valley, Rich Valley, Cache Valley, Box Elder County and the crescent of the Wasatch Mountain range.

“We have a number of tasks that we aim to complete,” Lowe said. That laundry list includes compiling a geologic map of the drainage basin; conducting a water-level-measuring campaign next spring and producing surface maps that show water rise in wells; collecting and analyzing ground water samples for environmental tracers and geochemistry, including dissolved solids and nitrate.

The data should aid in the development of a conceptual model that tracks water flow from the drainage basin divide into the upper Valley and eventually down into the lower Ogden Valley.

Lowe projected several benefits from the study:

• Weber County planners and Ogden Valley residents will know that the ground water supply is an issue that needs to be considered in determining the total number of lots in the valley;

• Ogden Valley Water suppliers will have a good idea if new or proposed upland bedrock wells will interfere with their water rights or publicly supplied sources;

• The Utah Division of Water Rights will understand the potential for proposed upland bedrock wells on either side of the trench divide to pull water from one county to the other;

• Ogden City officials will better understand flow paths to their well field near Pineview Reservoir and the potential impact of development in the valley on their wells;

• The Weber Basin Conservancy District and state Division of Water Rights will better understand the quantity and distribution of ground water in the basin; and

• Weber County residents, officials and Utah Division of Water Rights regulators will know if ground water development in Ogden Valley has the potential for affecting ground water that ultimately flows to the lower valley.

“When the proposed study is completed, we’ll be at a point where if there’s a will to do so, we can produce a state-of-the-art-digital ground water model which will allow us to simulate condtions when you put in new wells or new forms of groundwater withdrawal,” Lowe said.

The two-year. multi-agency study is slated to commence July 1 and finish June 30, 2017.

The Utah Geological Survey will fund half the cost by way of an in-kind match, Lowe said. The state Division of Water Rights will kick in $10,000 per year or $20,000 total, Weber Basin Conservancy District will pay $20,000 per year or $40,000 total, and Ogden City has agreed to match Weber County’s two-year commitment of $30,000.

Commissioner Matthew Bell noted that there are scores of water companies in the upper valley and asked if there would be a pathway for consolidation at some future time.

Lowe said that the information contained in the study will help everyone understand their water sources and also provide a means to negotiate future consolidations. The idea of uniting all of the valley’s water systems is not new, Lowe added, but dates back to the 1980s.

Commission Chairman Kerry Gibson lauded the proposed study.

“It looks like there are an awful lot of valuable partners to join with us here,” Gibson said, “and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to have access to that information, especially with the buy-in from all these interested partners.”

Huntsville resident Ron Gleason thanked commissioners for moving forward with the project.

“It’s vitally important that we understand the amount of water, and do the comparison between paper water and actual wet water,” Gleason said. He also urged commissioners to put off any action on updating the Ogden Valley General Plan until the water study reaches completion in order to better gauge the total number and placement of development lots in the valley.

At present, Summit Mountain Holding Group LLC awaits a decision from the state Division of Water Rights concerning its exchange request to tap 400 acre feet of water in their Hidden Lake Well atop Powder Mountain.Over the course of several months, a flood of vigorous protests and hydrology reports have flowed into State Engineer Kent Jones’s office from water users in Cache and Weber Counties as well as Ogden City. Interference with senior water rights ranked high among their concerns. A December pump test yielded results which hydrologists representing Summit and some of the protestants interpreted differently.

Building permits for Summit’s first phase of Powder Mountain development are on hold until required water approvals are in hand.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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