Local decision-makers are gathering support for a groundwater study that could help to more accurately determine how much water we have in our aquifers. Previous concerns about the costs for a study may have kept such research from being done in the past, but whether it costs a lot or a little, it’s not responsible for us as a community to go much farther into the future without getting some answers to these questions.
I’ve long puzzled at old water resource laws that govern who gets the water and how much. Seniority guidelines make a lot of sense; people who have held and used their precious water rights for the longest should be able to continue to use them with the security of knowing that they won’t lose them. But how did early land users determine how much water there was and how much could be allocated?
Stream flows and precipitation averages certainly figured into how those amounts were estimated. But the times have changed and the demands are getting greater by the day. The amount of water that was written down on paper a long time ago may not match what is actually available. Maybe it’s more, maybe it’s less, but if it’s the latter we are going to have an uncomfortable problem. You can’t drink paper water rights.
The time is right to participate in a groundwater study that can be done affordably and can help to guide future growth. Moab is fortunate to have several streams and springs to feed our valley. They and numerous wells keep us watered in a manner somewhat irrelevant to what is happening to the mighty Colorado that flows by, except for the fact that the more we use in the valley means there is less flowing into the river.
I hope Grand County will not just support but encourage the study, in partnership with Moab city, Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District and our neighboring county to the south. The bigger players – the U.S. Geological Survey and the Utah Division of Water Resources – are driving the effort, and their involvement will hopefully bring the expertise and funding to make it financially feasible and objectively accurate.
If all goes as projected the study could be completed in three years, providing estimates of groundwater recharge and discharge, and a view of the Moab Valley’s aquifer system and how it connects to the Glen Canyon and valley-fill aquifers. If and when the study is complete, governmental leaders will have to be prepared to adjust their long-held water budgets accordingly, and that could be painful. The most recent modifications to that budget occurred quite some time ago, in the 1980s.
At a recent meeting when these issues were discussed, a number of concerns were raised about the costs and affordability of a groundwater study. To me, the only question is whether we can afford not to do it. We need the information to responsibly plan ahead.