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Cedar City • Just as a bank account dips when withdrawals exceed deposits, so the water table in the Cedar Valley Aquifer has been dropping over the past 70 years as discharge rates have exceeded recharge, and the losses likely will continue unless measures are taken to plug the problem.

That was the conclusion of a report delivered Thursday night to a meeting of the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District in Cedar City.

The report, compiled by senior geologist William Lund and his staff with the Utah Geological Survey (UGS), was commissioned by the conservancy district in 2009 after a ground fissure nearly 4 miles long was discovered snaking through a subdivision in the city of Enoch.

The resulting ground subsidence caused sewers to flow backward and development to stop after only one house was built in the 400-lot project.

Lund said such fissures are not normally investigated when they appear in undisturbed areas or farmland but fissures can cause problems when development begins.

Since 1939, the water in the aquifer west of Cedar City has dropped an average of 60 feet — and in some places 114 feet, Lund said. The aquifer lies under a 116-square-mile surface area.

Fissures also are occurring in the Quichapa Lake area west of Cedar City, also an area of expanded development. The subsidence, or sinking of the surface, in some areas is more than an inch a year, the report said.

Lund said the problem is similar to subsidence issues facing areas of Arizona and Nevada, where sinking ground has caused more than $100 million in damage to infrastructure.

Another worry: Water seeping into the fissures from the surface also can carry contaminants into the aquifer.

The report recommends balancing recharge with what is taken out and continued monitoring of the aquifer.

It also recommends that cities avoid developing in areas that have severe fissures, and urges developers to disclose the existence of fissures.

As a last resort, a prohibition on withdrawing water from the aquifer was recommended.

Scott Wilson, manager of the conservancy district that commissioned the study, said that the information will be helpful in directing the agency's decisions in dealing with the valuable water.

He said the aquifer is drafted by Cedar City and 398 others, including farmers and developers.

"When you have mixed-use, every straw in the ground contributes to [lower water levels]," said Wilson, adding that the drop in aquifer water has not reached critical low levels.

He said the study cost the district $85,700. Half the cost was picked up by the UGS.

Celesta Lyman, an Enoch City councilwoman, said that developers now are responsible for geologic studies necessary for approval of a project.

Read the report

O The report is online at the conservancy district website •