SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah had a great snow year last year. Our reservoirs are at record highs and lawns are green all over the state. Residents are throwing water around like it never goes out of style, filling up tubs, turning on sprinklers, and washing cars every day. But is it a good idea?

Water conservancy districts are cringing and want to drive by your house and yell “Stop It!” Fortunately, they don’t have the manpower to do that, and they would rather educate Utahns than yell at them.

Most Utahns can’t drive by a lake or reservoir without taking note of the level and while this year most of us have breathed a sigh of relief noticing the record high levels, we still need to take note: we live in a desert and water is a precious commodity.

So, what happens to all the “extra” water we have in years of plenty? State officials use that water to recharge our state’s aquifers – in other words, they put that water into the ground and into holding ponds.

Aquifers are pockets of earth made of loose soils and gravel with space between the particles which enables groundwater to collect. They are a key part of our water supply. When we have great years and plenty of water, conservancy districts and local municipalities recharge these aquifer wells.

There are several ways these aquifers can be recharged and the state takes advantage of all of them.

Artificial Groundwater Recharge:

This method is letting Mother Nature do her thing. When there is an abundance of water and and runoff the movement of the water across aquifers and seeps into the aquifers and they are replenished by the groundwater movement. This method is a slow process and in dry years there is not enough groundwater to naturally replenish the needed water levels.

Infiltration Recharge:

The Schmidt Pit in Iron County is a donated space from a local rock quarry to be used for infiltration Recharge. Photo courtesy CICWCD.

This process utilizes large pond systems to refill aquifers and is often aided by private land and business owners. Large open pit areas located in aquifer zones are filled with groundwater collection and this helps move the water more quickly into the aquifer drainage. The pits have to be located in areas of specific geologic conditions to be effective.

Often owners of gravel and rock pits will dedicate space and even manpower to help aid in the infiltration process.

“Western Rock Products has been a tremendous community partner for water recharge for Iron County. As an inconvenience to their gravel mining, they have allowed the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District to recharge excess water in the Schmidt Pit and other gravel pits,” said Jessica Staheli, Public Relations & Conservation Manager, Central Iron County Water Conservancy District. “They have also donated equipment and operator time to help with levees and dikes during peak runoff.”

The Quichapa Recharge site in Iron County. Photo courtesy CICWCD.

The pits usually only take a couple of months for the water to seep into the aquifer and Iron County reports that the ponds they flooded in the Spring have already seeped into the gravely aquifers below.

Deep Well Injection:

Injection is exactly what it sounds like. Groundwater is collected and treated and then injected into the aquifers.

There are about 20 injection sites running across the Wasatch Front around 20th East due to the geology of the bench and the location of the aquifers. There are injection sites in Millard County and Box Elder County, as well.

The water injected is clean, treated drinking water which allows for quicker availability of the water as it is pumped back out of the aquifers.

The Jordan Water Valley Conservancy District was the first agency to receive approval for this mode of water storage in 1991. Traditional wells could be run in reverse for this purpose, but it is an added stress on the well.

“We’ve been pioneering the use of deep well injection as a means of aquifer recharge at Jordan Valley for several decades,” reported Gordon Batt, Operations Manager, JVWCD. “In the beginning, we used existing wells, simply operating them in reverse. However, we find that there’s less wear and tear on the system when we use well facilities specifically for this purpose.”

The state relied heavily on these aquifers last year following a poor snowpack and during record heat.

“We were able to use a lot of that water when we didn’t have the surface water. Years like we have this year we are able to take that surface water and inject it back into the aquifer,” said Batt. “It’s important for us to be able to recharge the aquifer because on years when there are drought years we are pumping and extracting a lot of water out of that aquifer, more than what can be naturally recharged.”

If the aquifers are left low then wells have to be dropped deeper to the new lower levels of the aquifer. With the record water levels this year the agency has seen the aquifers come up on average 45 feet across the district.

Bottom Line:

Water return to aquifers this year has been astounding. The JVWCD has seen over 217 million gallons of water recharged into the aquifers across the Wasatch front. That’s nearly 744 acre-feet – or the equivalent of an area the size of a football field under 8,928 inches of water.

Infiltration systems in Iron County have recharged over 2 billion gallons of water across several of their sites.

The largest recharge efforts across the state have put back a whopping 2,972,000,000 gallons of water this year.

Even though we were able to add so much water back into our aquifers this year we must carefully maintain and keep track of those gallons. Water quality is also monitored by The Utah Division of Water Quality to make sure the aquifers remain clean and protected.

Utahns are encouraged to remember water levels change from year to year and even when we see great water years like this past year, we need to maintain Water Wise efforts to conserve and preserve.