Utah Geological Survey Releases 7-Year Study on Snake Valley Groundwater

On February 11th, the Utah Geological Survey released a 7-year study monitoring groundwater conditions in Snake Valley, Utah.  The study demonstrates how groundwater development in Utah and Nevada would lower groundwater levels and reduce springflows in west-central Utah that support agriculture and provide habitat for species.

“Groundwater pumping would affect environmental conditions and current and future groundwater use in Snake Valley,” said Hugh Hurlow, senior UGS scientist. “Taken together, the proposals for groundwater development in the region exceed the groundwater available for development. The current ecosystem would be negatively impacted by all but small levels of additional pumping.”

The UGS study was funded by the Utah Legislature in 2007, primarily to evaluate the impacts of a proposed project by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump groundwater from several basins in east-central Nevada for use in Las Vegas. SNWA’s project includes wells in Snake Valley, within five miles of Utah.

SNWA’s original plan requested over 50,000 acre-feet of water per year (AFY) in Snake Valley and over 90,000 AFY in Spring Valley, immediately west of Snake Valley in Nevada. The Nevada State Engineer approved about two-thirds of SNWA’s request for Spring Valley, and has not considered the application for Snake Valley. Legal challenges to the Nevada State Engineer’s award have delayed the project indefinitely.

To complete the hydrogeologic study and groundwater monitoring, UGS developed a monitoring network that includes wells at agricultural areas, springs and remote sites. In all, 76 wells record water levels hourly, and new spring-flow gages are in place at six sites. Data from the study is available on the UGS Groundwater Monitoring Data Portal. Data collection is planned to continue for the foreseeable future.

Written by Rodney T. Smith, Ph.D.