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John Hollenhorst reportingHuge cracks recently discovered in the ground west of Cedar City have become a novelty for sightseers, and prompted an investigation by scientists.
Experts are pretty sure now what caused the phenomenon, and it's not good news for farmers.
Farms became lakes in January. Ditches were raging rivers. Highways were an adventure. At the time, farmers thought it was good news.
LaDel Laub/ Alfalfa Farmer: "We suffered through a drought, thought the floods would fix that problem. And maybe they've created a new problem."
When floodwaters receded, people noticed big cracks. Some are ragged trenches hundreds of feet long, several feet wide and deep.
Geologists think the cracks were actually here long before the flood, but just weren't big enough to notice.
Bill Lund/ Utah Geological Survey: "This crack or fissure was probably hairline, or maybe as wide as your finger, before the floodwater found it."
The floodwater poured in and disappeared underground, eroding the cracks wide open.
Brad Hulet/ Newcastle: "It wasn't filling up. The crack just kept getting bigger and bigger."
During the flooding, water was washing across an animal feedlot and, according to one witness, it was vanishing through one of those cracks down into the ground.
Bill Lund: "The floodwater had formed a vortex or whirlpool over it, and you could see it disappearing down into the crack."
Garry Hunt/Former resident: "We never realized there was any kind of fault here then."
But they are not faults, experts say. They are cracks going all the way down to groundwater. Studies show the ground has subsided over the last half-century by as much as six feet.
Bill Lund: "And so we think we're seeing the cracks along the edges of the subsiding area."
The cause, they say, is pumping for irrigation. The underground aquifer has dropped roughly 100 feet since World War II.
Bill Lund: "You know the water is being pumped here at roughly twice the rate that it's being replenished."
LaDel Laub: "In our view, there's hundreds of years of water left in the aquifer."
Farmers are so worried about the political implications, they've hired a consultant-lobbyist to fight any cutback of water rights.
LaDel Laub: "If groundwater pumping were to cease, then the whole economy would crash here."
The state engineer says he's worried that overpumping could someday cause cracks under urban areas where they could do real damage.
There was a serious concern that surface contamination flowed through the cracks into the groundwater aquifer. But tests in a nearby well so far have shown no sign of bacteria.