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SOUTH WEBER, Utah (AP) -- Underneath most of Weber County is a giant natural reservoir that could store all the spring runoff that now flows into Willard Bay, where much of it evaporates.
A Weber State University professor is supervising a pilot project to see if it is feasible to recharge this aquifer, from which much of the area's drinking water is pumped.
In the last 50 years the upper level of water in that aquifer has dropped 50 to 70 feet, said WSU geosciences professor Marek Matyjasik.
The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District had spent $400,000 on Matyjasik's project, which has drawn the interest of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and half a dozen other federal and state agencies.
The project consists of two large ponds west of the mouth of Weber Canyon and south of the Weber River.
A small irrigation canal draws water from the Weber River and a diversion cut in the canal sends water first into a settlement pond -- to take out the sediment that otherwise would clog the pores in the ground -- and then into a second, larger, pond.
There it sits. Water flows into the larger pond, none flows out, and yet the pond does not rise.
It's soaking into the ground at about 2.5 cubic feet per second, Matyjasik said.
Some water soaks into the aquifer naturally, but much of the surface is covered by farmland, homes, parking lots and other man-made items or natural geology through which water can't soak.
The idea of the project is to increase the area at the mouth of Weber Canyon where it can soak in and then put plenty of water on it.
Test wells dug down to the aquifer will measure to see how much the water level changes over the next several months to see if the project is successful.
This is not the only project to recharge the aquifer. Brigham City has been putting surplus water from its mountain springs near Mantua into the aquifer under the city since 1998.
It lets water from the springs flow down into the aquifer through pipes in the city's pumps, which are otherwise unused during winter.
Blair Blonquist, the city's water supervisor, said this past winter Brigham City cached 400 million gallons of water.
Brigham City's setup is unique, however, with clean mountain springs that can be used to recharge the aquifer and unused pumps to do it with.
Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said it would cost too much to pipe water back down into the aquifer in Weber County.
Plus, he said, water from the Weber River is dirty water and cannot legally be put into the aquifer.
Allowing it to soak through the ground cleans it naturally.
A big benefit of the pilot project, he said, is it lets Weber Basin capture snowmelt water that is otherwise unusable.
Water was first turned into the project ponds a week ago. Matyjasik said it will be allowed to continue flowing until the end of April, when agricultural users will want it back again.
He expects to spend most of the rest of the year tabulating data from the test and drawing up a computer model to show how the water moves underground.
Flint said if the project succeeds, the Weber Basin district will buy more land to expand the ponds and make them permanent.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)