Cedar City tentatively invests over $14M in water infrastructure for new fiscal year

CEDAR CITY — As part of its long-term water strategy, Cedar City officials plan to invest over $14 million in water infrastructure.

Quichapa Lake filled with water after a wet winter in Cedar City, Utah, May 27, 2023 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

But this year’s tentative budget is still fluid and could change. City Council members have publicly discussed the budget since it was first introduced on May 3. Hot topics include water and wages for city employees.

The current tentative budget was approved May 24, 3-2, with Council members Tyler Melling and Ron Riddle dissenting.

Proposed projects include production and test wells, a Cedar Canyon waterline and a new water tank, among others. Initially, $13,211,000 was earmarked for specific water-related projects, but that number has since tentatively increased to $14,283,000, Cedar City Finance Director Jason Norris to Cedar City News.

Over $5 million is currently earmarked for specific projects, with an additional $4.6 million being transferred from the Capital Improvement Fund and earmarked generally for water-related projects, Norris said.

The Cedar City Council, mayor and staff discuss the budget, Cedar City, Utah, May 17, 2023 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

Because funds transferred to the water fund cannot be moved back into the Capital Improvement Fund, another $4.6 million will remain in that account with the intention of utilizing it for water, depending on various factors.

The city has funded test wells at Green Hollow and Martin’s Flat, and Norris said further budgetary decisions will be made based on the results that work.

“We will most likely transfer that over for water projects,” he added. “But we’re not in any hurry to do that until we have some more data on either where production wells can go or we may have to reevaluate and go a different direction with water development.”

Water infrastructure in progress

On May 24, Cedar City Mayor Garth Green shared an update regarding the test wells. The Green Hollow site was being air-drilled when it began to emit red Moenkopi sand nearly 400 feet below the surface.

This file photo shows the water tank on Greens Lake Drive, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 30, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

“It seemed a little strange, but he didn’t seem too concerned — he kept going down,” Green said. “He was making fairly good progress and he was going through this stuff and it was oozing out. He was creating … quite a lake up there and he was running his little track hoe around in it and trying to make a dam.”

The man drilling the test well continued to find “red, sandy goo,” nearly 1,000 feet down, so he stopped work to await further direction from the city, Green said.

Concerned, Green contacted the city’s engineering department and engineers and hydrologists at Willowstick Technologies, which conducted last year’s water study, as well as Andy McCrea, who has been assisting with the mayor’s water strategy.

After meeting for several hours, the group determined that while the hole was filled with “goo,” the sand was full of water, very fine and had a consistent texture, making it easier to sift out, Green said.

The city could choose to drill with water rather than air to create a better seal, or they could use a screen to filter out the sand, he added.

First, both the sand and water will be analyzed to inform the city’s next move, Green said. The process could increase the project’s cost, but “not as much as starting again.”

The waterfall at Cedar Canyon Nature Park flows in this file photo, Cedar Canyon, Utah, April 8, 2023 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

“You learn a lot,” he said. “Sometimes education is very expensive.”

The test well at Martin’s Flat is a “little better story,” Green said. They “easily” found water. While it “looked clean,” 25-30 bottles were filled with samples from the location and sent to Salt Lake City for testing.

While discussing extra costs associated with the projects, Green said he’s against drilling additional test wells until more data is available.

“We should proof these two out,” he said. “If it costs us some money, why start down a new hole?”

The test wells are part of a larger strategy to balance water use and rely less on the wells located in the Quichapa area, Green told Cedar City News.

This file photo shows Lake Quichapa’s previously dry lake bed, Iron County, Utah, November 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Water flowing into Lake Quichapa’s south end quickly becomes unusable as it rests over alkaline soil and picks high numbers of total dissolved solids, St. George News reported previously. Water on the north end of the lake has lower numbers of total dissolved solids and retains its quality through the growing season.

Additionally, much of the water on the surface doesn’t percolate to the underground aquifer.

“Great water runs out there but can’t get through the earth because of the silt layers,” Green said. “So it just sits there and evaporates. Now, that’s tragic. … And so we take water from the deep, bring it to town, drink or flush it down the toilet, send it to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and dump it on top of the ground at the Wastewater Treatment Plant — it also sits and evaporates. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The “sandy, volcanic ash,” silt and clay that make up Cedar Breaks National Monument’s carved amphitheater are carried by Coal Creek and deposited in Cedar Valley, creating layers of sediment that are difficult for water to penetrate, Green said.

In this file photo, the waterfall near Coal Creek Trail flows, Cedar Canyon, Utah, April 9, 2023 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

While the city and Central Iron County Water Conservancy have completed multiple projects to mitigate this loss of usable water, Green said more work needs to be done.

Despite Coal Creek representing approximately 33% of the city’s drainage, with only a small amount of Cedar Canyon’s water is used. However, Green described the water from the creek itself as “junk,” adding that a deep well at Martin’s Flat could potentially provide quality water.

The city previously had a pump at Martin’s Flat, which has fallen into disuse in favor of other wells in the valley, a decision Green said was a “big mistake.”

And while Iron County’s agricultural community uses water from Coal Creek, the city could mitigate any issues resulting from a proposed pipeline, he added.

In the future, Green plans to study water in other areas, including under the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Additionally, the city will continue to work with the state on its overall water strategy.

In this file photo, Cedar City Mayor Garth Green holds a tuna can he uses to demonstrate a water conservation hack, Cedar City, Utah, July 1, 2022 | Photo by Natasha Nava, Cedar City News

However, the process will not happen overnight, Green said.

“Five or 10 years — now, I’ll be dead,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. All I’m trying to do is set the train in motion so that people who follow me know where to go and how to do it to get this job done.

“I have the vision — that’s why I’m the mayor — I have the vision for this water thing and I believe that once I lay out … the vision of how we ought to do it, then they can go ahead and do it for years, decades, beyond.”

An updated budget draft will be presented at the City Council meeting next Wednesday, June 7, at 5:30 p.m., and will be voted on the following week, Norris said.

Those interested can attend in person at the Cedar City Offices on 10 North Main Street or virtually on YouTube.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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