Groundwater-Mining-Induced Subsidence and Earth Fissures in Cedar Valley, Southwestern Utah

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Tyler R Knudsen, Paul Inkenbrandt, William R Lund, Mike Lowe and Steve D Bowman, Utah Geological Survey, Salt Lake City, UT, United States
Groundwater pumping in excess of recharge (groundwater mining) has lowered the potentiometric surface in Cedar Valley, southwestern Utah, by as much as 114 feet since 1939. Lowering the potentiometric surface (head decline) has caused permanent compaction of fine-grained sediments of the Cedar Valley aquifer. Recently acquired interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) imagery shows that land subsidence is occurring over an ~100 square-mile area, including two pronounced subsidence bowls in the northeastern (Enoch graben) and southwestern (Quichapa Lake area) parts of the valley. A lack of accurate historical benchmark elevation data over much of the valley prevents detailed long-term quantification of subsidence.

In response to the land subsidence, earth fissures have formed along the margins of the Enoch graben and north and west of Quichapa Lake. Our initial inventory of Cedar Valley fissures, which relied on aerial-photography analysis, identified 3.9 miles of fissures in 2009. With newly acquired light detection and ranging (LiDAR) coverage in 2011, we more than doubled the total length of mapped fissures to 8.3 miles. Fissures on the west side of the Enoch graben exhibit ongoing vertical surface displacement with rates as high as 1.7 inches/year. The largest Enoch-graben-west fissure has displaced street surfaces, curb and gutter, and sidewalks, and has reversed the flow direction of a sewer line in a partially developed subdivision. Several Cedar Valley fissures are closely associated with, and in some places coincident with, mapped Quaternary faults. While the majority of Cedar Valley fissures are mapped in agricultural areas, continued groundwater mining and resultant subsidence will likely cause existing fissures to lengthen and new fissures to form that may eventually impact other developed areas of the valley.