Fairfield fights for water

A cannon fires a wad of newspaper stuffed with candy during Fairfield activities at the historic schoolhouse. A quiet battle is being waged, sans cannon, in Fairfield for another water source because its historic aquifer of more than 150 years is losing water faster than it is filling. 

Facing the prospect of running out of water by the fall, Fairfield voters will decide on a general obligation funding bond during a July 28 special election. If approved, the bond may save the town.

There are a couple of factors involved, creating urgency for the tiny berg’s approximately 151 residents.

“If the pattern continues, the town may not, as soon as this fall, have sufficient water to supply existing connections or provide fire protection,” Fairfield Mayor Jaren Hancock said Thursday.

According to Hancock, the spring flow is being impacted by a five-year drought in Cedar Valley.

The wet May passed over Fairfield, leaving its parched ground unaffected.

“We had to do something,” Hancock said. “The stream is at its lowest point —[more] than people who live up there can ever remember.”

Even private wells are showing lower than average levels and are not recovering.

If the bond passes, the town can secure a 30-year, no-interest state loan to cover $700,000 of the $1.2 million project cost. The town is seeking to build a deeper well at a new location, a 250,000-gallon storage tank, a pumping station and purchasing meter upgrades.

The hope is to tie into an aquifer on another strata or underground layer separate from the aquifer Fairfield has used as its municipal water since the late 1850s.

Fairfield town leaders appealed to the Utah Division of Drinking Water for help in 2015. The division worked with the town to find solutions to the water crisis.

Supply limits growth

Fondly called the oasis of Cedar Valley by Hancock, the depletion of the oasis has already impacted the community.

The town council has limited growth to five new homes annually and each new resident must provide water rights to the town before they can build and hook into the municipal water system.

While water quality isn’t the issue, quantity is.

“What people don’t seem to understand or don’t want to understand is that there is not an unlimited supply of water in our area, or for the most part, anywhere in the developing world,” Hancock said. “What they also have to understand is that once an aquifer is depleted, it’s gone, for the most part forever.

“Recharging it is out of the question, taking into consideration the current and forecasted climate. Sticking our heads in the sand as far as unlimited water is concerned won’t make the problem go away.”

Every house built, every golf course and pool constructed, every new acre tilled and planted, will continue to pull the level of the aquifers down, he said.

Two years ago, Cedar Fort drilled a deeper well. In 2015, Eagle Mountain drilled its own deep well. Townspeople suspect the wells tied into their aquifer.

The community’s oasis has endured President James Buchanan’s army in the 1850s and arsenic tailings from mining.

“The army came out here and the reason they came out here is because of that spring,” Hancock said. “That is why this was the third largest town in Utah at one time.”

In 1857 until the Civil War broke out, Fairfield had a population of more than 7,000 people, 3,500 of them soldiers. The demographic of the community was like no other in Utah — soldiers, teamsters, barkeeps, gamblers and whores.

Hancock indicated one street had 23 to 25 saloons and bars and there was a gunfight there every week.

While the barracks, bars and whorehouses may be gone, the valley population has exploded during the last decade, which Hancock said is contributing to the current water predicament. Instead of being home for 7,000 people, the valley has more than 25,000 inhabitants and most are Eagle Mountain residents.

According to a Fairfield Irrigation Co. source, the discharge rate in the valley has increased and a deeper well would likely help. The company operates separately from the town to provide agricultural water and monitors the water supply.

The townspeople already have a site selected approximately 1.5 miles west of the historic well.

“The hope is the new well is far enough out of the strata that we will be at a different aquifer,” Hancock said.

Daily Herald reporter Cathy Allred can contacted at callred@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2545, Twitter @CathysSideNotes



Daily Herald journalist Cathy Allred covers north Utah County news and events, and acts as a community watchdog.

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