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Geochemical and Sociological Study of Backyard Wells in Utah Valley, Utah

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Created: Aug 25, 2017 at 9:05 p.m.
Last updated: Jul 02, 2018 at 10:54 p.m.
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Ferreira (2013) documented elevated concentrations of As and heavy metals in rivers that flow westward across the Wasatch Range and heavily-populated Utah Valley, Utah, to drain into Utah Lake, which is consistent with the history of unregulated mining in the watershed of Utah Lake. In Utah Valley it is not uncommon for urban residents to dig and maintain shallow (< 10 m) wells in their backyards, although the practice is illegal in Utah and unusual in urban areas outside of developing countries. Since the rivers in Utah Valley are losing streams, the question arose as to the levels of As and heavy metals in these shallow wells. The objectives of this study are to determine (1) the concentrations of contaminants in backyard wells (2) the pathways for shallow groundwater flow (3) why the urban residents of Utah Valley dig backyard wells. The objectives are being addressed by collecting water samples from backyard wells in Utah Valley and interviewing the owners of the backyard wells. Water temperature, pH, electrical conductivity, and dissolved oxygen are being measured on-site and water samples are being analyzed for nitrate, phosphate, sulfate, As, 11 heavy metals, and stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen. Chemical analysis of 107 backyard wells thus far has shown that EPA Drinking Water Standards are not met for Mn, As, Cd, Fe, Cu, Pb, and nitrate in 18.7%, 15.9%, 6.5%, 6.5%, 0.9%, 0.9%, and 0.9% of wells. Wells with elevated As and heavy metals tend to occur not near streams, but along the boundary between the groundwater recharge and discharge zones. According to a preliminary analysis of 80 interviews carried out with backyard well owners thus far, backyard wells are dug and maintained for emergency planning and for watering lawns and livestock, but not for gardens. Backyard well owners are conservative in terms of their social, political and religious attitudes, but are not survivalists or adherents to conspiracy theories. In fact, owners of backyard wells are no different than the mainstream of Utah culture, which suggests that backyard wells may be very common throughout the state. These findings raise the possibility that a state water policy that is backed by the public ought to include the promotion and legalization of safe water supply at the household level.

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Funding Agencies

This resource was created using funding from the following sources:
Agency Name Award Title Award Number
National Science Foundation iUTAH-innovative Urban Transitions and Aridregion Hydro-sustainability, 1208732

How to Cite

Emerman, S. (2018). Geochemical and Sociological Study of Backyard Wells in Utah Valley, Utah, HydroShare,

This resource is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution CC BY.


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