Part-time Moab resident Regina Kuehne gets her daily bottle fill-up at Matrimony Spring along state Route 128. [Photo by Bethany Blitz / Moab Sun News]

The Moab Rotary Club requested a letter of recommendation from the City of Moab to the Utah Health Department to aide in its effort to install a spring box at Matrimony Spring to enable faster fill times at the spring, alleviate parking problems and reduce the surface area that algae and other contaminants have the opportunity on which to grow.

Matrimony Spring is a primary water source to Castle Valley residents, as well as a treat for tourists and Moab residents, said Joe Kingsley, a Castle Valley developer who lived in the valley since 1973 before recently moving to Moab.

“Most Castle Valley residents, especially on hillside areas, supplement their water supply with treated water, city water or Matrimony Spring water,” he said. “… During the weekend, it’s almost a traffic jam. One of our objectives is to make it a safer, more positive experience.

Part-time Moab resident Regina Kuehne fills a bottle at the spring daily.

“The water is great,” she said. “It’s way better than any tap water around and it’s cool from the spring.”

The ‘hole’ in the aquifer area has been enlarged in the past year after an unauthorized pipe was installed before being removed by the county, said Kingsley, who is also a Rotary Club member, in his presentation to the City Council on July 22. After the pipe was removed by Grand County for liability reasons, a piece of plastic loosely equivalent to half a bucket was placed in the hole to help efficiently fill containers, but Kingsley said more than 50 percent of the flow is not captured.

“Before the pipes (were placed, then removed), the opening was right up against the rock face,” Kingsley said. “Now, water comes out about a foot-and-a-half back in the aquifer … It’s created surface area for plant life and algae to grow on the face of the rock, which compromises the quality of the water.”

Canyonlands Watershed Council executive director and former Grand County Council member Chris Baird said the spring’s historical significance must be taken into account when considering the installation of a new spring box.

“Matrimony Spring’s infrastructure, like all man-made improvements, had a limited lifespan,” he said. “The job of a spring collection system is to protect a pure water source from surface contamination. Test results have shown that the prior spring box was not adequately fulfilling that role. And, neither would a simple pipe or improvised contraption. We need a collection system that is well sealed and easily maintained. The costs of such an improvement can seem high, but, only if we disregard the legendary historical significance of the spring. Even the simplest of facilities at a public park would cost far more.”

Kingsley said a new spring box would reduce outside contaminants in the water, “while still getting the experience of getting water out of a rock.”

“The new spring box will be designed and built to a higher standard,” Kingsley said. “(It will be) air-tight, insect-proof (a steeper and deeper U-joint in the delivery pipe), including sanitizing portals as needed.”

The Rotary Club voted in 2013 to adopt Matrimony Spring as a community service project with the intent to explore what it would require to install and maintain a health department-approved water-collection system. The Rotary Club set aside $1,000 for water testing and other project costs.

Kingsley said that Questar Gas could perform the spring box’s installation in about an hour and a half, and has agreed to provide equipment free of charge, should the Rotary Club pay for labor, amounting to about $450.

The club commissioned one test in the past six months, in which the water passed for human consumption, and, Kingsley said, Southeastern Utah District Health Department representative Orion Rogers expressed his support, but said the Utah Health Department had final say.

Kingsley said in his presentation to the city that he met on April 29 with Rogers and Utah Health Department water engineer David Ariotti, who stipulated that a water-collection pipe would have to be a minimun of 20 feet into the aquifer. However, after further discussion, Ariotti withdrew his support and threatened to write a letter of protest to the city should the project move forward, citing concerns that the pipe might puncture the aquifer’s membrane, negatively affecting its water pressure upstream, Kingsley said.

“My discussions with Joe concerned possible improvements which could make the spring an approved public drinking water system,” Ariotti said. “We discussed several issues and potential obstacles. I was left with the impression the biggest obstacle was funding … Hopefully funds will be found to retain a qualified consultant to move forward with a design which can be submitted for review by the Division of Drinking Water.”

Kingsley said that he and Baird spoke with several hydrologists who said they felt that the pipe would have no effect on upstream water pressure.

Hydrologist Geoff Freethey said, however, that since the source of any contaminants currently in the water is unknown, the spring box’s effectiveness won’t be known until after the fact.

“They’re not 100-percent sure the solution will work (to reduce contamination),” he said.

Freethey also expressed concern that if the pipe were drilled incorrectly, it wouldn’t collect any flow at all from the aquifer. He said that when he spoke with Kingsley and Baird on the matter, he emphasized that to achieve flow through a perforated pipe, the pipe must be drilled across the fracture, rather than into the fracture, which Kingsley agreed would be the best way, but added that it’s not possible.

“I am hopeful that following the current flow would be successful,” he said. “If we receive permission to move forward, I believe the drillers which have already volunteered, along with the local professional drillers can and will provide the experienced advice in moving forward.”

The Grand County Council, which will make the ultimate decision on whether or not the spring box will be constructed, requested an expression of community support and brought up liability and maintenance concerns, Kingsley said.

“At this time, we are estimating annual maintenance, including insurance to be between $750 to $1,000,” Kingsley said. “A source of supporting, recurring funds would be donations, the Moab Rotary Club, and part of the transient room tax allocated for county expenses.”

Kingsley said the plan if the project is allowed to move forward is to create a limited liability company to oversee the spring’s maintenance and ensure it remains free to the public.

Although the county and the Utah Health Department have the final say on the project, the City of Moab has a water tank and pond that is fed from the same aquifer as Matrimony Springs, creating additional interest for the city in the aquifer’s wellbeing, Kingsley said.

“Our goal is to create a mechanism acceptable to the county and the Bureau of Land Management that the water source is public and (they) have no liability,” he said.

The project already has a letter of support from the town of Castle Valley, Kingsley said. He estimated the likelihood of the project coming to fruition at 60-to-70 percent.

“It’s not a sure thing,” he said, insinuating that Questar’s offer of free equipment usage may fall off the table. “We’ve got to get the ‘okay’ to move forward in the next 45 days to ensure the most economic outcome.”

As for the letter of support from the City of Moab, city manager Donna Metzler said the council has requested more information from the State of Utah regarding the spring, and has yet to formulate a position.

“The new spring box will be designed and built to a higher standard. (It will be) air-tight, insect-proof (a steeper and deeper U-joint in the delivery pipe), including sanitizing portals as needed.”

Advocates hope for improved water quality and fewer “traffic jams”