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SPECIAL REPORT: A world-known phenomenon in our backyard

A moving geyser that forced a road to bend – News 11’s Arlette Yousif reports

IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - A moving geyser or mud-pot is inching its way closer to the Salton Sea, causing some damage along the way. First discovered in 1953, initially, didn’t pose much of an issue. More than 60 years later in 2016, it inched closer to Union Pacific Railroad and State Route 111. Both had to be relocated.

The geyser currently sits between the state route and the railroad in Imperial County near Niland. It moves an average of 10 feet per month.

“This is the only known, that I know of, moving geyser or mud pot in the United States, and maybe even the world. The theory is that it's moving along a dormant or unknown fault. The San Andreas Fault runs just to the south of here and it goes into the Salton Sea. So, there are a lot of faults that spider and radial off of the San Andreas Fault,” says CalTrans District 11 Acting Division Chief Shawn Rizzutto.

But there’s another probable theory.

“This area was known for mining in the, in the 1900’s. They used the mine CO2 to produce dry ice for transportation of goods,” explains Rizzutto.

Experts believe that areas previously mined are guiding this geyser along a fault line.

More than a mile below the earth surface… carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide vent upwards.

“The CO2 comes through the perched groundwater table and that's where you see the gas bubbling up through. And then the water is actually conveyed. So as the gas and the water combine, it creates a liquid faction zone. That's between 50 and 70 feet deep. Common term would be like quicksand,” says Rizzutto.

Once the geyser moves past the roadway, CalTrans hopes it will settle so they can move SR 111 back to its original location.

“We'll go ahead and make sure that the foundation of the roadway is intact and that there are no voids underneath it. We'll reconstruct as necessary,” states Rizzutto.

Even the temporary roadway currently under construction will be removed.

Rizzutto says the geyser has not shown any signs of regression.

“You can't stop an earthquake. You can't stop a volcano from erupting. So, this will continue to move at will,” Rizzutto clarifies.

Something that's also moving up is the cost.

“Total cost of this project including all mitigation and removal of the constructing, the detour, constructing the surface drainage and doing all the work that we've done, and then removing the detour and then reconstructing 111… when it's all said and done is projected to be about 21.5 million dollars,” says Rizzutto.

Crews built barriers around what’s called the caldera, the wall surrounding the geyser, to stop it from expanding.

“The caldera is being contained on this side by the subsurface drainage that we installed. We went down about between seven and nine feet. We put in a GL grid and geo fabric, and then we put in half-ton rock for five feet. And then we put in more one-inch rock on top of that. And then we placed a permeable concrete, and it actually keeps the sediment from moving out and it just collects the water and gas,” states Rizzutto.

The water and gas are then drained into a gravel wash. CalTrans has been working with other agencies throughout the process.

“There was a lot of coordination that was required between the Imperial County, Union Pacific Railroad, Cal OES, CalTrans, the county health department, the county emergency services. We all work together in concert to preserve, you know, the livability of the area,” says Rizzutto.

The hope is that the geyser moves far away enough so that it no longer interferes with travel and surrounding neighborhoods.

Thursday on News 11’s Early Edition, Arlette Yousif takes a closer look at the mysterious moving geyser.

Imperial County / News
Author Profile Photo

Arlette Yousif

Arlette Yousif joined KYMA in November 2020 as a Multi Media Journalist. She holds a BA in Journalism with a minor in Film.

You can reach out to Arlette for at arlette.yousif@kecytv.com.

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