Water in the Price River Drainage

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As a matter of information, I, David Horsley, do work for the State of Utah, Division of Water Rights, and the opinions expressed in this article are my own opinions and not those of the State of Utah or the Division of Water Rights. The purpose of this article is a shotgun approach to help individuals understand more of the entities who deal with water in Carbon County, and their role in managing and delivery of that water. An educator in the area recently told students there was no reason to conserve water due to the fact that Carbon County’s drinking water comes from water wells in the area. This is not a true statement. As you will see in following paragraphs, it is very easy to get confused on water topics.

Beginning at the “bottom of the stream” is the irrigation companies. Several individuals own shares in the irrigation companies such as Carbon Canal, Pioneer #1, Wellington or Spring Glen. Each one of these canals were incorporated at various times and serve different areas of the county. One can find it difficult to keep track of shares owned in these companies due to the complexity of the paper value, and water value, of one share. One share in one canal might be worth four acre feet per year (an acre foot being equivalent to 325,850 gallons), while in another company, one share might be 0.33 acre feet per year of water per year. Currently, each irrigation company does not allow a share to be moved out of the service area of the irrigation company. The dollar values also range greatly from approximately $1,000 down to approximately $50 per share. One can get even more confused by a company having different classifications of those shares, such as common water or high water. If a share holder/future share holder would like to know an exact dollar figure and water value of a share, it would be smart to contact a local real estate agent or the elected board member of the irrigation company from where the share of water originated. Each one of these companies hold a water right. Each water right might have different flows that the company can take from the Price River. A water right can have many different uses, however, most of the water rights owned by the irrigation companies in Carbon County are for water that “naturally” comes down the river. If the river is not producing enough water for all of the water right holders (irrigation companies in this case) the water is prorated for each company. For example, if all of the early water rights total 80 cubic feet per second (1 cubic foot per second equals 448.8 gallons per minute), and the river is only producing 40 cubic feet per second, then each company can take 50% of their own water right.

Most irrigation companies are nonprofit organizations. Each year, those owning shares get assessed or billed for the water they own. Each company has different billing process and amounts. These assessments are used for maintenance of the canals, postage for mailing bills, bank charges and expenses each company might accrue, such as law suits by shareholders for feeling the company is not being fair. Something several people may not think of when they are taking legal action against the canal company they own shares in is that they are taking legal action against themselves because all of the shareholders bear the burden of all the expenses in the irrigation company.

Another type of share an individual might own is “reservoir shares.” These shares come from the Price River Water Users Association (PRWUA) who own a water right for storage water and not natural flow water. Set up similar to an irrigation company, the PRWUA issues shares to individuals. These shares are equivalent to one acre foot per year per share when delivered at 100%. This is the water you can see being stored in the Scofield Reservoir. Scofield has the storage capacity of two years worth of water. Historically, the drought cycles in the area last anywhere from three to five years. The dollar value of one share can range from approximately $1,500 to $2,200. This value can change due to supply and demand. One can sometimes lease shares on a yearly basis for around $10 to $20 a share, once again based on supply and demand. Several individuals and municipal water users might own shares in irrigation companies and have reservoir shares to supplement the water that naturally comes down the river. Thus, the water user can use their natural flow irrigation company shares in the spring of the year, and their reservoir shares in the fall of the year, when the snow melt has receded. Hence, the more water we can keep in Scofield in the spring, is water we will have in the fall.

When you own reservoir shares and want them delivered in a specific canal, those shares are a guest in the canal that is delivering the water to you. When Scofield Reservoir was built, the shares were assigned to each of the canal companies. Each canal reserved the right to charge a carrier charge in order to deliver water to the individual share owner. Confusion for these shares often comes from one thinking they own irrigation company shares; these reservoir shares are different from irrigation company shares. In the original allotment of these shares they were distributed to each canal. In the original Articles of Incorporation for the PRWUA, it allowed each canal the ability to assess an individual share owner a carrying charge, even if the share is moved to another canal (unlike irrigation company shares who do not allow for irrigation company shares to be moved out of the service area). For example, an individual living on the Wellington Canal buys a share that originated from the Carbon Canal. That individual will now pay an assessment to both the Wellington Canal and the Carbon Canal. One fee to Carbon Canal for the originating canal and one to Wellington Canal for the carrying charge to get the water to the individual. The shares of PRWUA are currently the only shares that can be moved from canal to canal without filing the proper paperwork with the Division of Water Rights.

The irrigation companies and PRWUA all own state appropriated water rights in order to issue shares to individuals. A water right is an individual water users or irrigation company’s right to use the water owned by the state of Utah. The Division of Water Rights is often referred to as “The office of the State Engineer,” which was created in 1897. In 1903, Utah surface water law was established. Legislation passed in 1919 for adjudicating water rights and for governing dam safety. In 1935, groundwater was included in the water law. A water right is based on the Prior Appropriation Doctrine, which means if you went through the proper paperwork and could show you used the water first, you have the first right on that water (first in time, first in right). Water rights have various uses that are associated with them such as flow, volume of water and uses. Uses on a water right can range from cabins, irrigation, livestock, municipal or even a non-consumptive use such as a hydropower plant. Even if you want to divert the water out of a stream or use it in a stream and put the same amount back in the stream, you must have a water right. Any water being used in the state of Utah must have a water right. If you do not have a water right or shares tied to a water right, you are breaking the law.

Several entities in Carbon County deal with water in one form or another. Some were created by federal, state, county or even city governments in order to help maintain quality and certainty in the water. The Price River Water Improvement District (PRWID) is a water and sewer improvement district created under Title 17A, Chapter 2, Part 3 (formerly Title 17, Chapter 6), Utah Code Annotated 1953, as amended. It was created by the County Commission of Carbon County, Utah in 1960 for the purpose of providing culinary water treatment and distribution to the residents of the Price River Valley. In 1962, the purpose of the District was expanded to include wastewater collection and treatment.

The District was poised to begin its endeavors in water resources, treatment and distribution when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alerted all communities that no further funding support would be granted or loaned unless all aspects of the Clean Water Act were adhered to, explicitly the 1972 drop-dead date, and which specifically addressed the pollutants discharged from most of the residents and cities along the Price River. Thus, the District’s focus changed to a complete and valley-wide sewer collection system and a regional wastewater treatment plant which were completed and in operation in 1971.

In 1978, the District completed its culinary water treatment plant and distribution system in the Carbon County area and began to sell water, initially on a wholesale basis, but later switching to primarily retail with wholesale to a few entities.

Currently, PRWID is leasing the natural flow water rights from the Carbon Power Plant and owns Scofield Reservoir shares in order to meet the public demands in Carbon County. PRWID requires you to surrender a water share of PRWUA (either in dollar equivalent or actual share) in order to hook up to the county wide culinary system.

Another entity that deals with water in the Carbon County area is the Price River Water Shed Conservation District. Some history of the Conservation District begins May 11, 1934, the day of the first great dust storm in the United States of America. The storm originated in the “Dust Bowl” area of the Great Plains and swept fine soil particles over Washington, D.C. and 300 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. This dramatic storm had a major impact on the nation and hastened the implementation of the soil erosion control program. The Soil Conservation Act was approved in 1935. This law established within USDA was the Soil Conservation Service, now known as Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Shortly after, Public Law 46 was passed, setting the stage for local soil conservation districts to be organized. It was recognized that local landowners, rather than federal government personnel, would be more effective in implementing soil and water conservation programs.

On February 9, 1937, the Utah State Legislature passed its own version of the Soil Conservation District Act, opening the door for the establishment of local conservation districts within the state of Utah. Utah Title 17D of the Utah Code defines a conservation district as a limited purpose local government entity consisting of a board of five elected supervisors charged with the duty of taking care of all of the natural resources within the district’s boundaries.

Price River Watershed Conservation District (PRWCD) was organized February 18, 1938. The current board of supervisors consists of five members. They have directed the development of the Price River Watershed Plan, written a Resource Needs Assessment for Carbon County. They continue to sponsor an annual Crop School, assist NRCS in implanting salinity control projects on private land, participate on the Noxious Weed Control board, participate in the Sage Grouse local work group and support local youth programs involved with natural resources.

The Carbon Water Conservancy District (CWCD) is another entity dealing with water. It is somewhat similar to the Price River Watershed Conservation District in that it was organized under Title 17B, Chapter 2a, Part 10, Water Conservancy District Act. The PRWCD helps individual water users obtain funding for projects while the CWCD is responsible for countywide water projects. The CWCD is the entity that manages the dam for the Bureau of Reclamation. One of the major tasks of the CWCD is to protect the water that enters into Scofield Reservoir. There is an 80 year-old battle with Sanpete County regarding the Gooseberry Narrows Project. This project proposes to build a dam near the top of Fairview Canyon, which is the head waters of Scofield Reservoir, in order to guarantee Sanpete receives their water right. To date that battle continues.

Other conservancy districts in the state work closely with all the water users in order to make best use of the water in the drainage system. Emery County Water Conservancy District (EWCD), for example, has obtained large amounts of money to help in sprinkler projects, construction of new reservoirs, data collection and maintenance crews for the pressurized delivery systems. EWCD has made contracts with the water users in order to make best use of natural flow and storage rights creating incentives to conserve both natural flow and storage water. For more information on their system, see www.ewcd.org.

Created in 1902, the Bureau of Reclamation is best known as a Federal Agency for its funding resources. The Bureau funded and operates the Scofield Reservoir in Carbon County and several other reservoirs in the Emery County area such as Joe’s Valley and Huntington North. They create contracts with Water Conservancy Districts to help manage the infrastructure and water associated with that infrastructure. In the case of Scofield Reservoir, the Bureau owns the dam for the reservoir, the Carbon Water Conservancy District operates the dam and the water right is held by the Price River Water Users Association. Several Sprinkler projects in Carbon County have been cost shared with the funding of the Bureau’s salinity money. This money is used for irrigators to increase their efficiency in order to reduce water running off fields that might be high in salt content. Wellington Canal and the tail end of Carbon Canal are examples of this money put to use. The salinity money is becoming more difficult to obtain due to the cost of putting smaller laterals on sprinkler rather than entire canals. Although one large sprinkler project for an entire county seems to have high upfront costs, the money and objectives, can be combined for more efficiency and collaboration. Money for new infrastructure such as a combined pressurized irrigation system that included a regulating/recreation reservoir should be evaluated rather than simply patching existing river diversions.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service is a department that is under the United States Department of Agriculture. The NRCS is known as a federal funding source providing technical assistance to private landowners and managers. They typically have contracts with the State of Utah and individuals in Carbon County to conserve water and provide funding in order to do so. Examples of projects you can see around the Carbon County area are the Wellington Canal and tail end Carbon Canal Sprinkler Projects. They assist in the “on farm” money but have other sources for the “off farm” funding such as distribution lines or irrigation regulating ponds. The NRCS also provides several forms of water data. Carbon County currently cost shares three measuring devices provided by the NRCS that read flows in the Price River every 15 minutes. They also provide the SNOTEL survey which forecasts how much water will come to the Price Drainage. These types of devices help greatly in a water manager’s decision. Having more of these real time measuring devices greatly enhances the ability to make best use of the water.

The way the water rights are currently set up on the Price River gives no incentives to allow an irrigation company to conserve natural flow water to be used as Reservoir water in the fall. Some canals have very good natural flow water rights, while others have great storage water shares and not so great natural flow rights. Those with good natural flow rights allow them to take a fair amount of water that naturally comes down the river in the spring of the year. If those canals store their own natural flow water in Scofield, that water is distributed to everyone who owns PRWUA Scofield shares, thus the natural flow users lose a fair amount of water. If an entity, such as a water conservancy district, had a proactive approach and were able to create contracts with all the users on the system, correlate and give credit to water stored, it would aid greatly in the conservation and best management practices for the precious life blood of water in the Carbon County. I understand this is a lengthy article. My grandfather use to say “The whiskey is for drinking and the water is for fighting over.” An entire book could be written solely on the water topics of Carbon County. Some people in the county do not understand the different entities, and the ways they manage their water. Understanding where our water comes from, what it is used for, the amounts we are entitled to, help people begin to realize why it is so important to make best use our water. All of these entities need to come together and collaborate, creating better communication, better management and more efficient distribution. If we as water users, including community and agriculture, do not begin today to manage and make better use of the water, we all might have to pack up and move on.

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