Water Woes Continue for Emery County

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By Sara Price

Repairs continue on lands in Emery County following the severe summer flooding that took place this year. Emery County Public Lands Administrator Ray Petersen stated that the damage to the San Rafael is the worst he has seen in the 20 years he has worked there. The roadways are built on sandy soil and when heavy rain hits the area, it damages the roads.

Concerns were raised over Bureau of Land Management roads that the county usually maintains due to an agreement between the two agencies. The county is still trying to repair its own roads that need immediate attention. BLM representative Chris Conrad stated that they have equipment at their Vernal office and he will look into using the equipment to help repair BLM roads.

Millsite Reservoir also has a number of issues that need to be addressed. Silt has been filling in the lake. Current estimates place the reservoir as losing 78 acre feet of water storage a year due to silt. Mistie Christiansen, a member of the Public Land Council and Emery town mayor, stated that several feasibility studies have been done on how to control the silt level in Millsite. According to Christiansen, most of the measures would cost a lot of money and have a high rate of failure.

According to Emery County Commissioner JR Nelson, they have acquired a dredger that is on site in Ferron, but staff members are waiting on equipment training before using it. The goal is to reverse two years of damage at a time by slowly removing the silt and eventually maintaining the reservoir.

Silt is not the only problem at Millsite. According to Division of Water Rights representative Marc Stilson, the dam needs expensive repairs that will cost an estimated $25 million. The changes will bring the dam up to state standards, which requires an extension of the slope to 2:1 and an addition of a sand drainage to retain the clay core without having to remove the dam. According to Stilson, the repairs will also address seismic issues and raise the dam by about four feet.

Also, the Colorado River Pact is under threat of reopening. Utah has not utilized its share of water, leaving about 400,000 acre feet of water undeveloped while Ariz., Calif. and Nev. have used more than their fair share. This could have significant impact on water available for future Utah use.

A meeting will be conducted in Las Vegas Dec. 11-13. Counties in rural Utah have been underrepresented in the past, while 22 states and Mexico have attended past meetings. Petersen encouraged more people to attend as the future water rights are at stake.

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