- Commissioners want to meet with West Desert residents before coming to a decision about Snake Valley water
By Myrna Trauntvein
New commissioner on the block, Byron Woodland, said he thought Juab County Commissioners needed to meet with the residents of West Desert before they made any decision dealing with water that Nevada wants and that the residents of the West Desert need.
"What are the feelings of the people who live in the West Desert?" asked Woodland. "We need to represent the people out there."
The Bureau of Land Management released a crucial decision two days after Christmas and gave approval of a water pipeline "right of way."
The Southern Nevada Water Authority officially greeted the decision as a "milestone."
Just a couple of weeks before that, on December 11, 2012, fearing Republican Utah Governor Gary Herbert's signature was forthcoming on a controversial water sharing agreement with Nevada, critics opposed to its provisions delivered a letter recommending he not sign the agreement to his office.
The agreement, already signed by Nevada but on hold in Utah, proposes dividing current available water and future groundwater supplies in Snake Valley, a basin which both Utah and Nevada share.
Juab and Millard County Commissions met with Herbert to urge him not to sign the document following a report issued, at the governor's request, by an independent panel of Utah water attorneys.
The attorneys, appointed by Herbert said, however, that the Snake Valley Water agreement with Nevada would be an "equitable" deal for Utah.
"We also had a meeting in Delta with the attorneys," said Chad Winn, commission chairman. "After talking to them for three and a half hours, I was concerned that if the governor did not sign the agreement, than everyone would be on their own but that, if it were signed, there would be some protections."
The state would be involved in protecting the water rather than leaving each rancher dependent on the water to fight his own battle.
"We need to decide what we will recommend to the governor whether we agree that he should sign the document or whether we agree that he should not," said Winn. "He said he would meet with us and with Millard County commissioners to find out what our recommendations would be."
Politically speaking, said Winn, the governor told commissioners that it did not really matter whether he signed the agreement or ignored it.
If the agreement were not to be signed, he said, it would be pretty much a "rush to pump" but if it were to be singed, that would not be the case.
Under the deal's central provision, the two states would agree on how much groundwater the basin contains and how it should be divided which would consist of 132,000 acre-feet per year split right down the middle.
That estimate mirrors the findings of a three-year federal study of water supplies released in June 2007.
The 66,000 acre-feet set aside for each state includes current water allotments, an amount believed available for future use and a block of water to be held in reserve.
In Nevada, 12,000 acre-feet in water rights already have been issued for Snake Valley. That leaves 36,000 acre-feet in available water and 18,000 acre-feet in reserve under the interstate deal.
Winn said that, on the Utah side, 55,000 acre-feet has already been permitted for use, leaving 5,000 acre-feet available for development and 6,000 acre-feet in reserve.
About 326,000 gallons are in an acre-foot, which is enough water to supply two average residences for one year.
"Most people agree that the reserved water is not even there," he said.
"In other words, 55,000 acre-feet plus 5,000 acre-feet equals 60,000 acre-feet for Utah," said Winn, "and 12,000 acre-feet plus 36,000 acre-feet for Nevada equals 48,000 acre-feet which still puts Utah ahead."
The 18,000 acre-feet for Nevada of unreserved water and the 6,000 acre-feet of water for Utah, which would equal the deal, will never be realized.
"Most experts agree that the unreserved water is just paper water, there is nothing wet with it," said Glenn Greenhalgh, Juab County Planning Director.
The agreement had been discussed and analyzed, said Rick Carlton, commissioner. There was not much chance that there would be any change to the figures in the future.
The attorneys advising the governor said that there was little chance of there being success if each entity in Utah who was protesting the water allocation tried to prove their case independently in court.
It would be better to have an agreement between the two states which would add protection to the use of the water in Utah.
Groundwater in central and eastern Nevada continues to be pursued by Southern Nevada Water Authority in support of its planned $3.5 billion, 285-mile pipeline to convey water to the Las Vegas metropolitan area.
Ever since the plan was unveiled in 1989, it's been met by stiff resistance from ranchers, local governments, environmentalists, and Native Americans, who have issued tens of thousands of public comments saying that the environmental and economic costs will be severe and far-reaching.
In 2009, after several years of negotiation, Utah and Nevada seemed to have reached an agreement on how to split up groundwater in the Great Basin along the Utah-Nevada line.
But under pressure from west Utah water users and conservationists, Herbert balked at signing the agreement.
In the meantime, Herbert appointed Steven E. Clyde, Dallin W. Jensen and Warren H. Peterson to review the 2009 agreement to determine if it is good for Utah.
"The agreement allocates this shared groundwater resource on an equal 50-50 basis," it reads in part. "Through a tiered development approach, the agreement protects existing Utah appropriated water rights for uses including irrigation, stock water, and domestic use and for habitat protection at Fish Springs."
The attorneys also state that the agreement affords environmental protections.
"Steps will be taken to assure the quantity and quality of the available groundwater supply is maintained, to minimize adverse impacts to existing uses, and to minimize environmental impacts," the review states.
"I think we need to contact the people of the West Desert and arrange to meet with them before we meet with the governor," said Woodland.