By Myrna Trauntvein
Juab County Commissioners, for the second time this month, will be traveling to the West Desert High School to discuss water issues with the residents of the area.
"Governor Gary R. Herbert will hold two meetings in the area on Wednesday, March 20," said Chad Winn, Juab County Commission Chairman.
The first of the meetings will be held at 3 p.m. at EskDale High School in EskDale.
The second, the one commissioners plan to attend, will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Trout Creek in the West Desert High School.
"The public meeting is being held to discuss Snake Valley Water issues with the Governor," said Winn.
At the meeting held on March 4, commissioners learned that the residents of the communities of Juab County's West Desert do not want Governor Herbert to sign an agreement with Nevada concerning plans Southern Nevada Water Authority has made to claim 50 percent of the water in the underground water basin which feeds the wells of those citizens.
At the conclusion of the March 4 meeting, commissioners were instructed unanimously to tell Governor Herbert not to sign an agreement with Nevada which would allow 50 percent of the water in nearby Spring Valley underground aquifers to go to the SNWA.
"Personally, if you are opposed to the signing of the agreement, I will be opposed also," said Byron Woodland, commissioner.
Late in the fall of 2012, a trio of water attorneys consulted by Herbert's office issued a report in which they said the agreement, while not perfect, is better than a protracted legal battle between the two states over how the groundwater would be divided.
The Bureau of Land Management released a crucial decision two days after Christmas, also in 2012, that gave approval for a water pipeline "right of way."
Utah has developed the majority of water in the area at 55,000 acre-feet to Nevada's 12,000 acre-feet.
Under the proposed agreement, Utah would develop an additional 6,000 acre-feet of water per year, while Nevada would get 35,000 acre-feet of water per year. The attorneys said that would allow Nevada to "catch up" to the point where there is a 50/50 split.
Millard and Juab County commissioners and the residents of the West Desert have been steadfastly opposed to the water-sharing agreement. The residents at the meeting said that it is tipped in Nevada's favor and any draw down on the aquifer on the Nevada side will hurt ranchers and farmers in Utah.
Utah has been under pressure by Nevada to sign the agreement especially since the agreement has been in limbo for the past three years.
"I was there," said Dennis Timm, resident of the West Desert, "when the attorneys expressed their opinion. What they talked about was litigation after the damage is done."
Timm, who was one of 30 or so residents who told commissioners during the March 4 meeting to not support Herbert signing the agreement, said: "It sounds like they are expecting litigation. Once the Governor signs that agreement, we have invited Nevada to take our water."
Also at the March 4 meeting, Ed Alder asked, whether or not the state agrees to some line in the sand, if there is no agreement, what guarantee and protection would the water users in the West Desert have?
Don Anderson, who sits on the Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council, said he thought that there was outside pressure on the governor to sign the agreement with Nevada.
Anderson and Alder agreed that the fund set aside to take care of damages is insignificant.
"They should be required to set aside a billion dollars instead of $3 million," said Anderson. "They would know we were serious if we required that much."
Michael Mower, Herbert's Deputy for Community Outreach, met with Kathy Hill, resident of the West Desert, and indicated to her that the Governor had said that if he signed the agreement, he and the state would be on the people's side. If he did not sign the agreement, then each individual person would be on their own if it came to a lawsuit.
"I think this is a state issue and the governor needs to have our back whether we agree with this agreement or not, whether we want it signed now or whether we want it signed later or whether we open up new agreement negotiations."
"The governor needs to know that we expect him to stand behind us through this whole fight," Hill said.
Annette Garland said Mower was being disingenuous because the state must take the side of individual rights and did not believe the state could tell the water users that they were on their own.
Don Duff said that there was not a surplus of water in Snake Valley and, in the last 10 years, the ground water was not being recharged.
"There is a connection between Snake Valley and Spring Valley," he said. "Water will be taken our of Snake Valley."
At the meeting on March 20, the residents will have an opportunity to talk to the Governor as they did to commissioners.
Cecil Garland will get to ask the Governor face to face why the 50/50 proposal is even being discussed.
"Why are Nevada and Utah portions equal?" asked Garland. "What is a tiered development approach?"
He also said that: "We are not in Nevada trying to take their water. They initiated this discussion."